It happened 43 years ago this week, but I still get a sinking feeling in my gut when the memory pops up.

It happened 43 years ago this week, but I still get a sinking feeling in my gut when the memory pops up.

That would be the day late in March 1968 when I looked up to see an Oregon State Police game warden on the other side of the stream where I was fishing illegally, along with some childhood chums. There was no doubt in my juvenile mind that I was about to go to prison for a long, long time.

The officer was beckoning with a forefinger, indicating that we should join him and the other young scofflaws he already had in tow. The shiny badge on his chest and rather large firearm at his side suggested we dare not tarry.

In addition to yours truly, the culprits — the statute of limitations has kicked in but we'll stick to first names — included Cliff, Robert, Gene, Randy, Pat and Doc. We were all 16 or 17, and erstwhile students at Illinois Valley High School in Cave Junction.

Spring break that year found us camping at a place known as Sourdough Camp just outside the southern edge of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. We were fishing in Baldface Creek near its confluence with the north fork of Smith River. It's a wild and woolly site that most definitely is not open to any type of fishing this time of year, let alone the methods we were employing.

The fellow in uniform was Wayne Krieger. If that names rings a bell, it's because he is now State Rep. Krieger, 70, R-Gold Beach, co-chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. I rang him up a few days ago at his office in Salem to see whether he remembered the incident. I was a tad hesitant, this being the first time I had talked to him since he nabbed us.

"You were the ones who had that old green Jeep," he immediately responded. "You were snagging salmon and you had some dynamite."

Busted.

But I would point out to the jury that I did not personally have any dynamite. True, someone within our group may have had a few sticks containing nitroglycerin. The culprit is now an upstanding, retired citizen.

About now you are thinking that we Kerby kids were mad dog urchins who should never be unleashed upon a civilized society. But you would be wrong. Two lived in the Cave Junction area and two others hailed from O'Brien.

Seriously, I do not condone our behavior. You are absolutely correct: It was stupid, dangerous, destructive to a valuable resource and unfair to those who abide by the laws of our society.

What's more, we knew better. No, it was not our finest hour.

But Krieger, who would serve in the OSP from 1964 to 1991, displayed a wisdom that belied his age of 27 at the time.

"With juveniles, you have to weigh carefully what you do," he said, explaining his 1968 rationale. "Do you want them to pay a heavy penalty? Or is it better that they understand our natural resources have to be taken care of so they will always be there for the next generation?

"It doesn't take a lot of brains to write a ticket," he added. "A lot of times, the best a law enforcement officer can do is change behavior. You have to make a decision about what you feel needs to be done in each case."

So he took us back to our camp, sat us down and talked to us about why what we were doing was wrong. I remember a lot of very solemn "Yes, sirs" and "No, sirs" on our part.

At the end, he took the two fish we had caught as well as any illegal materials — namely dynamite — and issued us warning tickets.

His message stuck.

Now, it would be stretching it a bit to say we all became model citizens overnight, but, aside from one becoming a journalist, no one in our group pursued a life of crime. Indeed, one became a police officer, another an engineer, one retired from the U.S. Forest Service, one went into timber industry management. Four served in the Army; two of us are former Marines.

Sadly, two died relatively young. Robert was killed in a logging accident shortly after serving in the Army in Vietnam; Doc died from a kidney disease.

And none of us ever forgot Wayne Krieger for giving us a break. He has had our lifelong respect and gratitude.

"Isn't it amazing where life takes us," he said. "That's something kids need to be reminded of, that life can be a great experience, taking you places you would least expect."

Particularly when someone in authority takes the time to help guide you through the missteps of youth.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.