Liz Reitz's trophy-size striped bass will never again adorn the wall of her mother's restaurant if the state of Utah has anything to say about it.
Reitz, 30, a real estate agent from Castle Rock, Colo., caught the 39-pound, 12-ounce striper, a Utah record, at Lake Powell on New Year's Day 1987.The only problem: Reitz didn't have a fishing license when she caught the bass.
Two weeks ago, a four-member 7th Circuit Court jury in Monticello found Reitz guilty of possessing protected wildlife without a valid license, a misdemeanor, after a daylong trial.
Craig Halls, San Juan County attorney, recommended a $100 fine and asked Judge Bruce Halliday to order the fish turned over to the state.
Earlier, federal wildlife agents had seized Reitz's fish as evidence from the wall of her mother's cafe in Castle Rock and it now rests in the county sheriff's evidence vault.
Reitz may have to forfeit the trophy to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Utah authorities already have declared her record catch unofficial because it was caught illegally.
Reitz says it happened innocently.
Reitz and her husband, Glenn, spent the New Year's Holiday at Lake Powell. Reitz said that on Dec. 30, 1986, she tried to buy a 1987 fishing license at the marina but was told none was available. At her trial, Halls said he presented evidence that Reitz had other opportunities.
Eager to fish, Reitz went out with her husband on New Year's Day and caught the lunker bass.
Immediately they went to the marina to show off the prize. Reitz says she told admirers she didn't have a license, and the marina manager sold her one.
"Everyone knew I didn't have a license, and I didn't try to hide it," Reitz said. "But everyone kept pushing me to get the fish weighed."
Nearly a year later, Reitz learned Utah wildlife officials were investigating her catch. Paul Woodbury, chief of law enforcement for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said his agents discovered through "coffee-shop talk" in the Lake Powell area that Reitz fished without a license.
Months passed, Woodbury said, because agents couldn't find witnesses. When they finally had a case, they asked for help from federal Fish and Wildlife Service agents.
In early March, two agents were dispatched to the B&B Cafe in Castle Rock, where Reitz's mother displayed the bass.
"They took it during the lunch hour, when my mom was really busy," Reitz said. "My mom was hysterical. It wasn't fair to her.
"If we had known it was going to be a problem, we would have turned the fish over right away."