CLEVELAND (WJW) – The world of competitive fishing, where anglers battle for cash and prizes, is being rocked by a cheating scandal that unfolded at a tournament in Cleveland on Saturday.
The tournament to crown the best walleye fishermen on Lake Erie took a scandalous turn when the local tournament director discovered that the two fishermen considered the team to beat inflated the weight of their catch by stuffing the fish with lead sinkers and then padding the inside of the walleye with fillets, preventing judges from discovering the added weight.
Cleveland fisherman John Stewart witnessed the cheaters being caught red handed.
“That was the shocking part, like ‘oh wow, you really did that.’ Like, it was just so blatant. It was just like they didn’t have a care in the world,” Stewart said.
Other competitors in the final event of the Lake Erie Walleye Trail at Gordon Park in Cleveland angrily confronted one of the suspects, Jake Runyan of Cleveland, while his partner, Chase Cominsky of Hermitage, Pennsylvania, quickly retreated to his truck and locked the doors.
In recent years, the pair won a slew of fishing tournaments with cash awards and major prizes that included a fishing boat, in what some thought was the most incredible run of luck ever on Lake Erie.
“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,” said John Stewart.
FOX 8 is told the Cleveland tournament director was immediately suspicious about the weight of the fish for their size and then felt something hard in their bellies.
That’s when he decided to cut the fish open, and discover the hidden weights.
Organizers of the tournament immediately disqualified Runyan and Cominsky and contacted police and state wildlife officers, who collected evidence, interviewed witnesses and will now forward a report to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office.
Runyan and Cominsky were recently interviewed for an online fishing show hosted by Stewart.
When asked about their incredible run of luck before the event in Cleveland, Runyan said on camera, “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.”
Stewart says the idea of creating a sure thing to win cash and prizes turned out to be one whale of a fish tale that sunk the fishing fortunes of Runyan and Cominsky.
“Oh, I think this will go down in history. Nobody ever in the sport of fishing since I’ve been alive has ever been caught this way. They definitely shouldn’t be allowed to compete ever again,” said Stewart.
Many competitive fishermen are asking how many times the suspects may have cheated, how much did they win while cheating and can it it be proven in a court of law. However, at this point, no criminal charges have been filed against the two fishermen.
LEWT leaders spoke directly to fellow anglers while giving a statement Monday night on Facebook live.
“We will fix this. We’ll start by implementing new rules at weigh ins and boat checks. We’ll work hard this off-season to learn from you all as for what safeguards you want to see in our series and I promise you we will implement change,” said Jason Fischer. “You all deserve it. You trusted me and it shows. I make mistakes and we all do, but event after event you prove your loyalty to LEWT and tournament angling. I see your overwhelming support in this challenging time and I’m grateful.”