Region 8 Fisherman Hooked for Cheating

May 2, 2007 - Posted at 8:45 p.m. CDT

LAKE WAPPAPELLO, MO -- To sportsmen in Region 8, fishing tournaments are a big deal.  Anglers reel-in thousands of dollars, sometimes fishing boats and prizes and plenty of prestige. But with that kind of acclaim and money, comes the temptation to cheat.

Prosecutors in Wayne County charged Gary Jones of Poplar Bluff with felony "stealing by deceit," during a fishing tournament on Wappapello Lake over weekend.

Skimming across Lake Wappapello, you find plenty of open water, folks casting their lines into the lake...and in one cove you'll find duck blinds.  But it's under one blind in particular; investigators saw what they were looking for.

"We came out and found the fish, and waited to come back Sunday," said Missouri Water Patrolman Dave Nelson.

Nelson says conservation department agents tagged two fish they found on stringers under the blind, allegedly put there by Jones prior to the tournament, then waited for him.

"The Water Patrol and conservation department set up surveillance, and observed the individual retrieve the fish and put it in the live well," said Nelson.

But Nelson says they waited until Jones brought his fish in to be weighed before confronting him.  When his fish were weighed, Jones finished second place in the tournament and third place for the "Biggest Bass." He won plaques and more than $800 in cash and then was taken into custody by the Water Patrol.

"There was a lot of cheering and clapping when they took him in," said Julie Stuever, assistant tournament director. She says tournament officials were suspicious of Jones for the last couple of years.

He's won between $800 and $1,400 in the past, but always passed polygraph tests.

"If you can't trust the people you fish will, why come up and try to beat people cheating to win," said Stuever.

"They spend a lot of money and they lose. But when they lose to deceit they get pretty upset by that," remarked Nelson.

If convicted, Jones could face between two and seven years behind bars.