A video posted to Twitter shows Jason Fischer, tournament director for the Lake Erie Walleye Trail, cutting open the winning catch of five walleye on Friday and finding lead weights and prepared fish filets inside them.
The winning anglers, Jacob Runyan, of Broadview Heights, Ohio, and Chase Cominsky, of Hermitage, Pennsylvania, were immediately disqualified. The video shows Fischer urging Runyan to leave for his own safety as people hurled expletive-laced insults at him.
Fischer told reporters that he cut the fish open because they appeared heavier than typical walleye of that length.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is investigating the incident, and it could be some time before the accused men see any charges.
Fishermen who have been competing against the two said they are fed up and claimed that this wasn’t the first time the two men cheated.
“I knew they were up to something. I felt relief, like finally, finally, we caught them,” Mike Miller, a competitive fisherman, said. “Finally something’s been done.”
“It’s disheartening. I feel like we’ve all been betrayed. Everyone in our fishing community has been betrayed,” fisherman Josh said.
The cheating has allegedly been going on for a long time. Reports said these men have won more than $300,000 in prizes in the last couple of years. Rewards won include large sums of money and even a boat.
Other fishermen from the competition wouldn’t give statements, but called the accused cheaters “dangerous.”
The Cuyahoga County prosecuting attorney Michael O’Malley said these individuals will be held accountable.
“I take all crime seriously, including attempted felony theft at a fishing tournament,” O’Malley said.
NewsNation attempted to get into contact with Runyon and Cominsky. Runyon was nowhere to be found. He is due in court for a pending domestic violence case in November.
“Get the (bleep) off my property,” Cominsky yelled at NewsNation’s Kelsey Kernstine when she approached him at his Pennsylvania residence.
Kernstine reported that once they left Cominsky’s home, they were followed and recorded.
Many other fisherman were also upset because the tournament was not just about fishing, but it was a competition intended to raise money for a little boy, Levi, who is fighting leukemia. You can donate to Levi here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.