Catfish catastrophe: an out of line fishing line?!
Reporter: Joel Waldman
TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - Every fisherman has a tale of the "big one that got away." Ronnie Braden's big fish didn't give him so much as a nibble, but it could cost him big time.
For the last six months, Braden has been reeling over accusations leveled against him by Arizona Game and Fish. The state agency insists he tried to catch an extra catfish at Silverbell Lake. But, the accused says there's a "catch" to the catch. And, that's why a half a year later, this fishy story remains submerged in some pretty choppy bureaucratic water.
"It's just been to me a travesty of justice!" exclaimed Braden. "I'd like to just plead guilty and get this behind me because I had stated I'm innocent and still believe today I am innocent."
But, Braden's innocence is now tainted by accusations from Arizona Game and Fish that he was about to try to catch a fifth catfish; state law allows a maximum of four. And, the state agency is apparently not messing around.
"If you've caught four catfish, you should be done fishing for the day, until tomorrow," proclaimed Marc Hart, spokesman for Arizona Game and Fish.
"They asked me to give them my stringer, which I did. I had three fish on it. They asked me to retrieve fish I had given to the lady (next to me). I put it on my stringer and allowed them (Game and Fish) to take a picture of me with the four catfish, which I did," explained Braden.
Braden, who does not eat fish but enjoyed catching them, admitted he gave one of his four catfish to that woman nearby. But, according to Braden, Game & Fish saw his line still in the water. And, that's when Game & Fish drew the line.
"What's the deal when it comes to catching catfish, you can catch four and then what?" 9 On Your Side asked.
"Well, you can catch four and then you can't catch anymore. And, if your line's in the water and your intent is to catch catfish and you have four in the bag, then you're breaking the law," Hart firmly stated.
Unlike Ronnie Braden, fellow fisherman GL Taylor still finds a slice of solitude out here. But, he is equally perplexed.
"They say he caught four catfish," KGUN9's Joel Waldman explained.
"He caught four catfish," Taylor reiterated. "OK."
"And, then they say he was going to catch a fifth catfish, you think there are bigger problems going on in this city than that?"
"Hmmm, I don't know really," admitted Taylor.
But, Game and Fish did -- an officer slapped Ronnie Braden with a citation. And that's not all. Despite a serious illness, Braden's been to court three times. The fisherman's faced a judge, a possible seven hundred-dollar-plus fine, jail time, and, even a lawyer looking to cut a deal.
"The prosecuting attorney took me out in the hallway and offered me a plea bargain," explained Braden, "She told me it could be a several hundred dollar fine. I was willing to do 50 bucks and five hours community service. But, I told her I didn't feel I was guilty."
Now he just feels like a fish out of water. Ronnie Braden says that in 61 years, he's never had a run-in with the law, until now.
"Does Arizona Game and Fish have bigger fish to fry, or do you take this very seriously?" Waldman asked.
"We enforce the hunting and fishing laws of the State of Arizona. That's our job," Hart said.
And, now, sadly, Braden said it'll be his job to retire from fishing, "I promise I will never fish in Arizona again! This has been that bad of an experience."
But just think how different life would be if fishermen everywhere could legitimately claim credit for landing a big fish, without having to go through the muss, fuss and inconvenience of actually catching it.
Maybe Arizona is on to something.