On Friday, September 30, tournament organizers uncovered an alleged cheating plan, leading to the disqualification of two guys from the Lake Erie Walleye Trail (LEWT) 2022 Championship.
The Lake Erie Walleye Tour (LEWT) is an annual tournament circuit that takes place on the lake. The competition is held over the course of two days in Cleveland. Since there were small craft warnings this year, the event was shortened to a single day.
After topping the event and the LEWT Team of the Year competition, Chase Cominsky and Jake Runyan were disqualified when Tournament Director Jason Fischer reportedly discovered eight pounds of lead weights and fillets from lesser walleyes within the five fish they had entered.
Team Crankin’ Hogs, comprised of fishing buddies Cominsky (from Hermitage, Pennsylvania) and Runyan (from Cleveland), brought in five fish weighing more than 33 pounds. Fisher and the other contestants who had submitted fish of comparable size were suspicious because of the large disparity in weight.
Since they were in first place for Team of the Year honors heading into the final tournament of the series, Fischer said he was closely monitoring their weigh-in. He knew exactly how much fish weight they would need to catch to win the annual competition.
Fischer remarked, “I really want to be interesting and give the men what they deserve, so I work extremely hard at that.” So, I researched the weight classes and learned what it takes for the boys to triumph. The fact that this is our last competition meant I could predict how much muscle mass they would need to triumph. Then I tell them, “Okay, they need 16 pounds,” whenever they show up. A sudden increase of some 33 pounds caused a concern.
I’m sorry to say that the situation was so unsettling that it knocked the wind out of my sails. The appearance was off. Simply put, the numbers didn’t stack up. And this was a fishing event in which half the competitors caught nothing. These individuals, who have obviously accrued controversy over the years, then proceed to annihilate the competition in what would have been their fourth consecutive tournament victory. I told him, “Hey, hold tight, we’re about to take some pictures of your guy’s fish.
Fish was then examined by Fischer. He decided to open all five fish after feeling something firm within one of them.
Many of the spectator anglers at the competition weigh-in saw his reaction on camera, in which he said, “We have weights in the fish.” Since then, it has reached tens of thousands of people thanks to the films that were taken of the event and posted on YouTube and shared on social media.
This is not the first time that Cominsky and Runyan have been in the center of a storm. During the autumn of 2021, Runyan entered the Walleye Fall Brawl and the Walleye Slam, two of Lake Erie’s most lucrative walleye competitions. But he was kicked out of the Fall Brawl after reportedly failing a polygraph. He did, however, pass the Walleye Slam polygraph and receive a boat package worth over $150,000. Cominsky came in 10th position and won $5,000 as a result.
Cominsky and Runyan have been dominating the LEWT for the previous two years, claiming victory in multiple 2022 LEWT events (Ashtabula and Lorain) and the 2021 LEWT Championship. Fischer estimated that they would have made close to $20,000 (including the cash reward from the boat sponsor) had they won the 2022 LEWT Championship and Team of the Year accolades.
Fischer claimed he had no idea whether or not the pair’s prior tournament victories might be challenged. He said that after prior tournaments this year, LEWT had administered polygraph tests and vocal stress tests to Runyan and Cominsky. In addition, this year for video production purposes, LEWT had a cameraman go along in their boat during one of the tournaments.
Have they been doing something wrong (in the previous competitions)? I simply don’t know what to expect. However, they triumphed in competitions and aced vocal stress, and completed polygraph exams. All day long they had a cameraman on their boat, and suddenly something happens. Fischer remarked that the revelation called into question the integrity of the entire organization.
Runyan and Cominsky are also being silent. Local news sources including The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, as well as national news publications like The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Sports Illustrated, have covered extensively on the supposed scandal.
Fischer has stated that the couple is permanently disqualified from participating in any other LEWT competitions. In addition, he informed the authorities with jurisdiction over the marina where the championship was held—the Cleveland Metroparks Police and the Ohio Division of Wildlife—about the alleged event that occurred there. Fischer stated that the authorities had taken possession of the walleye, weights, and fillets.
After the initial team was disqualified, Steve Tyszko and Christopher French were declared the victors of the LEWT Championship. They brought in five fish weighing a combined 28.18 pounds. Steve Hendricks and Brian Ulmer were named the Best Team of the Year.
Fischer is the tournament director for both the Lake Erie Walleye Fall Brawl and the Lake Erie Walleye Tour. On October 15th, two competitions will begin the Brawl and the Walleye Slam. Fischer stated that in order to maintain the fairness of the Brawl, adjustments were made to the administration of polygraph exams, and further changes were being considered.
Erie Outfitters owner and Walleye Slam organizer Craig Lewis have stated that measures are being considered to prevent such incidents in the future. Changes to the rules will be announced only before the game begins.
They are worried that this incidence of alleged cheating may change the public’s perception of tournaments, as both Fischer and Lewis have stated.
Lewis remarked, “What occurred is not favorable for walleye fishing.”
We all wear them in jest, though. To benefit not just our own enterprises but also those of our neighbors. I can only pray that the (reported) incidents were not indicative of our own. “It boils down to having a good time,” Lewis said.
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