The fish prompted tournament officials to call a biologist and the Division of Wildlife Resources, which sent an investigator for the second day of the tournament. There, the men were questioned, Lieutenant Washburn said.
“Neither one of them were very inclined to talk to our investigator,” he said. “One of them started to kind of acknowledge that yeah, the fish maybe hadn’t come from Lake Powell. Then he very quickly asked for an attorney, and the other individual didn’t want to say anything.”
Mr. Dennett and Mr. Wootton’s lawyer, Douglas Terry, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
The Division of Wildlife Resources had the bass tested at a University of Utah lab. Researchers were able to determine where the fish had originated by comparing the amount of strontium isotopes found naturally in the lakes to the strontium isotopes in an otolith, a particular part of a fish’s ear. An otolith, Lieutenant Washburn said, has a high concentration of calcium and is sensitive to any changes in the chemistry of the water.
In May 2019, after months of waiting, the lab was able to say unequivocally that the fish that Mr. Dennett and Mr. Wootton turned in could not have come from Lake Powell, based on the level of isotopes in the otolith scale of the fish, Lieutenant Washburn said. The wildlife agency eventually learned that the men had been fishing at Quail Creek Reservoir, about 180 miles west, just before the Lake Powell tournament.
On March 18, 2020, nearly a year later, Mr. Dennett and Mr. Wootton were charged with tampering to influence a contest, a third-degree felony; unlawful release of wildlife, a class A misdemeanor; and captivity of protected wildlife, a class B misdemeanor.
“It took so long to charge the men in this case because an amazing amount of scientific work went into proving the violation,” Lieutenant Washburn said. Investigators had to find a university to test the fish, wait for results, take the case to a prosecutor and then conduct additional interviews at the prosecutor’s request. He added that the case was also “put on the back burner a little bit.”