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Notes from the Streams banner
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Notes and observations from around Pennsylvania
from Commission Waterways Conservation Officers
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But my dog is not a good swimmer
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The day began with torrential downpours throughout the county. The skies were still threatening rainfall when I encountered a female in a kayak at a local impoundment.

She did not have a personal flotation device onboard. Her eleven year old son was in another kayak and was not wearing a personal flotation device as required. In addition, he did not possess a personal flotation device.

However, a small dog sitting on the mother’s lap did have its personal flotation device on. The mother received two citations.

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— WCO Albert Colian, Cambria County
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Distant Lands
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The Central Erie District has been vacant of a WCO for a few years now; consequently, WCO Smolko and myself have been spending a lot of time in that district conducting patrols.

After being in Erie County for over 10 years I have come across a number of anglers and boaters from around the country, and most Eastern European block countries coming to Erie, mostly to fish. Now that I’m in the city limits checking boaters and anglers my interaction with people has gone to a whole different level when it comes to meeting people from distant lands.

While out on routine patrols around the City of Erie I have encountered people from the following counties: Bhutan, Nepal, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Guatemala, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and of course our neighbors to the north, Canada.

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— WCO Brook Tolbert, Western Erie County
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Passive or Aggressive
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Recently I observed an individual along one of our lakes in the Southeast fishing while wearing boxing gloves on his hands. While the fishing pole was resting on a forked stick, he would punch the air aggressively while bouncing back and forth. He would remove the gloves, reel in the line and check his bait, then resume punching the air again. After several minutes, curiosity got the best of me and not seeing a fishing license displayed, I walked down to question his actions.

He told me his fishing license was up in his car and that he was at the lake for the first time. When asked about the odd combination of fishing rod and boxing gloves, he explained he had just come from his wife’s divorce attorney. I guess the combination of fishing and boxing was his way to calm his nerves and release his frustration at the same time. Enough said.

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— WCO Lee Creyer, Lehigh County
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The Good Father
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It had been raining all day; heavy at times.  The hours on patrol seemed to pass by slowly as most anglers and boaters had opted for the dry conditions of home.  I had encountered no one afield until I noticed a young boy; maybe 10 years old, fishing alone at a public pond.  This pond was adjacent to a country road and had a small pull-off nearby where anglers could park.

Dressed in a t-shirt, shorts and a pair of sneakers this youngster was holding a short fishing pole with a simple close-faced reel.  He didn’t move and appeared to be concentrating intently at a point in the pond where his line disappeared beneath the water’s surface.  It was raining steadily and there was no doubt that he was soaking wet, but not deterred.

There was a car in the parking lot with its windshield wiper blades moving back and forth.  It was positioned in such a way that the operator was facing the boy. 

As I drove alongside the vehicle, I noticed a man behind the wheel.  It was the boy’s father.  Clearly, fishing in the rain was not a passion shared by Dad!  As we chuckled about that, the father told me that his son was passionate about fishing.  “He thinks about nothing else…He just loves it”, he said.

In a flash, my memory transported me back to my own childhood.  As a 12-year old, I was passionate about deer hunting; an interest I acquired early on from friends in the fourth grade.  My Dad spent countless weekend hours in the freezing cold and snow to accompany me in those early years afield.  For four years, until I turned 16 and could legally hunt alone, he braved the cold sitting next to me, wrapped in blankets. 

But, in order to fully appreciate my Dad’s sacrifice, you must understand his background.  He grew up in Brooklyn, New York.  He had never been hunting, never had an interest in hunting, would dare not eat wild game or even try it, and besides a two year stint in the Navy, had never fired a gun!  What I did not, and could not appreciate then was that my Dad’s true passion was not the game, the gun or the hours afield; it was me.

34 years later, I find myself in my Dad’s shoes; a husband and father of two young children.  My Dad who has since passed away had given me the gift of his time.  I am still a passionate deer hunter, but cannot think about it without heart-felt memories of my Dad and the time he spend with me, trying to stay warm, in the woods. 

I turned my attention back to that father in his car, watching his son fishing in the rain.  I told him what my father had done for me years ago and how much I cherish those thoughts.  Although his son may not appreciate it now, he would grow up with fond memories of this rainy day.  I pointed to him and said, “It might seem insignificant now, but you are doing a great thing for your son and he will not forget it!  This is what great Dad’s do for their children”.

The man smiled and said thank you with a look of pride and satisfaction on his face.  I thanked him for reminding me of my own Dad and the things he did for me so many years ago.

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— WCO Jonathan Kay, Butler County
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Hooked on Fishing
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One of the pleasures of working as a Waterways Conservation Officer is having the opportunity to work with kids and teach them the joy of fishing and enjoying the outdoors. Teaching kids how to fish takes a lot of patience and requires help from Mother Nature to be effective. At a Kids Fishing Rodeo outside Reading, PA, while working with inner city kids and the Big Brother Big Sister program we learned that it can also be dangerous as well.

When working around a small pond with lots of kids casting you always have to be mindful of back casts and loose hooks as Waterways Conservation Officer Mark Pisko learned on this day. Officer Pisko turned his back on a young man not realizing he was about to execute the two handed straight over the head cast for distance technique.

The hook embedded itself squarely in the seat of Officer Pisko’s Duty Trousers. Luckily not catching any skin as the young man finished his follow through.

Fortunately for Officer Pisko he had a fellow Officer on scene who is not only quick with a pair of pliers to cut the hook out of his pants, but equally as quick with a cell phone camera to capture this moment.

Officer Pisko
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— WCO Chase D. Rhoades, E. Berks / N. Montgomery
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Bridge Troll
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While on foot patrol during early trout season I observed two people under a bridge at a great fishing spot. I waited for a few minutes and watched to see if they were fishing. They were looking all around the bridge as if they had lost something. However, I did not see any fishing gear.

I approached the bridge to find a man and woman Geocaching. This is an outdoor sporting activity where participants use a (GPS) or mobile device to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", anywhere in the world. A typical cache is a small waterproof container containing a logbook where the geocacher enters the date they found it and signs it with their established code name. On this occasion, the container was located up high in a small crack between the bridge and the bridge piller.

Being as I was much taller then them, I was asked if I could reach it. After getting the container they thanked me and said “we have found many things playing this game, but never a Bridge Troll”.

I have been called many things in this job, but never a Bridge Troll.

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— WCO Darrin Kephart, S. York County
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Paying it Forward
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In 1990 while fishing along one the trout streams in Washington County, PA, Edward Sloski encountered a man who had arrived at the stream and had forgotten his fishing rod. Ed didn’t know the gentleman, but gave him a rod to use while he was there.

Twenty-four years later Ed was fishing and lost his fishing license. In the mail arrived his license that had been found and returned by that same man.

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— WCO Sean Sauserman, Washington County
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Lifetime Memories
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One of the things that really makes my day is to see or hear of a kid who caught a BIG ONE. This occurred on a day I was stocking the Youghiogheny River tailrace with its first in-season stocking.

Before the state hatchery truck arrived and as I was pulling into the meeting place I was hearing of a kid who caught a big trout. When we came to the stocking stop where I was told the kid was fishing the young boy and his sister were there to help carry some buckets. I asked him if he was the one who caught the big trout, with a big smile on his face he said he was. I said I would stop back after the stocking to see it and take his picture to put on our web page if his parents say it’s ok.

So, after stocking I went back and talked to the boy’s father who said it was ok to take the kids picture. The boy was 9 years old and the Rainbow Trout he caught measured 22 inches. I could see how proud his father was as I told the kid what a nice catch and to get one like that before we stocked was a bonus. The boy’s sister age 11 was also doing well on the catching but nothing in size to beat her brother

It's times like this that make you realize that fishing can make memories that will last a lifetime. I’m sure this family will be talking about this day for years to come.

I can still remember the first big trout I seen caught, I was in my early teens and one of my buddies caught a very large Brown Trout at a lake that was just stocked. That was some forty plus years ago and I wasn’t even the one who caught it but I remember it as though I did.

So, the next time you catch a BIG ONE, by releasing it you may be giving some kid a memory of a lifetime and even better yet getting them hooked on a lifetime of fishing.

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— WCO Daniel McGuire, Southern Somerset County
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Do Your Math
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After a few years living the life of a Waterways Conservation Officer you see about every trick in the book on how to get around the law. I recently came across a group of young men fishing. When asked to produce a fishing license, one of the men told me he didn’t need a fishing license because he was only fifteen years of age. I asked him how old he was, and he insisted he was fifteen years of age.

I talked to his friends for a while and, without hesitation, I turned to the man and asked him how old he was. He said “I just told you, I’m 15!” I then asked him when his date of birth was, and as he thought for a few seconds, I could see he was counting on his fingers behind his back!

When I pointed out that he shouldn’t have to count on his fingers to remember his own date of birth, his friends all laughed and said “We told you he would catch you lying about your age!” As he was signing his citation, he told me that his friends warned him about fishing without a license.

He then asked me how I knew he was not 15. I informed him that I am well trained in detecting deception and often see right through lies…and additionally, most 15 year olds don’t drive cars, chew tobacco or have beards!

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— WCO Brendan Ryan, Northern Bucks County
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Bear Headed
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While on patrol in late spring, WCO Kyler and I were privileged to witness one of those ‘there is no way this is going to happen’ moments in nature. The moment that captured our undivided attention occurred after we had finished patrolling Rock Run. We were entering State Route 973 and heading to another patrol location. We had just started in the direction of our next patrol location when WCO Kyler exclaimed, “Did you see that black bear crossing the road?”

Unfortunately, my attention had been directed to the opposite side of the road, and I missed the opportunity to see the bear. WCO Kyler described the bear as being “good sized”. WCO Kyler pointed me in the direction the bear. We pulled onto a secondary road where we were able to see the bear running towards a house.

Evidently, the bear did not see the seven foot tall, steel corrugated security fence that was around the property and driveway or simply just did not care. As WCO Kyler and I watched in anticipation, we did not even have enough time to say, “There is no way this is going to happen.” The bear was charging at a high rate of speed, directly at the gate across the driveway of the house. In an instant before the inevitable collision, I was able to wonder what the outcome of that meeting would be. I assumed the bear would be thrown back and rerouted on another course of travel or possibly even knocked unconscious.

As it turns out, that particular bear must have had enough weight, velocity, and thickness of skull to knock the gate wide open without even slowing down. It rammed its head into the gate, springing it open, while at the same time using his front paw to further assist in the opening of the gate. The bear never missed a step and continued running into the adjacent woodlands.

Needless to say, it took a moment for WCO Kyler and me to realize what we had just witnessed. Not surprisingly, the first words exchanged between us after a lengthy laugh were, “There is no way that just happened!”

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— WCO Anthony Beers, Clinton / W. Lycoming Counties
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Rattlesnake in the Basement
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While preparing to hitch a ride with WCO Chad McKenrick I received a call informing me of a complaint of a rattlesnake in a church basement. When we arrived at the scene a man explained to us that a three foot rattlesnake was observed 30 feet or so from the church the day before. Then the secretary heard a similar noise the next day in the kitchen area.

We entered the kitchen and heard a faint hissing/rattling sound coming from the cabinets. We searched the cabinets but did not find a rattlesnake. The search then led us to the basement, the hissing/rattling continued.

WCO McKenrick quickly put an end to search as he discovered that the source of the noise was not a pit viper, but a busted water pipe.

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— WCO Dave Kaneski, Northern Wayne County
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Hungry fish
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Every once in awhile we get afforded the opportunity to work in plain clothes. This means we blend into the surroundings, act like the locals while watching for people violating the law that normally wouldn’t be caught with just a quick check by a uniformed officer.

On this particular detail we were observing a place where there historically have been issues with illegal activity. My neighboring officer and myself were fishing side by side, and the other closest individual was approximately 40 feet away. I felt a slight tug on my pole while this other individual began reeling his pole in. I originally thought my line had drifted into his because of the strong current, and we had wrapped around each other’s lines and now we were having a slight tug of war. Besides this individual tugging on the line, I could feel the distinct vibrations of a hooked fish also.

Walking over to this individual as we were both reeling in our lines, because after all, the most important thing was to get the fish in. We could untangle the lines and straighten everything else out after we were done with the fish. So we both reeled in the fish and hefted it onto the pier together. It turned out that our lines were not tangled in the least.

The Freshwater Ddrum had two hooks in its mouth. My hook and the other guy that was fishing 40 feet away! I have never seen anything like that before. I guess that must have been one hungry fish!!

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— WCO Jeffrey B. Giardina
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Unwelcome Visitor
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As law enforcement officers some people may see us as unwelcome visitors when we approach them while they are out recreating. I understand and am fine with people being entitled to their own opinions, however this story is about an unwelcome visitor that really got every ones blood pumping.

I was patrolling Geneva Swamp under Interstate 79, There were five individuals in two boats that were tied to a steel barrier and fishing. The top of the steel wall was approximately three to four feet above the water. I was approaching their location and had to walk through swamp grass that was about five feet tall. As I neared their location I broke out of the grass and was approximately three feet from the wall.

At the exact moment I emerged from the grass, I must have drove a water snake out of the grass because it jumped off the wall and struck one of the men in the shoulder and fell to the bottom of the boat. Two of the three men were up the wall and standing beside me panting with excitement within a second while the third was huddled in the front of the boat with his knees in his chest and screaming.

The snake was approximately four feet long and was slithering around in the bottom of the boat. With the lone man stuck in the boat with the snake his buddies while laughing hysterically at him helped him remove the snake by using an oar to push the snake in the water.

Unfortunately the men didn’t have life jackets either so a citation was issued but they sure did have fun picking on their buddy for his girl-like scream while huddled in the front of the boat with his knees in his chest.

I guess the moral of the story is as much as people see us as unwelcome…It could always be worse.

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— WCO Chad E. Doyle, South Central Crawford / Eastern Mercer Counties
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No Buggy Though
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While stocking trout we are often dependent of volunteers to help carry buckets of fish. Sometimes there is an abundant amount of help and other times there is next to no help. I found myself with very little help stocking one day and by the time I got to Mahoning Creek it was just the stocking truck driver, one volunteer, and myself.

As we were starting to offload fish a young lady came by riding a horse so I took the opportunity to ask if she would mind stocking some fish for us. She agreed to take some fish so I looked for a place that she could tie her horse off, assuming she would dismount first. I was wrong.

When I turned around she had ridden her horse alongside the stocking truck to receive a bucket. She took the bucket down to the stream on horseback and I ran for my camera, seeing a great photo opportunity. She was more than happy to have her picture taken and thanked us for letting her stock fish and I thanked the young lady for her help and she rode off down the road leaving the three of us in amazement.

So thanks again to Emma and her horse “Breaker.”

Breaker
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— WCO Richard Daniels Jr., Eastern Schuylkill County
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Loon Stocking
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Working Opening Day of Trout season with WCO Shellgren in Forest County one would not expect strange looks while stocking.

We had received a report from campers at Kelletville Campground along Tionesta Creek of an injured loon. The loon was found lying in a shallow puddle in the parking lot. A call to the local Game officers found them busy in other parts of the county.

After approaching the loon several times we realized she wasn’t injured but trying to fly. I then remembered that loons can only take off from water, not from land. Grabbing the loon was out of the question after a couple of stabs from her sharp beak.

Officer Shellgren then broke out a piece of equipment every conservation officer should have, a large plastic bin. The bin was quickly placed over the loon and we slide the lid under her then turned over the bin with loon inside. We then both carried the bin down to Tionesta Creek, which you can imagine was full of opening day anglers.

I realized as we poured the large loon into Tionesta Creek among the anglers that I would probably field some phone calls in the office on Monday as to why the PFBC is stocking loons.

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— Cpt. Bob Nestor, Northwest Region Office
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Unusual Calls
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We, like everyone in the business of service, get phone calls that, as you're listening to the person describe the event…well lets just say they are pretty hard to believe. One such call happened when a trout stocking helper called and said he just caught a Piranha. This I had to see. So I asked him to keep the fish in a bucket till I could examine his catch.

It surely had to be a disfigured fish, a bluegill (maybe) or some other fish just misidentified (right?). After all it was on the Mahantango Creek? Well sure enough, no lie, no joke, there was someone’s pet piranha on the end of fishing line freshly caught.

Another call, just as hard to believe, was a rattlesnake in the Harrisburg Hospital parking garage. It was July and Harrisburg City is not rattlesnake territory (or is it)? Surely it was another case of mistaken identity.

I kid you not that snake had the entire garage and most of Second Street shut down. The snake had crawled back up in the under compartment of a parked car and had yet again disappeared. When it was finally located and captured (thank you Carl Books & Mark Staley) sure enough it was one timber rattlesnake.

You just never know. I suspect it got there by hitching a ride from actual rattlesnake territory.

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— WCO Mark Sweppenhiser, Dauphin/Northumberland Counties
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Take a better look
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As WCO’s we learn to adapt and blend in with our surroundings to monitor and oversee our district without being in plain view, this day was not one of those days where I was trying to blend in I was just watching the water and boats in plain sight.

On this day while on patrol at Conneaut Lake, I was in my marked patrol vehicle and watching the Beach Club area and the lake from the road in the park. I noticed that there were three individuals fidgeting with a jet-ski on shore at the beach club. I could see that they were trying to get the vessel running correctly.

I then noticed one of the males start to look up and down the lake and seemed to be really scanning the water for something. After what seemed like five minutes of scanning the water the man jumped on the jet-ski without wearing a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) and zipped out approximately 200 feet from shore and started to do figure eights and really horsing the jet-ski. The man drove the jet-ski for about two minutes and then drove back into the shore and jumped off.

I exited my vehicle and walked down to their location. As I approached within about twenty feet the man that was on the jet-ski turned and noticed my approach. Immediately the man starts to laugh and says “I never thought to look for you on land, I was scanning to lake to make sure your boat wasn’t out there.” The man was more than willing to take the ticket for not wearing a PFD while operating a jet-ski and even joked that next time he would have to “take a better look.” I laughed and said “How about you just put on a PFD.”

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— WCO Chad E. Doyle, South Central Crawford / Eastern Mercer Counties
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An iPhone and an Eagle
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It was a windy and cold second day of trout season. I was speaking with one of our regular fisherman. A boat with two adult men and four young boys had just launched the vessel. An inspection of the boat revealed that the registration had expired at the end of March.

Option one is to put the boat back on the trailer and disappoint the four budding anglers. Option two is pull out an iPhone and a credit card and renew the registration on the spot. Option two was chosen. It took about 15 minutes, now the registration was valid. The boat began backing away from the launch.

On cue a mature bald eagle appeared about 50 yards from the access. I pointed it out to the young men. It took a few minutes for the bird to get his bearings in the strong wind. He then plummeted towards the choppy surface of the lake. He emerged with a rainbow trout that was at least 18”. He struggled to get into the air but then flew low over the lake to a nearby beaver hut and ate his lunch.

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— WCO Dave Kaneski, Wayne County
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Old Friend
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While stocking Canoe Lake this spring, I was approached by an angler who spoke to me like we have known each other for years. He even called me by my first name! Not recognizing him as anyone I knew, I still played along like I knew him also. It was what he said next that caught my attention.

He said “ I owe my life to you”. I said “you do, why is that?” He said “you gave me a citation two years ago for not having a life jacket on my boat”. I’m thinking ok but how does that mean I owe my life to you. He said the next year he was out on his boat in the spring and had his life jacket, not only on the boat but he was actually wearing it.

He fell overboard into the frigid water and was quickly succumbing to the frigid temperatures. He was barely able to get back in the boat and said if it wasn’t for his wearing the jacket he would have never survived!

I guess this puts into perspective the reason we have officer’s out enforcing the boating laws of the Commonwealth. Although we will never know how many lives we indirectly save by issuing citations for violations, I'm sure it is a lot more than we could imagine. It certainly made me feel much better about doing my job!

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— Sergeant Craig A. Garman, South Central Region Office
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