A HORSHAM man who bagged almost four times the legal limit of fish at Natimuk Lake has avoided a conviction and fine.
Angler Robert John Cross, 63, pleaded guilty in Horsham Magistrate's Court on Wednesday to having exceeded the daily catch limit for rainbow trout at the lake.
The Department of Primary Industries dropped two further charges against Cross.
Magistrate Richard Pithouse placed Cross on a 12-month good behaviour bond and ordered him to pay $450 to the court fund and $84 in costs.
The court fund distributes money to welfare organisations.
Mr Pithouse also ordered Cross' 18 rainbow trout to be forfeited and destroyed.
He made no forfeiture order against Cross' fishing gear.
Department fisheries officer Ashley Hastie, prosecuting, told the court that officers saw Cross fishing on the bank of Natimuk Lake on May 9 at 11.30am.
Officers made Cross 'fully aware' that the daily catch limit for rainbow trout was five fish. Cross had caught four rainbow trout already.
Officers returned to the lake at 4pm and found Cross at the same location fishing with two lines.
Cross had five rainbow trout in his catch bag and was vague when officers questioned him.
Officers found a further 13 rainbow trout in a bag hidden under a jacket on the floor of Cross' car.
Cross told officers he was having a good time, the fish were biting and he knew he was probably over the limit.
Defence solicitor Graeme Hardman said his client had received his rod and reel from his late parents.
Mr Hardman said Cross' fellow anglers had 'ribbed' him about the incident and Cross had had time to save for his penalty.
Mr Pithouse read a resource impact statement from the department about the success of Natimuk Lake after years of drought.
He warned if anglers did not comply with catch limits, this might result in lower bag limits and fewer fish in waterways.
"Mr Cross was smart enough to have had only five fish in his bag," Mr Pithouse said.
"This is very difficult to police. The message must be sent to the community and the angling community in particular, that there are rules which must be observed."
Senior fisheries officer Murray Burns told the Mail-Times that the department was happy with the successful prosecution.
"It was a significant number of fish," he said.
"This will set a good example. We expect people to abide by daily catch limits."
Mr Burns said people could call 133 474 to report suspected illegal fishing.