It was the first day of a largemouth bass fishing tournament at Lake Powell, and two Washington City men were doing quite well.
They were in second place and had reeled in the largest bass so far. It seemed like they had a shot at taking home the grand prize of $2,500. Yet, when they turned their day’s catch over to judges, tournament organizers were suspicious.
These bass had little heads and fat bodies compared to the other fish. It seemed like they’d been dining on different foods than the others, Division of Wildlife Resources police Lt. Paul Washburn said in a news release. And their fins were bright red — an obvious sign of distress.
Tournament organizers disqualified the men the next day. That was in October 2018. A DWR investigation later found the fish had, indeed, come from elsewhere: Quail Creek Reservoir, more than 140 miles away.
On Wednesday, the men were charged in 6th District Court with third-degree felony counts of bribery or threat to influence a contest. They are also facing two misdemeanor counts in connection with the alleged ruse.
DWR spokeswoman Faith Jolley said the men also placed first, second or third in eight other tournaments in 2018. Jolley said officers have no evidence of cheating in those tournaments, but did find the sustained success suspicious.
The men, who are 45 and 34, are scheduled for initial appearances on June 4.
“Illegally moving and introducing fish into different waterbodies can cause a lot of damage to that fishery,” Washburn said. “In this case, there were already largemouth bass at Lake Powell, but you can still run the risk of introducing disease and causing other issues whenever you move fish illegally.”