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Prepping & Survival

Game Wardens Seize $100K in Stolen Boats, Motors at Amateur Bass Tourney

While thousands of amateur anglers competed in the Big Bass Splash on Sam Rayburn Lake over the weekend of April 20, a group of Texas game wardens conducted their own sort of fishing expedition as they checked those anglers for stolen equipment. Over the course of the tournament, wardens seized over $100,000 worth of stolen boats and motors.

Officials with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department called attention to the busts in a recent Facebook post, which refers to the “saturation patrol” that was conducted at Sam Rayburn over the weekend. Similar to a DUI checkpoint, the patrol subjected tournament participants to a mandatory boat inspection by wardens. It was led by TPWD’s Marine Theft Investigation Unit, which coordinated with game wardens from six different East Texas counties. Altogether, they inspected around 300 boats, 243 motors, and 100 trailers.

In an email to Outdoor Life, TPWD game warden and MITU captain Jennifer Weaver clarified that the estimated value of seized equipment was $102,694. This included two boats and 10 motors. “The value in boats was $27,700 and motors $74,994,” Weaver says.

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She explains that no arrests were made, however, and that TPWD’s investigation is ongoing. This will include looking into the taxes and titles for the stolen vessels and outboard motors.

Weaver says the MITU saw the Big Bass Splash as an opportunity to inspect a large number of boats in a short amount of time. As the biggest amateur event of its kind in the state, more than 5,000 anglers entered this year’s tournament, according to one person who commented on TPWD’s Facebook post.

Sealy Outdoors, which hosted the tournament, proudly states on its website that it has provided “the largest guaranteed payouts” in amateur bass fishing since 1984. And with this year marking the event’s 40th anniversary, those payouts were impressive. Roughly $1.3 million in cash and prizes were awarded in total, and the first-place finishers won a grand prize package valued at over $300,000. This included a new Phoenix 21 PHX bass boat powered by a Mercury outboard and equipped with the latest electronics, along with a RAM truck and $150,000 in cash.

The promise of a big payout drew participants from all over Texas and beyond. As TPWD’s patrol proved over the weekend, it also attracted some opportunists who might have been looking for a new target or a way to offload what they’d already stolen. Boats, ATVs, and other outdoor vehicles are often singled out by thieves because of the high price they can fetch on the used market. And thanks to third-party platforms like Facebook marketplace and Craigslist, it’s now easier than ever to steal a bass boat from a ramp and sell it off quickly.

“Brings up a question I’ve had for years,” one commenter wrote on Facebook. “Always seeing people selling boats and trailers with no papers.”

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Weaver can’t speak to an increase in the number of stolen boats in Texas in recent years, but the creation of the MITU in 2020 says something about the growing problem. She says that over the course of 2022 and 2023, the MITU seized more than $2 million worth of stolen boats and other items.

“The unit is highly motivated to return stolen items to their rightful owners,” Weaver says. “And it continues to strive to better serve the citizens of Texas and their fellow Texas Game Wardens throughout the state.”

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