Tuesday, June 18, 2019

He claimed he caught a record-breaking fish. Now he’s being called a liar

  • >>Mitch Smith, The New York Times
    Published: 2019-05-26 18:04:52 BdST

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Tom Volk with the nearly 17-pound walleye he caught along the Heart River in Mandan, ND. The New York Times

Tom Volk’s walleye weighed nearly 17 pounds and stretched more than 2 1/2 feet from nose to tail fin. It was the kind of fish that anglers spend decades seeking, the kind that ends up mounted in trophy rooms.

“I knew that I had just caught the state-record walleye,” said Volk, 41, a city councilman in North Dakota who works in drug prevention for the state government. “It was a dream of mine.”

But Volk does not have the state record. Instead, he has a written warning from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. He has a collection of social media posts accusing him of being a fraudster. And he has a boat he is trying to sell because he does not care to go fishing again any time soon.

The dispute about Volk’s walleye became the subject of a criminal investigation, a podcast and dozens of posts on NodakAngler.com

One Sunday in April, Volk headed to the Heart River in Mandan, North Dakota. Along with his wife, his two young children and a friend, Volk started casting his line.

“I knew it was a big fish as soon as I set the hook,” Volk said.

Within hours of Volk’s catch, word spread on fishing message boards about a giant walleye. Soon, the state’s Game and Fish Department confirmed the news on Facebook: “Congratulations to Tom Volk for reeling in a new state record walleye!” A smiling Volk was pictured, holding his prized fish.

The triumph was short-lived. On NodakAngler.com, the online hub of North Dakota fishing, people questioned if the walleye had been “snagged” or “foul hooked,” meaning hooked somewhere other than the mouth. Intentionally snagging a fish is seen as unsporting. Keeping a foul-hooked fish is also a misdemeanour in North Dakota.

It did not help Volk’s case that other fish caught nearby had been hooked away from the mouth. Then a shaky cellphone video surfaced that led some to believe that Volk’s friend pulled the hook from the back of the fish, not the mouth.

Volk insists that he hooked his walleye legally on a jig, but concedes he cannot prove it. He said that the fish fought him for several minutes in a manner that indicated the hook was in its mouth, though he said he never looked at the hook’s location after it was reeled in.

©2019 New York Times News Service