CLEVELAND (WJW) – A metal detector would be one of the last pieces of equipment that you would expect to see at a fishing tournament.
But in the wake of a major cheating scandal, metal detectors will now be standard equipment at fishing derbies on Lake Erie.
The integrity of competitive fishing has been under a microscope since Sept. 30, when the director of a tournament in Cleveland discovered that two competitors, who had dominated recent fishing tournaments on Lake Erie, cheated to win by stuffing their fish with lead sinkers to inflate the weight of the total catch.
“Your chin hits the floor, right? I mean, you never expected in a million years to see eight pounds of lead weights be pulled out of a fish, never seen or never even dreamed of anything like that ever happening,” said Lake Erie competitive fisherman Lucas Hahn.
Investigators say Jacob Runyan, of Ashtabula, and Chase Cominsky, of Hermitage, Pennsylvania, had a financial motive to cheat.
They stood to collect nearly $30,000 if they won the Cleveland tournament and finish the season as the top team in the Lake Erie Walleye Trail.
Runyan appeared on an online fishing show before the tournament and told the host, “I don’t want to sound arrogant or cocky, but I am confident that we should do well in this championship also because that’s just what we do. Winners win.”
Runyan and Cominsky were indicted by Cuyahoga County grand jury on Oct. 13 on charges that include cheating, attempted grand theft, and possession of criminal tools.
Authorities also seized the fishing boat that the pair used during the Cleveland tournament.
“To a certain extent, it’s refreshing to see that so many people are concerned about the integrity of the sport and making sure that people don’t even think about doing something like this again,” said Hahn.
In an effort to protect the integrity of future tournaments on Lake Erie, organizers will be using a scanning device to detect metal and other foreign objects that may be hidden inside the fish.
The catch of any team in the top five will also be physically inspected.
“That’s going to deter a lot of people from trying to do any kind of shady or foul play type of things,” said Hahn.
In addition, organizers will continue to require that contestants pass polygraph tests before they can collect any cash and/or prizes.
Runyan and Cominsky were disqualified from a tournament in 2021 after they failed a polygraph test.
“I mean, obviously nothing is 100% successful, but in a game where it’s really a gentleman’s game and you have to go based off of just people’s integrity and honesty, you can only do so much and the polygraphs are just another tool to maintain that integrity of the circuit,” said Hahn.
Runyan and Cominsky are scheduled to be arraigned on the criminal charges on Wednesday.
If convicted, they could each face up to three years in prison.