Editor’s Log: Ol' Lead Belly - The Fisherman

Editor’s Log: Ol’ Lead Belly

While East Coast anglers were mostly locked up inside during Hurricane Ian, a couple of walleye fishermen in Cleveland, OH nearly got locked up in county jail.  If you haven’t the seen the video, go to YouTube and search for Lake Erie Walleye Trail Cheaters – I warn you however, the language is a bit salty.

On September 30, tournament anglers Chase Cominsky of Hermitage, PA and Jake Runyan of Cleveland showed up for weigh-in at the Lake Erie Walleye Trail’s (LEWT) final event of the 2022 season looking for their second consecutive championship.  According to a 2021 write-up at Cleveland.com, the pair won last year’s Blaster Walleye Fall Brawl and Walleye Slam fishing derbies, as well as the 2021 LEWT, walking away with what Runyan estimated at $306,000.

“I’m still numb,” Runyan told Cleveland.com back in 2021, adding “I can’t believe we won the derbies and the LEWT Championship. There are so many great walleye fishermen around here, and to find the success we did is absolutely amazing.”  Yeah, amazing indeed.  The Cominsky/Runyan team completely dominated the ‘21 LEWT event with a five-walleye limit of 42.69 pounds, roughly 8 pounds heavier than the second place team of Lucas and Gordon Hahn.  “There were a lot of long days and hard fishing involved,” Runyan said after their ‘21 win, adding “but the top locations we found for trophy walleye paid off.”

“Top locations” in ’22 apparently being the lead bin at his local tackle shop!  Runyan had a lot less to say on the video from this year’s LEWT championship when tournament director Jason Fischer cut into the bellies of the returning champs’ five walleye and pulled out nearly 8 pounds of lead.  “We’ve got weights in the fish,” Fischer shouted to the crowd, wheeling around to Runyan like an angry baseball umpire while bellowing “you’re out of here!”

The weigh-in crowd erupted in anger, and things on video looked like they were about to get pretty ugly.  Thankfully Fischer is also in law enforcement, and with a calm, level-headed demeanor he announced that no one was to physically harm the “alleged” cheating duo.  He then contacted the Ohio Department of Natural Resources; two weeks later the Cuyahoga County Prosecutors Office charged the pair with attempted grand theft and felony cheating.

All totaled, 10 egg sinkers weighing up to 12 ounces each were plucked from the bellies of those walleye, along with fish filets apparently slipped in to make the lead weights less detectable. As Fischer plucked egg sinkers from the bellies of each of the five fish, Runyan stood stone-faced in silence; Cominsky on the other hand had apparently sneaked off to the parking lot where he locked himself inside his truck.

Give credit to LEWT director Jason Fischer for doing a fantastic job dealing with the incident, both as it unfolded and after the fact.  The response from walleye fishermen in the Lake Eerie region seemed incredibly supportive, and rather than getting an undeserved black eye it would seem the LEWT earned kudos for sniffing out the crime and for how the situation was handled.

Personally, I know how difficult it is to manage a fishing tournament.  Organizers put a lot of effort into ensuring that all essentials are covered, meticulously crafting the rules, and ultimately ensuring that all participants enjoy the best possible experience.  Polygraph machines, time-stamped photos, onboard video, metal detectors – there’s a long list of ways to root out the miscreants.  Regrettably there will always be a few bad apples.

That said, it would be a great service to the bunch of us – those who aren’t rotten to the core – to ultimately see a precedent set with tournament cheaters successfully prosecuted for fraud or theft in a court of law.  So, go get ‘em buckeyes!

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