Two Ohio anglers who were dramatically caught cheating at a fishing competition last week have reportedly pocketed tens of thousands of dollars in prizes at other competitions.
Fishing aficionados in Cleveland have cast doubt on the previous victories of Jake Runyan and his partner Chase Cominsky after their cheating scandal broke out at the Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament on Friday. Mr Runyan and Mr Cominsky were stripped of the top prize as a judge was filmed pulling weights and fillets from inside their winning walleye.
It has now emerged that the embattled professional fishermen have won large sums of money and at least one fishing boat in previous competitions. The duo won the three Lake Erie Walleye Trail events this year alone, according to the Toledo Blade, before they were disqualified in the latest tournament.
When interviewed this year about their lucky streak, they credited their success entirely to their skills, The Hill reported.
“We’ve won three LEWT tournaments in a row: Lorain, Ashtabula and Geneva. I don’t want to sound arrogant or cocky but I am confident that we should do well in this championship also because that’s just what we do, winners win,” Mr Runyan reportedly said during the interview.
“They were winning a lot, they were making money. They were living the life you know? And a lot of us were looking into that because they won so much,” John Stewart. who interviewed the pair and witnessed their downfall on Friday, told The Hill.
Jason Fischer, the director of the Lake Erie Walleye Trail, said he first became suspicious of foul play at the tournament when Mr Runyan’s and Mr Cominsky’s five fish, which he guessed to weigh not more than four pounds, each came to a total of 34 pounds on the scales.
Serious Controversy in Pro fishing tournament as multiple-time winners caught stuffing lead weights and other fish filets in their fish to have the heaviest catch to win hundreds of thousands in prizes. pic.twitter.com/Sxqeo2XC0K
— Billy (@Billyhottakes) October 1, 2022
“I thought, there’s just no way,” he told CNN. “I could also hear the crowd grumbling, like ‘no way, there’s no way ... I physically felt the fish, I could feel hard objects inside the fish.”
After he inspected one of the fish, he founds its stomach unnaturally hard. In a now-viral video, the official could be seen slicing open the fish and pulling out lead weights from inside them as well as fillets of another fish from a smaller one.
People could be heard urging the judges to “call the cops” while some demand that they “should be in jail”. The video shows Mr Fischer telling the anglers to leave as he directs the angry onlookers not to touch them, while the crowd spews expletives.
“How many f****** tournaments have you done this?” a person can be heard screaming, as Mr Fischer starts slitting open the five fish in front of him. In a dramatic moment, he pulls out golf ball-sized lead weights from them, one after the other, as another witness can be heard exclaiming “what the f***!”
The would-be winners were set to take home a $28,760 prize, the director told CNN, adding that the tournament officials are in touch with local authorities over the alleged fraud.
The media and outreach specialist at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources confirmed collecting evidence from Friday’s event. “As this is an open investigation, we have no further comment at this time,” said Stephanie O’Grady.
Mr Fischer also slammed them saying “they would never be able to fish” the Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament again.
Ross Robertson, a professional angler, said that cheating in fishing is more common than most people believe. “You have to consider that in some of these tournaments, ounces can mean tens, or hundreds, of thousands of dollars,” he is quoted as saying by the New York Times.
Listing scores of possible ways to cheat, he said that in some instances anglers stuff fish with ice as it adds weight during the heft but melts subsequently, leaving no evidence.
Though the incident is a “black eye” for the sport, he believes the scandal to be a blessing. “Maybe this will be the thing that stalls other cheating and causes some major changes in procedures,” he said.