It’s an early June morning, and while you know the sweltering heat will come soon, now it’s relatively cool, and you’re hoping for a quick limit so you can get back to the dock before the sun gets too high. And BAM! just like that, you’re into them. 

You’re fighting a fish, your buddy is fighting a fish, and the Ugly Stik in the rod holder is doubled over, begging for someone to grab it. You’re reeling with everything you’ve got, determined to grab the unattended rod before your buddy gets his fish in. Just like that, you’ve got three fish in the boat, and you’re all smiles.

All three fish look like keepers, but it’s going to be close. And just for a second, your heart stops and your stomach tightens up. The unmistakable vision of your Golden Rule measuring device in your truck overtakes you. You ask your buddy if he grabbed it, but his shoulders slump, and you realize it’s a lost cause.

You don’t want to throw back a keeper, but you don’t want to break the law, either. What do you do?

The first thing you should do is check the lid of your cooler. Many of them have rulers molded in, so if you’re lucky, you’ve got one of those with you. No luck there? Hmmm, what to do, what to do?

What you do is, right now, while you’re reading this, open the notes folder on your smart phone and get ready to type in some numbers. You’ll always have your phone with you, so you might as well keep some handy notes just in case you find yourself without that ruler. These are measurements of some items commonly carried along on a fishing trip. 

The common 12-ounce soft drink can is about 4.8 inches tall, so check the cooler. You’ll need to stack multiple cans together, so remember not to nest the flanged bottom of one can into the top of another, which will make it shorter than two cans placed top-to-top or bottom-to-bottom.

A 16.9-ounce bottle of Dasani water is 8 inches tall. Stack two together and you’ve got 16 inches. Now, remove the cap, which is about a half-inch tall. Use the cap to add or subtract in small increments.

Got any paper money on you? You’re in luck. A dollar bill — or any denomination of American money —­ is just over 6 inches long. Call it 6 inches even to be on the safe side.

Who are we kidding? Nobody carries paper money anymore. That’s okay, because you’ll know your debit card is 3 inches long. It’s slightly longer than 3 inches, but not enough to count. Most business cards are a little bigger at 3 1/2 inches long.

The plastic bag containing Egret’s 5-inch Wedgetail Eel is 6 inches long, the same as a pack of Lance crackers.

Maybe you left your wallet in the truck and weren’t thirsty when you packed the cooler, but you’re bound to have some tackle boxes with you. The smaller, clear tackle boxes with latching lids are common these days, and easy to measure with.

Tackle boxes in the 3600 and 3700 series are the most common. No matter the brand, one of those numbers should be marked on the box in raised letters. The 3600 is 11 inches in length, and is 7 1/4 inches long. The 3700 measures 14 inches long and is slightly over 9 inches wide.

It’s going to be awfully awkward stacking a Mountain Dew can, a bag of Wedgetails, and a debit card alongside a redfish to see if you can lay him out on ice or not, so it’s best to lay those items out on a flat surface instead, make some marks showing you the length, then hold the fish against the marks.

It’s not an exact science — and certainly not as good as having a true measuring device with you — but having these measurements can save the day if you slip up and leave your ruler behind. If the game warden comes along, he’s going to have a highly accurate measuring device, so if you have any doubts about your fish — if you feel like maybe it’s within a quarter-inch or so, don’t take any chances. Toss that fish back. It’s not worth it. And it will help you next time to remember that Golden Rule