Grandpa got ran over by the DNR

French Island, Wisc. is no stranger to weird crimes involving chest freezers. The latest is a real head-scratcher involving the harrowing tale of an old man, buckets full of fish, and his weapons of choice: a flat bottom boat and a chest freezer.

The La Crosse Tribune reports:

An Onalaska angler faces a fine of up to $24,682 for exceeding the possession limit on Lake Onalaska and the Mississippi River. [emp. added]

A state Department of Natural Resources warden working undercover early Nov. 4 on Lake Onalaska saw 73-year-old Stanley Paalksnis keep at least 22 bluegills and five unidentified fish, according to records filed in La Crosse County Circuit Court.

He fished again that afternoon, collecting 25 bluegills. The daily limit is 25.

So old Stan is getting the book thrown at him for being too good at fishing. The DNR is also seeking to confiscate the weapons he used in the crime, his freezer and his 15-foot flat bottom boat.

All stories require context, and in this case, scofflaw Stan’s history is replete with getting busted for the high crime of catching more fish than the law allows. “The DNR issued Paalksnis seven citations for fishing over the limit between 1989 and 2011 in Buffalo and La Crosse counties. His fishing privileges were revoked twice,” the paper reports. He has no real crimes on his record.

If Lake Onalaska was so irreparably harmed by his years of scofflawism, how could he still be reeling in such big hauls?

I’ll admit – the guy has a record. And in the bigger picture, if everyone went over their bag limit all the time, the fish stock would plunge. Ol’ Stan isn’t above the law and should once again be subject to consequences for over-indulging his fishing habit.

This is obviously a guy who hasn’t learned from experience, and his fishing license should probably be permanently revoked. If busted fishing, he should pay a reasonable fine. The punishment should fit the crime – in this case, a victimless crime committed by an old man for whom fishing is like heroin.

The man is clearly a skilled angler (most people would pay money to hit their limit so often), but the paper also reported that the man’s freezer, after his house was raided by DNR agents, was found to contain just 150 fish fillets.

Really? That’s it? For the uninitiated, that’s 75 panfish – the product of a few good days of fishing. So the guy was hardly running an illegal fish-dealing ring out of the chest freezer in the basement.

Reasonable people, and some unreasonable people, can agree that the fine is absurdly steep. Should he pay a fine? Yeah. But not twenty four grand.

Should the DNR be able to raid peoples’ homes? No, not unless the home contains a dairy farm nefariously leaking manure runoff into a creek.

Should they be able to confiscate the elderly man’s weapons of choice? No. What’s next? Are they going to confiscate his Fryin’ Magic and canola oil?

The DNR should find more important things to do than investigate fishermen, set up goofy sting operations, and pretend to be real cops pursuing real criminals by invading people’s homes in search of contraband bluegills.

I remember when a scofflaw old man going over his fishing limit would’ve been a laughable non-story met with a fine and some finger-wagging by the fishing cops. Now it’s an offense up there with dealing drugs and just a few notches below hiding your mom’s corpse in the freezer in order to intercept her Social Security checks.

The old saying goes, “There are plenty of fish in the sea.” Perhaps there are also too many dollars floating around the DNR coffers that could be better spent on rural broadband, education, or some other bipartisan priority.


About the writer: Chris Rochester is editor in chief of Morning Martini. He’s an armchair politico, veteran of several campaigns, and communications specialist. He's the communications director for the MacIver Institute. Commentary here is strictly his own.
  • Spyder357

    Your numbers are way low, they caught the guy with over 2000 fish.

    “In his boat and house, authorities found 2,066 bluegills, 418 perch and 88 crappies, reports stated. The possession limits are 50 each.”