Fisherman accused of fishy story. Bass contest winner stripped of title

San Francisco Chronicle
Thursday October 18,2001
By Erin Hallissy

James Storm says he wasn’t telling any tall tales when he reeled in a 40.65-poind striped bass, the largest catch at the Rio Vista Bass Festival last weekend.

But Storm failed a lie-detector test- the first used in the 54-year history of the popular delta fishing derby – and the title was stripped from him, along with the top prize, a fishing boat.
Now, Storm has hooked a lawyer who is casting about for a remedy to restore his reputation as an upstanding fisherman.

“It’s upsetting, especially when you’re not a cheater or a liar,” Storm said Tuesday.
Rick Ring, a friend of Storm’s who witnessed him fighting to bring in the big fish in Montezuma Slough around 5 am Friday morning, said he cannot believe that tournament officials questioned Storm’ integrity.

” I know what I saw and in my mind he won the derby and should have won the boat,” Ring said.
But Rio Vista Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Denise Rubiaco defended the tournament, which attracted more than 1,000 participants, and the lie-detector test.
“We wanted honesty and integrity in our events,” Rubiaco said. “We wanted to ensure there weren’t big fish tales going on.”

In 1999 and 2000, the tournament had kept a polygraph operator on standby in case they heard of whoppers that officials didn’t want to swallow hook, line and sinker. But with a $19,000 Klamath GTX fishing boat and a 50-horsepower Mercury outboard and an E-Z Loader trailer at stake, officials decided that the winning fisherman would have to pass a polygraph.

“This year we decided to get serious,” Rubiaco said. “With the value of the boat, we had decided in advance that we were going to use it no matter what.”

But Ring said the whole idea of a polygraph goes against fishing philosophy.
“How are you going to find a real fisherman who isn’t a liar?” asked Ring, 43 an avid angler who’s been fishing in tournaments since he was 18. “You have secret spots that you use, you do have to b- people. You don’t want to give up your secrets. “It’s your livelihood.”

But Ring said there’s no way Storm lied about catching the fish within the tournament rules, saying it checked out when he first turned it in to officials.

Storm’s attorney, James Vaughn of Sacramento, noted that his client’s 40-pound catch was 10 pounds bigger than the fish that ultimately won, and that everyone figured over the weekend that Storm, 37, would win the boat.

“They put it up on display, took his photograph, interviewed him and patted him on the back and said it looks you’re the winner,” Vaughn said. But they never told Storm what questions he failed on the polygraph.

Vaughn, who said he wasn’t accusing Rio Vista officials of any wrongdoing, said he wants to get to the bottom of the matter.

Rubiaco said she couldn’t say what questions Storm allegedly lied on, but said she believes the contest guidelines were followed and that Rio Vista is on firm ground in disqualifying Storm, a Rio Linda resident, and awarding the prize to John Soares of Woodland, whose 30.5-pound fish was the next biggest.

Ring disagreed, saying he knew as soon as he saw Storm’s catch that his friend had won the contest fair and square.

“I pondered going home because the fish was that huge,” Ring said. “I don’t know how accurate lie-detector tests are. They’re not admissible in court. The guy’s under a lot of pressure. He’s a nervous wreck as it is. “He shakes when he drinks coffee.”

Now, he’s worried that people might think he was lying too, and said that could hurt him, Storm and their other friends when they enter other tournaments.

“Now you’re branded,” Ring said. “It wasn’t my fish, but I’m a witness so now I’m a liar too. I work and I fish and I hunt. That’s my life. “I’m going to pursue this all the way I can because I know what happened was wrong.”

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