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The fish ‘were biting good,’ so they took some home — about 253 too many, Minnesota officials say

A couple from southern Minnesota is facing charges after a report from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said they caught and kept more crappies than allowed by state law. Officials seized more than 250 crappies from the couple’s home in May.
A couple from southern Minnesota is facing charges after a report from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said they caught and kept more crappies than allowed by state law. Officials seized more than 250 crappies from the couple’s home in May. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

During a spring day on a lake in southern Minnesota, an angler spotted a group of six catching and keeping crappie after crappie — what appeared to be more than 100 of them.

The situation looked a little too fishy.

So they placed an anonymous call to the Turn in Poachers hotline to report what they saw.

That tip, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials say, recently led to charges being filed against a Mountain Lake couple for possessing crappies over the legal limit — 253 more than what state law allows.

State law says the limit is 10 crappies per person, according to the 2018 Minnesota Fishing Regulations guide, and includes white, black or hybrid crappies.

The incident was detailed in a redacted report obtained by McClatchy.

A conservation officer followed up on a tip on the night of May 20 in regard to a group catching and keeping “an over-limit of crappies” at Lake Sisseton in Fairmont, the report said.

By the time an officer arrived, the group was gone, but a follow-up call to the tipster resulted in authorities tracking down two vehicles belonging to the group seen leaving the lake that night. According to the report, the group had left with crappies in plastic grocery bags.

One of the license plate numbers led authorities to a husband and wife living in an apartment in Mountain Lake.

The couple was identified in the report as Isouvahn Xayachack, 70, and Chanhthone Phongsim, 60.

The couple told a conservation officer they had went fishing that day with four others and caught 17 crappies, which they gave to a friend.

Xayachack told the conservation officer the fish “were biting good” that day, the report said.

At first, the report said Phongsim told authorities they didn’t have any fish in their home.

Then authorities asked the couple if they would open up their freezers.

They agreed.

No fish were found in the first freezer.

But in the second freezer, the report said they saw “a large amount of packaged crappies” — about nine to 10 fish in each package.

The state Department of Natural Resources counted 273 crappies altogether.

Conservation Officer Dustin Miller later told Newsweek it was “the largest fish case I’ve had in my career.”

Authorities seized 253 crappies, and the report said they allowed the couple “to keep their legal possession limit of 20” — 10 for each person.

The conservation officer said he asked the couple if they were aware of what the legal limit was for keeping crappies. Xayachack admitted he knew it was 10, the report said.

The officer also noted in the report that a Minnesota fishing regulation book was seen “in plain sight on a dinner table” in the couple’s living room.

The couple was told they needed to eat the crappies they had before they could catch and keep any more crappies.

Authorities contacted the other people in the group, and found no other instances of crappies being kept over the limit. However, the report said one of person, Kaew Chakvong, was cited for angling without a valid license.

The state Department of Natural Resources said in July it wrapped up its investigation into the couple’s crappie possession, which resulted in charges.

The couple could be fined and ordered to pay restitution up to $3,000 if they’re found guilty, according to the Star Tribune.

In a statement to McClatchy, the agency credited the hotline tip responsible for alerting authorities.

“Each conservation officer is responsible for patrolling hundreds of square miles and they simply can’t be everywhere at once,” Lt. Col. Greg Salo, assistant director of the enforcement division, said in a statement. “Turn in Poachers is an invaluable tool that provides citizens an easy way to anonymously report what they believe to be fish, game or other violations and assist the DNR in protecting Minnesota’s natural resources.”

Crappie fishermen catch fish on spider rigs at Truman Lake. Video by Brent Frazee

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