Something seemed fishy to tournament director Jason Fischer about the winning walleye two men had caught in a Cleveland competition last year.
It turned out his instincts were right. He had reeled in a scandal that rocked the world of competitive fishing.
The pair had stuffed their Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament catch with lead weights and fish fillets.
The fishermen have now pleaded guilty to cheating and unlawful ownership of wild animals.
On Monday, Jacob Runyan, 43, and Chase Cominsky, 36, had their fishing licences suspended for three years over the cheating scandal. Cominsky is forfeiting his boat worth $100,000 (£81,000).
Had they not been caught, the duo would have won $28,000 in prizes at the September 2022 Cleveland fishing competition.
To win, competitive fishermen had to catch five of the heaviest walleye in Lake Erie. When the time came to weigh the pair’s catch, the weight to beat was 16.89lbs (7kg). Runyan and Cominksy’s fish tipped the scales at 33.91lbs.
Viral video from the event showed an official slicing open fish at the weigh-in, extracting lead balls and even fillets of other fish.
In the expletive-laden footage, a crowd can be heard shouting at Runyon – who remains silent as the ruse is discovered.
The five weighted fish were confiscated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources as evidence.
The competition draws many spectators and cheating is taken very seriously. Winners are required to do polygraph – lie detector – tests in an effort to deter subterfuge, according to reporting from Cleveland.com.
Cominsky’s lawyer said on Monday that his client is “moving on with his life and taking full responsibility”.
Sentencing for the men is scheduled for 11 May.
Prosecutors are expected to recommend six months probation and have agreed to drop additional charges, including attempted grand theft.
Source : BBC