Two anglers were disqualified from a fishing tournament in Cleveland on Friday after they were caught cheating by the judges.
Professional fisherman Jake Runyan and his partner Chase Cominsky were stripped of victory as weights and fillets were found stuffed inside their winning walleye fish.
Jason Fischer, the director of the Lake Erie Walleye Trail, became suspicious of foul play when the five fish he guessed to weigh not more than four pounds each came to a total of 34 pounds on the scales.
“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,” he said.
After he inspected one of the fish, he founds its stomach unnaturally hard. “It’s not like they’re eating rocks.”
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.
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
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 onookers 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***!”
“Do we need to file a police report?” says another attendee from behind the camera.
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.
The scandal has also cast a shadow on their previous wins, while Mr Fischer 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.