Just how far would you go to win £800 in a fishing competition?
Probably not to the same lengths as the angler who broke into his local aquarium, stole the biggest bass which for over a decade has been its main attraction, and then weighed it in as a shore-caught winner in a four day-long bass festival.
The huge fish – a well-known character to locals on the small island of Guernsey – tipped the scales at 13lb 13oz making the audacious criminal the winner of the shore section of this year’s Bailiwick Bass Open.
But while the weighing scales worked in crook’s favour, the scales of justice certainly did not.
His daring bid for fame and fortune quickly unravelled when a local bass angler recognised the distinctive markings above the fishes’ gill plates and reported his suspicions to the club after visiting the aquarium and uncovering the theft.
“At first I just saw a massive bass and it wasn’t until the guy lifted it out of the tank to have the photos taken that I got a good look at it,” keen local angler Shane Bentley told Angling Times.
“I voiced my concerns to a few mates at the weigh-in but they just laughed and told me not to be so paranoid. I decided not to make a fuss at the time and instead popped down to the aquarium first thing in the morning.
“When I got there I was really hoping I was wrong and that the fish was still in its tank but it wasn’t, it was missing. It’s crazy someone would go to such lengths to try to win,” said 38-year-old Shane, who works for Town Savers Coal.
The Bailiwick Bass Club member voiced his suspicions to the club’s president Daryl Butcher who in turn contacted the police to report the suspicious activity.
The island’s angling grapevine quickly went into meltdown with rumours of what had been going on and it soon emerged that the supposed angler had returned to Tackledirect, site of the weigh-in, later the same evening to leave the fish with owner Rik Le Ray.
“I looked for but couldn’t find any hook marks in its mouth which I thought was strange. It wasn’t until the next morning when I got a call from Daryl telling me the fish had been stolen from the aquarium that I suspected something strange had taken place,” said Rik.
“I then got a call from the police to meet them at the aquarium, so I took the remains of the butchered fish with me,” he added.
The Aquarium also provided police with useful evidence in the form of a book by local marine biologist Sue Daly featuring photos of the fish taken 12 years ago, images which reveal identifiable scars on each flank just above the gill plates.
Owner gutted about theft…
Aquarium owner Dave Miller, 64, is understandably gutted about the theft that has deprived the Aquarium of one of its most popular attractions, a fish which has been on show since it was donated as a ‘schoolie’ by a local angler 14 or so years ago.
“I’ve fed that fish sand eels almost every day since it came to us and in that time it turned into a real character with the locals, especially the anglers,” said Dave.
“I couldn’t believe it when we discovered it missing on the Tuesday morning. It would have taken me half a day to catch it in that big tank and I still can’t imagine how the thief managed to do it between the time we shut and when he arrived at the weigh-in a few hours later,” he added.
The person who was probably most relieved the culprit was caught and charged is club president Daryl Butcher whose competition could so easily have been sullied had events not been made clear as quickly as they were.
“The club owes Shane Bentley a debt of gratitude for his astute and decisive action,” explained milkman Daryl.
“This is the first time in our 14 year history that someone has been disqualified on suspicion of cheating. What this guy did was disrespectful to the club, its members and all the other anglers participating in the event,” he said.
Former Angling Times journalist Greg Whitehead was also present at the final weigh-in where he watched the drama begin to unfold first hand.
“I’d fished the boat section and was also there to cover the event for the local paper,” said Greg.
“I witnessed the weigh-in and met and spoke to the supposed captor who told me all about how he’d fished all weekend and caught the fish just that afternoon,” he added.
- The angler’s identity has been withheld because of ongoing police investigations into fraud and burglary