By Steve Graf
Since bass tournaments began, there have always been anglers looking to bend the rules and push the envelope. Some get caught while there are others who have succeeded in cheating. But when it comes to getting caught, it’s only a matter of time because when they get away with it once, they think they can do it again and again. But one day their luck runs out and someone catches them. A cheater has to be someone without a conscience because a normal person would feel guilt and shame. But cheaters fall into the same category as a criminal, they have no conscience.
This leads me back to a cheating scandal in October of 2018 when two anglers fishing in a derby on Lake Powell in Utah thought they had mastered the art of cheating. Little did they know that forensic science would play a huge role in their conviction.
These two anglers thought they had the perfect plan by going to another body of water the day before their tournament on Lake Powell. The evening before their event, they went into a shallow area of Quail Creek Reservoir and were observed doing “something suspicious” just before dark. But like any cheating scandal or criminal activity, there’s always a trail. The trail started at Quail Creek Reservoir where you must sign in and out for this water body. Of course, these guys didn’t think to use fictitious names, they gave their real names! Duh!
Quail Creek is 140 miles from Lake Powell, so these fish had to be kept alive in a live well for at least 20 hours. While today’s live wells are high tech and do a great job of keeping fish alive, it puts a lot of stress on the bass trying to stay alive for that length of time. As these fish were being weighed in, the tournament director noticed some things that didn’t seem right. First, all the fish had red tails and fins (the first indication that the fish have been stressed.) Second, he noticed that these fish looked nothing like all the other fish being weighed in. These fish had little heads and fatter bodies indicating a different diet than the fish from Lake Powell.
Here’s where things get really scientific. Turns out these suspicious indicators prompted investigators to work with the University of Utah and do what’s called a Stable Isotope Analysis. To simplify, it’s basically a calcium test that can determine what body of water a fish has come from based on the food eaten by the fish. Every body of water has what is called its own stable isotope ratio. When they compared to fish from Lake Powell to the fish from Quail Creek, they knew immediately that the fish weighed in by the anglers were not from Lake Powell but came from Quail Creek Reservoir.
And there you have it…Forensic Science catches the cheaters just like an episode of CSI Vegas! This story amazed me with the length the investigators went to try and convict these two Bozo’s. How their persistence and hard work paid off in making sure these two anglers didn’t get away with fraud!
If you’re wondering how they were sentenced: they were fined $2500 each in restitution to “Help Stop Poaching.” They paid $500 in a plea fee, 48 hours of community service, 2 years of no hunting and the Division of Wildlife Resources sought they get 5 years of no fishing.
So, I guess in this case, cheaters never win! From this angler’s perspective, there will always be anglers who think they can get away with cheating and will go to extreme lengths to do so. I am hopeful in the future that judges come down harder on these people who choose to go this route and attempt to commit fraud on unsuspecting anglers. Till next time, good luck, good fishing, and don’t forget to wear your sunscreen.