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Cleveland fishing tournament ends in controversy as winners caught with weights in walleye

The competitors, Jake Runyan and Chase Cominsky, had their victory stripped and could potentially face criminal charges.

CLEVELAND — This fish tale starts in Cleveland, at a tournament on Lake Erie.

Walleye were weighed and a champion named, but something seemed off.

It wasn't just the catch that was "fishy," and a quick knife down one walleye sunk the new champions hopes of taking any prizes home when weights and fillets were found inside.

"It's one thing when you're sitting at a bar and the fish you say is this big is actually this big," avid fisherman Adam VanHo says. "That's one thing, but these competitions bring people in from all around the country."

VanHo should know: Not only is he an angler; he's a criminal defense attorney. While the competitors -- Jake Runyan and Chase Cominsky -- haven't been charged with a crime, that is something that's being considered, especially since some tournaments have prizes north of $100,000, including boats.

"We call it 'theft by deception,'" VanHo explained, "which essentially is you tried to steal something by making what you're turning over different."

While some are frustrated about the finances, others are hurt by men they considered friends out on the lake.

"I'm angered about it, I'm sad about it," Northeast Ohio angler Kenny Morris said. "I've known Chase and I've known Jake, and I'm no longer speaking with them. They're blocked from me.

In an update Tuesday morning, 3News received the following statement about the situation from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources:

ODNR wildlife officers responded to the Lake Erie Walleye Tournament on Friday, September 30, 2022 after being contacted by tournament organizers. Officers collected evidence and are preparing a report for the Cuyahoga County Prosecutors Office.

As this is an open investigation, we have no further comment at this time.

Despite the controversy, Morris has hopes for future tournaments and stricter protocols.

"If you're taking a fish that's going to make you some money, you're going to need to cut the fish open," he told 3News.

The end of this tale still leaves many questions, but the organizer who discovered these weighted fish wants competitors to know one thing.

"I just genuinely care about running an honest tournament," said Jason Fischer, tournament director of Lake Erie Walleye Trail, in a statement. "And Lake Erie anglers deserve it."

Anglers, I'm still at loss for words and for that I apologize. The results are posted. Congrats to Steve Tyszko and...

Posted by Lake Erie Walleye Trail on Saturday, October 1, 2022

Update: On Monday, Lake Erie Walleye Trail Tournament Director Jason Fischer posted a video statement on Facebook.

"On Friday, we witnessed one of the most disgusting acts that the fishing world has ever seen," he said. "This type of behavior will not be tolerated."

Fischer stated that he has turned over all information about the incident to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, who will handle the investigation and any possible criminal charges.

"To see so much negative light on our sport hurts me to the core," Fischer added. He also apologized for using profanity in the viral video that revealed the winners caught with weights in their walleye.

You can watch Fischer's entire statement below: 

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