The adage “anything you put in writing will come back to haunt you in the future” rings true for anything put to paper and digital mediums as well. Unfortunately, 25-year-old Dustin Heathman had to learn that the hard way.
In mid-June, Heathman went fishing on Lake Austin in Texas. He caught approximately 40 bass, most of which he threw back, but he didn’t throw back enough. He kept 15 fish of legal size, but no matter the size, his total catch was three times the legal limit of fish he could keep.
He made his biggest mistake when he posted photographs and retold events of the “best day of fishing in his life” in a forum post on AustinBassFishing.com on June 21, 2012. Numerous forum members criticized him for taking more than the limit and even outright told him he broke the law, advising him that he should remove the thread.
Heathman’s defense was threefold. He said he fishes often and lets all the fish go, therefore keeping 15 fish that one day makes up for the days he kept zero. Secondly, he threw back all the ones under the legal size limit. Lastly, Heathman had family staying with him that weekend who requested a fish fry. On the thread he says, “now I get to kick back and have a ‘free’ meal this evening with the fam!!!”
The evidence was there for game wardens of Travis County to book him for overfishing, but not before he caught flak from the rest of the community. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department received multiple phone calls from members who called to turn him in. Travis County game wardens took over the case. The comments from community members started light and skeptical, but soon became rash in the stunning 68 pages of the thread before it was closed.
- “So one person on the boat? That looks to be a few more than 5 fish. Just saying..” from user mrtodd777.
- “Congrats on the great day, would the fishing have been any less great if you’d just released the fish and hit up quality seafood on the way home?” from user Limey.
- “Pretty brave breaking the law with a law enforcement tourny on the lake at the same time. What if all 100 boats would have kept 3 limits for each person, can you see how that would effect the lake?” from user Gary B
- “How ever you try and spin it over the limit is over the limit. And yes that makes you a poacher, its not the end of the world!!” from user 1cranky1.
Travis County Game Warden Christy Vales is the one leading the investigation into Heathman’s case. She has a written confession online and 68 forum pages of evidence. The fine for taking a fish over the limit ranges from $25 to $500 per fish. The limits are in place for a reason, she said.
“It creates spawning. It creates trophy fish. There’s a lot of biology that goes into that, but mainly it’s to ease the stress of catching fish over that limit,” Vales told KXAN in Austin, Texas.
What Heathman thought would be an impressive and free fish fry for his family could turn out to be the most expensive day of fishing in his life.