FISHING buddies in their 70s who were caught with 74 lines in the Barwon River have been let off the hook in Tamworth Local Court.
The legal maximum is two hand-held lines per person, but Robert Groth and Alan Lobsey pleaded guilty to charges of using more than two lines, leaving hand-held lines unattended, possessing illegally taken fish, possessing a mutilated restricted species of fish and prohibited fishing gear.
Magistrate Julie Soars gave them both 12-month good behaviour bonds for the lines and a conditional release order with no conviction on the other charges.
A NSW Fisheries Officer pulled the two pensioners up on a fishing trip on a property near Collarenebri about 5pm on August 5, 2017, NSW Fisheries facts showed.
It was the men's annual fishing trip.
The officer discovered the unattended, illegal lines and nine "yella belly" fish the men had caught in the boat, seven of which illegally had their heads cut off.
"You can gut and kill them, but you are not allowed to take their head off," defence solicitor Mark Daly told the court on Tuesday.
"There were fish with their heads taken off to fit in Eskys.
"That's a very old-fashioned way of fishing that's just not tolerated anymore."
At the time, the NSW Fisheries officer asked Lobsey and Groth if they had been fishing in the river and, later, what they planned to do with the fish.
"Yes, we just had a fish and are heading back to the camp," Lobsey reportedly said. "[We plan to] share them among the four of us to eat."
A number of hand-held lines were found on the east Barwon River bank, and at least 35 dropped from the boat. The group had cleaned the fish and removed their heads on an ironing board, under a tree near the river.
'Get up to date'
The anglers had no previous criminal record, and references tendered in court showed both are heavily involved in the Tamworth community.
Groth is a full-time carer for his disabled son and has been for some years.
Ms Soars said these were "somewhat unusual matters, especially in a drought-affected area".
"If you want to fish, you need to do your best to get up to date with all the rules and regulations before you do so.
"I do hope not to see you back again."
Each man was ordered to pay $750 to NSW Fisheries in court costs.