Chasing the 'Putnam County Poacher' leads to unlikely friendship | News

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Chasing the 'Putnam County Poacher' leads to unlikely friendship

PUTNAM COUNTY, Fla. -- Friendships often begin in unlikely places and situations. 

Those unique circumstances give the friends something to bond them for life.

This is especially true for Bob Lee and Roger Gunter, who, despite knowing each other for more than 30 years, are only taking their second fishing trip together.

"I've gone bass fishing with him one other time," Lee said.

That's strange considering how much both men love to fish, and how big the outdoors have been in their lives.

This trip is on the Ocklawaha River in Putnam County, a search for large mouth bass.

"Boss man," as Roger refers to Bob, "You ain't got no beer in here," he shouted while they loaded up the boat.

"Dang it, Roger, it's not even noon yet," Bob replied.

The two still have a lot to learn in their budding friendship.

Yes, the men have known each other for three decades. 

But they're only just now becoming friends.

"Well, I don't chase him anymore," Bob said. "And he doesn't run from me."

Bob was brought here to Putnam County from Tampa back in 1977 by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

He was on special assignment to hunt down and arrest those fishing illegally on the St. Johns River and its tributaries.

"I was one of six on a squad, and our job was to quell illegal commercial fishing which was running rampant here at the time," he said.

He was a game warden on a mission to catch the "Putnam County Poacher."

"If you ask anyone in this area, anyone who ever gets in the outdoors, who the most notorious poacher was, they'll say Roger."

And now the two, who spent the '70s and '80s as bitter rivals, can sit, fish and laugh on the same boat.

"It's been an exciting life, I tell ya," Roger said while making a cast. "And then this fella came along and made it a whole lot more exciting."

Bob chased Roger through the winding creeks of the St. Johns River basin for the better part of the 70s and 80s.

"We ran right through an old burned out boat house," Roger remembered. "It's a wonder we didn't get killed."

And all this chasing was because of a machine Roger perfected. 

It's a rigged up Weston five bar generator, shoved into an old army artillery can. 

Its purpose was to put the right amount of electric charge into the water to stun any catfish that was under the boat.

"All the catfish would come up," he said. "If there were 10,000 catfish down there, they'd all come up."

It's a process they called monkey fishing, and it is very illegal.

So the chases began, with Roger winning most. 

And at the time, running from the law wasn't a crime. So, even if Bob managed to catch Roger, he'd already have disposed of any evidence.

"You just throw the damn machine overboard and then there ain't nothing they can do about it," Roger said.

All told, Roger said he got caught around a dozen times. 

The worst punishment he received was a citation for a couple hundred bucks.

"But I pleaded no contest and the judge ended up throwing the whole thing out," Roger said.

But now Bob is retired, and Roger just got tired of running.

Roger remembered, "There were warrants out for everybody, they were putting everybody in jail -- "

"His friends," Bob interrupted.

"Yep, so I quit right then."

So with all of Roger's fishing buddies locked up, and retired Bob looking for someone to fish with, this unnatural friendship was like second nature.

"He was as dedicated as I was," Roger said.

And like two divergent streams in the meandering Ocklawaha River, their lives have finally converged again to a friendship that could survive just about anything.

Bob Lee has written a book about his experiences as a game warden called 'Backcountry Lawman.' It's available at many bookstores and on Amazon.

You can visit Lee's website by clicking here to find out when Roger and Bob will be together again for a book signing.

Their next signing is May 18 at the Gulf gas station in Melrose.


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