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Felony Charges for Anglers at Ohio Walleye Tournament

walleyeTwo fishermen are accused of cheating by filling their winning walleye catch with weights; (photo/Shutterstock)
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Two men could face 3 years in prison after Ohio walleye tournament organizers accused them of filling their winning catch with weights to win a $30,000 prize.

Everyone knows anglers love to tell “big fish” stories — but it turns out that tournament officials don’t receive it well when competitors exaggerate their catches.

Jacob Runyan, 42, and Chase Cominsky, 35, were basking in the glow of their win at the Lake Erie Walleye Trail championship. With five weighty fish, they beat out 60 other two-person teams.

But Ohio walleye tournament Director Jason Fischer had concerns. The fish seemed too heavy, with uncharacteristically large bulging. In a video that quickly went viral, he cut the fish open in front of a large audience — and found weights and pieces of other fish inside.

“We got weights in fish!” he screams in the clip. “Get the **** out of here!”

That moment led to an investigation of the winning fishermen, who an Ohio grand jury indicted last week. According to Yahoo News, Runyan and Cominsky each face three felonies: cheating in a competition, attempted grand theft, and possessing criminal tools. They both also face a misdemeanor charge of unlawful ownership of wild animals.

If convicted, they could serve up to a year in prison for each felony, and pay thousands of dollars in fines.

A Line of Suspicious Wins

Given the obvious outrage from other anglers present at the competition, Runyan and Cominksy might consider themselves lucky. Tournament organizers disqualified them, and then urged them to leave quickly to avoid physical harm.

It’s not the first time that Runyan and Cominsky have raised suspicions at fishing tournaments.

Officials disqualified them from the Lake Erie Fall Brawl last year after one of them failed a mandatory post-tournament polygraph test, The Toledo Blade reported. (Apparently, polygraph tests have become more common at fishing tournaments to catch cheaters.)

The duo also won the Rossford Walleye Roundup in April. But the second-place winner, Joe Whitten, told the Toledo Blade that he smelled something fishy about the men’s behavior. 

“They didn’t hold up their fish for everyone to see, they didn’t show anyone their fish, and they didn’t donate them,” Whitten said. “There were multiple signs that something was going on.”

In an emotional post to the Facebook page for Lake Erie Walleye Trail, Fischer — who discovered the weighted fish — apologized to the Ohio fishing community.

“To see so much negative light on our sport hurts me to the core,” Fischer said on Facebook. “I can tell you as a tournament director this will not be tolerated. I’ll figure out how to make this right for my anglers.”

The statement could resonate with anglers who think Runyan and Cominsky’s cheating previously affected them, like Whitten. The nefarious pair won all three Walleye Trail events prior to September’s championship, likely pulling in more than $200,000, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Anglers ‘Will Be Held Accountable’

For some observers, it’s not too surprising that Runyan and Cominsky — not their fish — got caught.

An increase in large cash prizes has caused an increase in cheating, fishing writer Ross Robertson told The New York Times. He said it seemed pretty obvious the fish were fake.

“It would be like saying a 5-foot-tall person weighs 500 lbs, but you look at him and he looks like an athlete,” Robertson told The Times. “These fish were so bulging.”

Runyan and Cominsky will now face charges in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is gathering evidence from the tournament to aid the prosecution.

Michael O’Malley, the Cuyahoga county prosecutor, told The Guardian his staff would meet with the agency’s officers Tuesday.

“I take all crime seriously, including attempted felony theft at a fishing tournament,” O’Malley said. “These individuals will be held accountable.”

Fish caught in a poachers gillnet; (photo/Rich Carey)

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