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Ohio tournament cheating scandal turns competitive fishing world upside down | CNN


There is something strange going on in the competitive fishing world.

The potential winners of nearly $29,000 at a fishing tournament in Ohio were disqualified Friday after it was discovered their fish were filled with lead weights and fish fillets.

Jason Fischer, director of the Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament, told CNN he was immediately suspicious when one team’s fish weighed almost twice what he expected at the Cleveland Championship weigh-in.

The walleye in the bucket looked like they should weigh about 4 pounds each, but the total weight indicated they should be at least 7 pounds each, he said.

“I thought, there’s just no way,” he said. “I could also hear the crowd grumbling, like, ‘No way, there’s no way.’ “

“I felt the fish physically, I could feel hard objects in the fish,” he said.

The moment Fischer discovered the alleged deception was documented in several now viral videos posted to social media, in which Fischer, surrounded by competitors, cuts open the fish with a knife and takes out what he believes was a lead ball. Jacob Runyan, a member of the two-man team who reportedly cheated, stood silently watching a video Fischer shared with CNN.

“We have weights in fish,” Fischer shouted. The crowd wailed insults at Runyan.

“You’ve just lost everything,” someone hears the fisherman say. The video also shows Fischer telling Runyan to leave and the crowd telling him not to touch him.

Runyan and his teammate, Chase Cominsky, would win a prize of $28,760, Fischer told CNN. The prize money at each tournament he hosts comes from the entry fee each angler pays to participate.

Fischer hosts about eight tournaments over the course of the year, with participants from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, he said. Competitors compete to see who can reach the highest total weight for a bucket of five walleye caught in Lake Erie.

Neither Runyan nor Cominsky responded to CNN’s request for comment.

Fischer said tournament officials are in contact with local authorities.

Stephanie O’Grady, a media and outreach specialist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, told CNN the department gathered evidence Friday and is preparing a report for the Cuyahoga County State Department.

“As this is an open investigation, we have no further comment at this time,” she wrote in an email to CNN.

Fischer was “absolutely disgusted” when he discovered the alleged deception, he said. “This is a family atmosphere,” he said. “We are all proud of this sport.”

“Everyone sacrifices so much” to play and participate in tournaments, he said.

Orchestrating the big event takes precious time away from his family, he added. “If someone is essentially cheating them, not just money but family time, I can’t believe they would.”

Fischer said he knew Runyan and Cominsky from other tournaments, noting that they had won several tournaments before.

But he said they won’t be competing in the Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament anytime soon.

“They could never fish mine,” he said.

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