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Original Issue


A government undercover agent in the wealthy Houston area risks his life to gather evidence on the illegal slaughter and sale of more than 200,000 wildfowl

Based on regularweekly dispatches from SI bureaus and special correspondents in the U.S.,Canada, Mexico and overseas; and on reports from fish and game commissions ofthe 48 states and Alaska


In the expansiveyears before World War I hundreds of Americans were active as markethunters—men who legally killed and sold wildfowl. It was something of a luxurybusiness, and it paid well. Not until America's population of ducks and geesehad been decimated and the passenger pigeon blasted into virtual extinction didanyone reckon the actual cost to the country of such slaughter. Then in 1918Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and market hunting wasoutlawed.

But in areaswhere there is a taste for ducks and money to pay for them market hunters stillpersist. Texas is one such area and last week in six wealthy southeasterncounties 60 agents directed by Lawrence Merovka, regional supervisor for theU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, staged the most extensive raid in the service'shistory. Fifty-three market hunters and buyers were arrested, accused ofslaughtering an estimated 200,000 birds in the past two years for clients whopaid up to $5 a carcass.

The coupproduced a mixed bag. It included farmers, oil-field workers, ranch hands and afew specimens of more particular interest, notably Johnny Boortz, operator ofthe Top Hat nightclub near Houston, which often has featured game on its menu;Luther Berwick, an ex-convict who served 10 years for killing a onetime girlfriend and her indiscreet male admirer; and Constable Ike Franks of Algoa, whodeclared: "This is all politics."

Franks'sobservation notwithstanding, the 53—most of them now free on $2,500 bondeach—all face stiff fines and up to six months in prison for each offense. Ifconvictions are obtained, principal credit will belong to a Fish and Wildlifeundercover agent who for two years, at the possible risk of his life,circulated among the hunters and buyers and actually purchased 3,000 illegallybutchered ducks.

The governmentstarted to build its case in 1954 when Anthony Friloux, an assistant UnitedStates District Attorney in Houston, wrote Merovka to report that he hadreceived complaints of market hunting in his area. Merovka knew just what todo. He called Anthony Marc Stefano in California. Stefano, a stocky 47-year-oldlawyer who habitually wears an uncreased Charlie Chan type hat to hide his baldhead, is one of the Fish and Wildlife Service's more intrepid undercoveragents. When Merovka hailed him, he had just cracked a market hunting ring inthe San Joaquin Valley near San Francisco.

Stefanoimmediately moved to Houston, renting a five-room frame bungalow in suburbanBellaire. Representing himself as a jewelry salesman, a trade he had studied inconnection with previous undercover work, Stefano began moving about inHouston's cafe society, giving special attention to clubs and restaurants thatbilled wildfowl dinners.

Once he hadestablished acquaintanceships, Stefano began hinting that he might be in themarket for bootleg birds. At the Top Hat, the government will contend, ClubOperator Boortz introduced Stefano to Luther Berwick. Before long Berwickinvited Stefano to join him in the field.

"We'd gohunting at 5 or 4 or even 2 in the morning," Stefano recalls. "We'dcrouch down there near the rice breaks and wait for the ducks to comefluttering in. I always kept very close to Luther." One foggy dawn as theysquatted in a rice field, Berwick spoke offhandedly, "You know, I'd ratherkill a Federal man than take the rap for shooting ducks for market."Quietly Stefano answered: "Look, if you think there's an agent working thiscountry let's get the hell out of here. You know I've been handling 100 to 150ducks at a time...."

Stefanosystematically continued to work his way into the confidence of Berwick andother hunters. Like Berwick, they hunted for the most part at night,concentrating on localities where ducks and geese rested or fed. Some gunnersbaited and shot from blinds. Others would stalk the birds and fire point-blankinto grounded flocks. All used illegal "Long Toms," shotguns fittedwith special magazines that could hold a dozen or more shells. None of the menwere much concerned about game wardens. "Never mind the wardens,"Stefano was told, "we know what they're doing every minute. We keep a tailon them whenever we are working."

Stefano slowlybuilt his case. He bought ducks from as many hunters as he could, carefullytagged them and stowed them in a freezer. On a New Year's Eve at the Top Hat hewas offered the best duck dinner in the house, gratefully ate it and thenslipped the bones in his pocket to add one more item to a growing body ofevidence.

One night at theTop Hat, according to Stefano, he was challenged to prove his bogus profession.Boortz dropped by his table and flashed a diamond ring. "What aboutit?" he asked. "You're supposed to be an expert."

Stefano pulledout his "loop," the traditional jeweler's eyepiece, and studied thering for a long five minutes.

"I told himthe stone was one carat and 32 points," Stefano reports, "but that itprobably wasn't too valuable because it had a tiny fissure and a carbon depositon it. Boortz just laughed and told me I was right, that he'd been told thesame thing by another jeweler."

With his casealmost complete, Stefano was confronted a fortnight ago by Constable Franks whoaccused him of being an FBI agent, and reported rumors that a mass raid was inthe making. Stefano stoutly denied everything, was backed up by Boortz andsurvived unscathed. Still, there had been a leak, and it is a testament toStefano's courage that he made one more buy. Unarmed as usual, he met hiscontact in a deserted field near Liberty, paid for the ducks and walked away.This hunter, when arrested, had a revolver in his pocket and, it developed, hadonce beaten a man almost to death.

No one, least ofall Supervisor Merovka, was naive enough to believe that the arrest of the 53hunters and accused buyers would permanently solve the market hunting problemin Texas. Sportsmen, however, could concur with Merovka's restrainedlytriumphant post-arraignment comment: "Too many people find this an easy wayto make a fast buck. This may help take the dollar signs off geese andducks...."


It started ayear ago when Mrs. Joyce Wood, 46-year-old wife of a Salem, Ore. dentist,decided to go fishing and couldn't locate any worms. Piqued, she ordered 20fine breeding worms from California and started to ranch her own.

At last countMrs. Wood's worm herd numbered 18,362 and she is firmly in the business ofselling them. "Everything I can find to put them in is full of worms,"she remarked recently. "My husband, who doesn't know much about them,pretends they're not around."

Since the wormsgraze in such places as the family refrigerator, pretending must come hard, butMrs. Wood intends to stay in business. At the moment she has high hopes ofmarketing her brood through vending machines. She is also busily trying toproduce worms of various colors, has a red model to her credit already.

Knottiest mystery of the current New Jersey trout season is how a bear got intoFlat Brook. The 200-pound beast, very black and very dead, was hauled out ofthe river just below Roy Pool. How did the bear die? Game Warden Harry J.Morrison suggested that it may have been done in by trout. "We have beenstocking some big savage fish this spring," he said.


SO—season opened(or opens); SC—season closed (or closes).
C—clear water; D—water dirty or roily; M—water muddy.
N—water at normal height; SH—slightly high; H—high; VH—very high; L—low;R—rising; F—falling.
WT50—water temperature 50°.
FG—fishing good: FF—fishing fair; FP—fishing poor; OG—outlook good; OF—outlookfair; OP—outlook poor

BLACK BASS:CALIFORNIA: Lower Colorado River reservoirs nearing peak as spawning season hasstarted, and OVG. Shasta Lake picking up, but debris from tributary floodshampering anglers.

ARIZONA: Twolargemouth bass over 10 pounds taken from Mohave last week; best fishing inhistory of the lake, says spy.

LOUISIANA: Localsportsmen getting excellent sport, with bass averaging over four pounds inFalse River (former channel of the Mississippi, now landlocked). Live crawfishfished on bottom get best results. Lacassine Waterfowl Refuge continues toprovide fine fishing, with spin-fishermen taking bass to 6¼ pounds on lures,and OG.

NORTH CAROLINA:Stocking of fresh ponds at Buxton, on Cape Hatteras, three years ago withlargemouth fingerlings by state Wildlife Resources Commission is paying offwith easy limits of pan-size bass, but best fishing last week was at East Lakeon Dare County mainland. OG and improving as bass are starting to feed onsurface and will take floating fly rod lures and popper plugs.

MISSOURI: LakeBull Shoals (upper part) is clear, and although water is about 26 feet low FVGand OVG. Best fish are being taken on lead-head plugs bounced along bottom in30-foot depth but top-water lures are also producing nicely. Lake Taneycomo H,M, FP, OP.

SOUTH CAROLINA:Despite dingy water Lake Murray is yielding limit catches of 2-to 3-pound bass;high winds blew most fishermen into sheltered coves last week, but OG.

FLORIDA: Worstdrought in 65 years is still plaguing bass fishermen, but FG/VG where there isstill water. Among top spots are Lake Tarpon north of Clearwater, Little LakeHarris at Howey, Lake Griffin north of Leesburg, the Polk County phosphate pitssouth of Lakeland, deeper holes of the Kissimmee River east of Lake Wales,Lakes Talquin and Iammonia, both near Tallahassee, St. John's River in northwest Florida and Withlacoochee River, 80 miles north of Tampa. Most lakes areabout five feet below normal level, and unless rains come within next few weekssituation will be truly desperate.

TROUT: MICHIGAN:First batch of "trust fund trout," all 10 inches or over, will beplanted in South Branch of the Ausable River this month, as provided by thewill of the late George W. Mason, president of American Motors and expertfly-fisherman who died in 1954. Mason's will provided a $25,000 trust fund,whose earnings will be used for annual plantings along the 14 miles of streamon the South Branch which Mason owned, loved and willed to the state. Underrestrictions enforced on this stretch the "trust fund trout" may betaken only with flies. State-wide SO April 28, and more than 150,000 fishermenexpected to turn out if weather is reasonable. Most lower peninsula streamsnormal except Black, Pigeon and Sturgeon rivers, which are still undergoinglate runoff due to deep snow in headwater swamps. In upper peninsula crest ofrunoff has passed in most streams and almost all areas now easily accessible,including Huron River, last week's top producer, where many 10-to 12-poundrainbows were taken. Due to late spring, opening day will see many upperpeninsula streams clogged with smelt runs. Except for cold, conditions werenearly ideal at presstime, but rains this week could trigger floodconditions.

IDAHO: FVG onentire middle fork of Salmon River; OG but depends on continued cool nightswhich are slowing runoff (daytime temperatures have hit 80°).

NEW HAMPSHIRE:SO May 1 and most streams will be too cold and high for even fair fishingdespite an estimated 340,000 trout to be stocked by then.

BRITISHCOLUMBIA: Warm weather has brought in all Vancouver Island cutthroat lakes atlower altitudes; in Campbell River area all lakes back to and including upperCampbell are fishing well to fly and troll, and same is generally truedown-island. Fry hatch is well started in Cowichan River and starting to showin other streams. Some streams high from melting snow, but FG and OG.

ONTARIO: Use ofminnows for bait now banned in Foot and Shoofly lakes north of Sudbury,generally considered best bets for big speckled trout in province. Both lakesstill ice-covered and OP until mid-May. SO April 28 and OF in streams which areice-free.

MAINE: Most goodtrout water still iced in, and FVP in open waters.

MINNESOTA:Spring run of rainbows now peaking on 23 Lake Superior north-shore streams opensince April 1, although snow is still three feet deep in woods. From Duluth toBeaver Bay streams are H and D; from Beaver Bay to border still L and C asspring runoff not yet in full swing; FG, OG. Scores of limit (10) catches ofrainbows to 12½ pounds and averaging 3 reported last week in Knife, Talmadge,French, Lester, Baptism, Devil Track and Arrowhead; most catches were onfluorescent red yarn with spinners, salmon eggs with spinners and red-and-whitewobbling spoons.

OREGON: SO April28 and OF as good weather was holding on at presstime; more than 200,000anglers expected on streams and the few lakes now open. In western Oregon bestbet will be trolling in tidal areas of coastal streams for sea-run cutthroats;multibladed trolls now legal and will probably be good to bait cutts. Wilson,Nestucca, Siletz, Alsea and Siuslaw rivers in fine shape and should produceworthwhile catches. Lake Creek and Upper Siuslaw River offer good fly-fishingfor cutthroats; weighted streamer flies best lure. All streams running intoWillamette Valley from Cascade Mountains will be high and murky from snowrunoff, and OVP. In central Oregon, Metolius and Deschutes rivers should offerFF/G for fly-and spin-fishermen. Above Bend, Deschutes is best fished fromboat. Dry flies should take fish on both streams. Suttle Lake best for trollingand still fishing with worms or salmon eggs. Most other Oregon streams doubtfulat present. Lakes in national forest don't open till May 26, and limited openwaters will be overcrowded.

NEW JERSEY: FFand OF/G for wet-fly-and nymph-fishing on Flat Brook and new state-ownedstretch of Pequest River. State's new policy of stocking some trout onSaturdays appears enormously popular, with huge crowds following hatcherytrucks; 200 cars counted at Route 206 Bridge at Big Flat Brook awaiting arrivalof hatchery truck, and two gentlemen broke rod tips in car doors in haste tostart fishing when trout arrived. Unfortunately both had spare tips.

MASSACHUSETTS:SO last week, and FP with most streams VH, WT 35-40. Berkshire lakes stillice-locked and OP generally for fly-fishing until about May 10.

PENNSYLVANIA:FVP in most northern and central streams, including famous Spring Creek inCenter County; agent blames cold weather. In south-central section, YellowBreeches remain best bet, and OG if and when weather warms.

NEW YORK:Beaverkill was clear and high at presstime; WT 44 in morning, falling to 38 assnow water runs off. Fish are feeding heavily on nymphs, and OF/G next week ifno heavy rain. OP/F for Esopus and Schoharie creeks unless heavy rain makesthem unfishable. Adirondack streams are still icebound and OVP.

WASHINGTON: SOApril 22, and oldtimers said it was best opener ever due to ideal WT 50-60, newplant of 375 tons of legal trout, and fair carryover. On low lakes 400,000anglers jammed public boat launching areas, and highly touted Beaver Lake wasso crowded many switched to Clear, Big, Sixteen and McMurray lakes. The fewstreams open in eastern Washington are running bank-full of snow water but OF/Gwhen they clear.

STRIPED BASS:CALIFORNIA: Big fish now moving up into Sacramento River, and stretch fromlower end of Horseshoe Bend to Cliff House above Rio Vista is producing topsport; Jimmy Hashimoto's 40-pounder was heftiest of week. Wind conditions werebad last week in Frank's Tract, but San Joaquin River is producing big fish allthe way from Antioch to San Andreas Shoals, and OG.

NEW JERSEY: Afew 6-and 8-pounders reported caught in surf along Long Beach Island.Occasional fish also reported at Island Beach, Seaside Park, Long Branch andone at Shark River Inlet; best bet is Island Beach. All fish reported werecaught on bait, but lures should start producing within the next two weeks.

BONEFISH: BAHAMAISLANDS: Frederick Barbour of Norfolk, Conn. caught the one-thousandth bonefishrecorded since January first at the Bang-Bang Club last week. At southernEleuthera, where commercial netting has been curtailed, Mr. and Mrs. WilliamCluett of Manchester, Vt. took three bonefish apiece on spinning tackle;heaviest fish weighed 6½ pounds.

FLORIDA: FVG atmost Keys flats with many fish in 6-to 9-pound class reported; most catcheswere on spinning tackle using live shrimp bait. H. L. Pitkin of Houston tookseven bonefish to 9 pounds in three days, fishing out of Islamorada; OG/VG.

ATLANTIC SALMON:NEW BRUNSWICK: Ice is out of Nashwaak and main Miramichi rivers but FF/P forblack salmon as streams are H and M. Water should be in fair shape about May1.

KINGFISH:FLORIDA: Avantgarde of king-fish schools has arrived at St. Marks and Panacea,and more than 50 running to 24 pounds had been caught at presstime; OVG fornext several weeks. Best procedure is to troll with feathered lures and mulletstrip until school is located, then cast from boat.

Among last week's notable catches: An 86½-pound COBIA caught by William Kossmarof Chicago fishing out of Biloxi, Miss., on his first deep-sea trip; a 5-pound6-ounce BROWN TROUT caught by John Wiegand of Jamestown, N.Y. at Clear Creeknear Randolph; a 17½-pound KAMLOOPS TROUT caught by Ray Clark of Mission, Hicks Lake on Vancouver Island; a 4½-pound BROWN TROUT caught by HaroldStover of Brentwood, Pa. in the Allegheny River at Rockland, on a worm; a12½-pound RAINBOW TROUT caught by Wilbur Huntley of Minneapolis in theArrowhead River, Minn., on spinning tackle; a 177-pound STURGEON caught byGlenn Howard of Boise, Idaho at Swan Falls on the Snake River; a 13-pound4-ounce BONEFISH caught by George de Blois of Tampa, Fla. on 8-pound test lineand spinning tackle with live shrimp bait near Islamorada Key; a 90-poundTARPON caught by Robert P. Gutterman of Bethesda, Md. on 15-thread line,fishing out of Key West; a 9-pound LARGEMOUTH BASS caught by 9-year-old HoraceVick of Tampa, Fla. in Lake Tarpon near Tampa; a 33-pound SNOOK caught by E. F.Johnson of Nokomis, Fla. in Venice Bay on feather lure and 15-pound testline.


DEJECTED Bill Freeman of Katy is escorted to police car. Behind him (left) is Merovka, who directed the mass raids.


DEFIANT Leslie Lyons of Barker waits arraignment in Houston Federal Court as Texas Game Warden Bob Cross stands by.


DELIGHTED District Attorney Anthony Friloux examines some of 3,000 illegally shot birds bought by an undercover agent.