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Couple from southern Minnesota busted for 253 crappies over the limit [Star Tribune (Minneapolis) :: BC-OTD-CRAPPIE-BUST:MS]

MINNEAPOLIS - A timely Turn In Poachers (TIP) call from an angler in southern Minnesota has resulted in charges against a Mountain Lake couple who were caught with 273 crappies in their possession after exploiting a hot bite on Fairmont's Lake Sisseton.

Minnesota Conservation Officer Dustin Miller said Tuesday the case is a prime example of how anonymous informants under the TIP program can strengthen the hands of local game wardens in protecting state resources.

"It's virtually impossible to get cases like this without help from the public," Miller said.

The tip came in around 8 p.m. May 20 from an angler who had caught 13 crappies on Lake Sisseton in a matter of minutes. The tipster observed a group of six people fishing in the same vicinity for a much longer period. The caller had watched the group catch and keep more than 100 crappies, a Department of Natural Resources report said.

Miller, conservation officer Mike Gruhlke and Mountain Lake police officer Emily Mathiowetz responded by tracing one of the vehicles to an apartment in Mountain Lake. They knocked on the door and asked the husband and wife for permission to inspect their freezer.

Miller said the suspects initially denied catching more than their limit of 10 crappies each in Fairmont earlier in the day. When the officers opened a chest-style freezer in the apartment with the couple's permission, they removed 25 bags of fish averaging nine or 10 crappies to a bag. Two-thirds of the fish were frozen "in the round," meaning they were uncut and whole. Other crappies were cut and cleaned in "butterfly" fashion and looked to be older, the report said.

"I allowed the two to keep their legal possession limit of 20 crappies," Miller wrote in his report. "They were informed that they needed to eat the fish they had prior to keeping any more crappies."

The man was identified as Isouvahn Xayachack, 70, of Mountain Lake. He and his wife, 60-year-old Chanhthone Phongsim, are charged with possession of fish over the limit. Miller said they face possible fines and orders for restitution that could total up to $3,000 if they are found guilty.

The conservation officer said the anonymous tip in the case was unusually strong because it was immediate and included solid information. The suspects also were cooperative, he said.

"They knew what they were doing was wrong," Miller said. "It was a case of people who were overzealous."

Other anglers in the Lake Sisseton crappie-fishing group were checked and found to be in compliance with possession limits. One angler was cited for fishing without a license.

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