Scandal has rocked the fishing community after a shocking discovery during weigh-in at a prominent tournament that ended Saturday. Moments after the combined winning catch of a somewhat controversial two-man team was weighed, an official sensed something was wrong, pulled the tournament-clinching fish over for a closer inspection, and all hell broke loose.
The event was the 2022 Lake Erie Walleye Trail Championship; the final weigh-in was held Saturday afternoon in Cleveland. Fishermen Jake Runyon and Chase Cominsky brought their haul forward, where it was weighed in at a whopping 33.91 pounds, more than five pounds heavier than the next closest team. As the event’s announcer and hype man immediately indicated, the impressive haul secured for Runyon and Cominsky the prestigious LEWT Team of the Year honorific. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are awarded to the winners of the various concurrent walleye fishing events held annually this time of year throughout the midwest, so there’s big money to be made in competitive fishing.
Cominsky and Runyon unpacked their winning fish and posed for a quick photo opportunity, and then dumped them back in the bag and moved away from the weighing area. That’s when tournament director Jason Fischer intercepted the pair and moved them to the side of a nearby trailer for a closer inspection. Fischer pulled the first of the fish to the asphalt, slit open its belly, and discovered, to the fury of the many assembled fishermen, that the interior of the fish was loaded down with weights. This made for one of the more satisfying moments you will ever see in a parking-lot fish-weighing ceremony (skip to 14:30 in the video), with an absolutely steaming Fischer screaming, “WE GOT WEIGHTS IN FISH,” and then violently gesturing in a way that tells you, immediately, that he makes his living as a police officer:
Runyon and Cominsky have something of a track record of fishy fishing. At the 2021 Lake Erie Fall Brawl, another annual walleye event, the two were quietly disqualified after turning in a provisional tournament-winning haul when one of the two of them (officials apparently never confirmed which) failed a mandatory post-event polygraph test. Runyon, who hails from Cleveland, told the Toledo Blade last December that he and Cominsky had done everything “by the book,” and in fact said that he and Cominsky would lawyer up and “move forward with legal challenges” in order to recoup what they said were their rightful winnings. Meanwhile, they secured first prize at the 2021 Walleye Slam, where Runyon says he and Cominsky passed the polygraphs, as he’d known they would. (For reference, first place at the 2022 Walleye Slam comes with a new Warrior boat with a $175,000 retail price tag, plus additional cash prizes.) All told, between the 2021 Brawl and the 2021 Slam, Runyon and Cominsky hoped to split more than $300,000 in cash and prizes.
Suspicion about Cominsky and Runyon has apparently run rampant among their competitors over the last two years. Matt Markey of the Blade reported Saturday that other fishermen have voiced cheating concerns about the pair “behind the scenes” in the past:
After the pair were awarded the first place money in the Rossford event, several other competitors shared, off the record, their suspicions that something shady had taken place. Other anglers claimed that Runyon and Cominsky’s fish “looked old,” like these walleye had been caught prior to the start of the event and stashed in a live well.
Adding fuel to that charge was the additional factoid, laid out by several competitors in the event, that Runyon and Cominsky declined to donate their catch to local food banks, as most of the tournament fishermen did.Toledo Blade
These suspicions appear to have been validated on Saturday, when Fischer discovered weights and, nauseatingly, fillets of other walleyes stuffed into the fish presented by Runyon and Cominsky, and eventually had to plead with furious attendees to let the disgraced fishermen leave the scene unharmed. Their reputations were already sullied in the walleye fishing community, and now they are mud. Here’s a closer angle which shows Fischer pulling weights and fillets from the fifth fish in the bag, and includes approximately 7,000 uses and variations of the word “fuck” from a crowd of deeply pissed anglers:
“I’m sad about it. I’ve known Chase and I’ve known Jake,” fellow Ohio angler Kenny Morris told WKYC in Cleveland. “I’m no longer speaking with them. They’re blocked from me.” Fishermen on the scene Saturday implored Fischer to call the police and report a crime, and Markey of the Blade notes that organizers of tournaments where Runyon and Cominsky previously claimed prizes may yet decide to pursue legal action, although how they would satisfactorily prove that the pair stuffed fish at events held months ago is anyone’s guess.
Fischer, a cop in suburban Cleveland, later posted messages to the event’s Facebook page, saying that he was “disgusted” and apologizing to walleye fishermen for “letting you down for so long,” which would seem to suggest that he shares the widely held belief that Runyon and Cominsky have successfully pulled similar stunts at previous LEWT events. “All LEWT anglers deserve better,” writes Fischer, in the second of two posts, which includes the tournament’s final standings, showing Runyon and Cominsky presenting five fish with a total weight of zero pounds. “I will take time and figure out how I can solidify the integrity of our sport here on Erie.” Defector reached out to Fischer on Sunday to inquire what measures might be on the board for solidifying the integrity of walleye fishing, but had not heard back as of publication.
Steve Tyszko and Chris French were awarded first prize in the event, for their catch weighing a combined 28.18 pounds. Presumably someone took a few seconds and looked inside their fish, just to be sure.