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Picture of the cover to the September 2006 magazine

Operation Pescador

Game wardens target illegal netting on Falcon Reservoir.

By John Jefferson

As our boat was being launched just after 4 a.m., Game Warden Wayne Schwartz handed me a bullet-proof vest. “This is yours,” he said. “You’ll need to put it on.”

Motoring slowly away from the Falcon State Park boat ramp, the lake illuminated only by a bright moon, I realized this was serious business. It was not just another moonlight ride on the lake.

Texas game wardens had already confiscated nearly eight miles of nets illegally placed on the Texas side of the lake, along with six boats and motors, and had arrested 10 Mexican fishermen during the first two waves of Operation Pescador. The intent was to protect fish and fishing in Texas waters by thwarting illegal commercial fishing on the Texas side of the lake and to discourage the co-op that financed the netting and marketed the contraband catch in Mexico. And it was Lent — the season of highest demand for fish. This could get interesting.

Within the next two days, wardens caught three more illegal boats and one of the boat operators. Two pairs of fishermen escaped in the dark into the dense, rattlesnake-infested, thorn-brush on the Texas side. Just before the wardens got to one boat, the netters yanked off the gas hose to disable the motor and pulled the drain plug to flood the boat so it couldn’t be towed. They apparently intended to return later and reclaim it. The wardens, however, were able to tow it.

Just like two earlier efforts, this wave of Operation Pescador involved 20 wardens from various parts of the state. Two more waves were planned. Wardens hid in boats among coves of flooded huisache brush, scanned the lake from hilltop vantage points with binoculars and flew the lake and adjoining shoreline by helicopter. One pair posed as bass fishermen — decoy dudes, in game warden vernacular — acting as spotters. There was a night crew and a daytime shift. It was a thorough, well-planned and efficiently executed operation. Thankfully, there was no gunplay, although a couple of knives were brandished briefly. One warden was severely scratched by the wicked huisache thorns as they frantically chased a boat through the shoreline brush.

By the time the operation was over, 20 Mexican boats and motors had been seized, 28 arrests had been made and 98,150 feet of gill nets had been removed from Texas waters. There is no estimate of the fish that were spared.

Will this stop illegal netting and prevent further depletion of the Texas fishery?

“They’re still out in full force,” Game Warden Capt. Chris Huff, the warden in charge of Operation Pescador in Zapata County, recently said. “But there will be ongoing operations like this one.”

“We will make illegal netting unprofitable on Falcon by continuing to seize illegal boats, motors and nets and will continue to jail them whenever we catch them,” TPWD Law Enforcement Director, Col. Peter Flores, said. “As long as netting is illegal here, we will enforce the law.”

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