Watch: Something fishy about Lake Erie fishing tournament
There was something fishy about the hefty catch landed by Jacob Runyan and Chase Cominsky which looked set to net the pair nearly $30,000 in prize money at an Ohio angling tournament.
The walleye, also known as the yellow pike, which the pair had taken from Lake Erie were bulging as they hit the weighing scales, coming in a third heavier than Jason Fischer, the competition director, would have expected for fish of that size.
His suspicions were confirmed after he sliced them open and rummaged around inside their stomachs.
In a dramatic moment caught on video and quickly shared online, Mr Fischer held up an egg-sized lead ball and shouted: “We got weights in fish!” After a thorough inspection, he discovered nine more lead weights.
The atmosphere at the Lake Erie Walleye Trail (LEWT) tournament soured quickly, and with a field of more than 120 paying entrants gathering round and shouting expletives, the pair were ordered to leave.
Officials have now opened an investigation, but questions are being asked of the pair’s previous wins this summer on Lake Erie, in Ohio - after they stormed to victory at competitions in Lorain, in June, Ashtabula, in July, and Geneva, in September.
In Cleveland, they needed their five fish to weigh around 16lb in order for them to win the end of season Team of the Year award, and with it, a $28,760 prize.
The walleye fish they presented looked as if they should have weighed around four pounds each, Mr Fischer said. When the scales hit 34lb, he - and others around him - knew something was wrong.
“No way,” said one bystander.
“It just kind of deflated me, because I just knew it wasn’t right,” said Mr Fischer.
“I physically felt the fish, I could feel hard objects inside the fish,” he added.
As each weight was pulled out, along with fish fillets that had also been stuffed inside the fresh catch, Mr Runyan stood in total silence. Mr Cominsky was nowhere to be seen. Neither man has since commented.
Mr Fischer, who is a police sergeant in a Cleveland suburb, said he had spoken to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources about what happened. “Everything was turned over to law enforcement,” he told the New York Times.
Wildlife officers with the department responded to the tournament, “collected evidence and are preparing a report” for the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office, Stephanie O’Grady, a department spokeswoman, said on Sunday.
“As this is an open investigation, we have no further comment at this time,” she said.
Mr Fischer hosts around eight tournaments over the course of the year, drawing competitors from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, he said.
To win, a team of two must have the highest total weight for a bucket of five walleyes caught in Lake Erie.
The prize money for each tournament comes from the entry fees each group pays to compete.
Mr Fischer later took to social media, posting: "Disgusted guys and gals, I'm sorry for letting you down for so long and I'm glad I caught cheating taking place in YOUR LEWT at the same time.
"I hope you know now that when I say 'you built this LEWT and I will defend its integrity at all costs', I mean it. You all deserve the best," he added.
The scandal has thrown a spotlight into shady practices in the world of competitive fishing.
Ross Robertson, a professional angler who has written extensively about fishing, told the New York Times that new technology and increased prize funds can incentivise cheating.
“You have to consider that in some of these tournaments, ounces can mean tens, or hundreds, or thousands of dollars,” he said.
While putting weights in fish to increase their weight is a rudimentary way of cheating, other techniques are thought to be harder to detect. These include organising smuggling in larger pre-caught fish, putting fish in cages before the competition which can then be recovered and even stuffing them with ice, which adds weight, but then melts and can’t be easily detected.