Northwest NEWS

July 29, 2002


Live worms lead to legal problems

I have been a long time resident of Duvall. One sunny morning, my 6-year-old son asked me to take him fishing at the local river. Anxious to finally get some quality father-son time in, I agreed to take him to the river in front of Duvall.
   The posted sign in the road said "PUBLIC FISHING" so we saw no harm in doing so. My son and I strolled into one of three stores across the street from the river and bought a small cup of live worms. All three stores advertise "live bait" so I saw no harm in making the purchase. Previous to this, I purchased a Stewardship Access decal for the car and all three fishing permits (saltwater/freshwater/shellfish). I was eager to comply with the law in anticipation of fishing with my boy.
   On that sunny morning, we proceeded to the river hand-in-hand. Upon the first few minutes of fishing, my son had managed to lose most of his bait. He lost bait not to fish, but rather to poor casting techniques. He was just getting used to his brightly colored Snoopy rod when an officer of the law approached us. He seemed very agitated and proceeded to demand a drivers license and fishing permits. All of which I gladly provided.
   He then pointed to a 1/8" remnant of a worm on my son's fishing hook. This is where our day started to sour. He asked us to gather our items and meet him at his car. Trying to demonstrate the utmost respect for the law in front of my son, I humbled myself and politely addressed him with '"yes sir" and "no sir" whenever spoken to.
   I inquired as to his concern and he responded by asking me to read directly from the handbook the laws for westside rivers. I did so. He then asked me to read aloud to him the definition of "specialized gear." I politely did so. He then pointed out that specialized gear prohibits the use of worms (live bait).
   By this time my son became very afraid. Despite the abrupt treatment from the officer, I did my best to console my son. I quietly explained to the officer that the bait shops across the street all eagerly sell worms and one even has a large sign promoting nightcrawlers posted in the window. Regardless, the officer felt compelled to issue me a criminal citation.
   I followed all instructions per the citation. I took a day off of work for my arraignment. Upon presenting myself in criminal court, I learned that the prosecution was recommending:
   $200 fine
   90 days in jail (will suspend jail time pending no future citations)
   permanent criminal record reflecting guilty plea and
   4 hours of community service
   I explained to the prosecutor that the violation was a simple worm that my son had on his fishing rod.
   All I had intended to do that day was to spend some quality time with him. They explained that State Legislature has determined "live bait" is a criminal offense in the state of Washington. Despite my never having any criminal record, the prosecution refused to back down on the recommendation.
   Later I was forced to take another day off of work for my pre-trial hearing. I spent countless hours researching law and speaking to lawyers about the case. Legal fees for representation averaged $3,500.
   I could not justify spending that amount on a worm, so I decided to represent myself. I eventually took a third day off for my criminal jury selection hearing. At that time I managed to meet in private with the prosecutor and make a deal for a lesser fine and a simple bail forfeiture on my record.
   I'm writing this because I frequently see folks buying worms and heading for the river to fish. I always manage to talk them out of using live bait. After hearing my story, they gratefully oblige.
   My fear is that many others are unknowingly risking a permanent criminal record, hefty fine and possible jail time. I want to share my story with others in hopes of saving some other poor soul the agony of what my 6-year-old and I went through. My intent is not to blame the justice system, but rather to inform others.
   PS: Despite having purchased all the permits, my son and I have not at all been interested in fishing since that day. I cannot blame him for being discouraged.
   William L. Foreman II, Duvall