Fishing tournament winner rocked by cheating scandal hopes alleged cheaters ‘get the maximum’ punishment



CNN

One of the winners of an Ohio fishing tournament this past weekend hopes two alleged cheaters face the maximum penalty in the cheating scandal that has rocked the competitive fishing world.

“I just hope they get them for everything they can for what they’ve done,” said Steve Hendricks, who along with his teammate won Team of the Year after the two apparent cheaters were disqualified.

Hendricks noted how much the contests mean to many anglers.

“It’s what they love to do,” Hendricks told CNN in an interview Tuesday. “And they’re out there trying to do a good job and it’s just unfortunate that a select few can come in and ruin all that for you. So I hope they reach the maximum.”

Fisherman Steve Hendricks says,

The eventual winners of the nearly $29,000 prize were disqualified from the Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament after it was discovered their fish were stuffed with lead weights and fish fillets — a moment documented in several viral videos shared on social media.

“They picked up a fish that should have weighed about four pounds and they put it on the scale and it said eight,” Hendricks told CNN on Tuesday. “And then they put the rest of their five in and it came up to 35.”

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources collected evidence from the incident Friday and is preparing a report for the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, spokeswoman Stephanie O’Grady told CNN.

“Since this is an open investigation, we have no further comment at this time,” she wrote in an email to CNN.

Jason Fischer, the tournament’s director, confirmed in a statement on Facebook Monday night that tournament officials had turned over all information related to the incident to authorities and submitted records and a statement to the Ohio Division of Natural Resources.

Fischer previously told CNN he was immediately suspicious when one team’s fish weighed nearly double what he expected they would at the Cleveland championship weigh-in.

The pike in the bucket looked like they should weigh about 4 pounds each, but the total weight showed they had to be at least 7 pounds each, he said.

“I thought, there’s just no way,” he said. “I could also hear the crowd grumbling like ‘no way, there’s no way’.”

“I physically felt the fish, I could feel hard objects inside the fish,” he said. The viral videos show Fischer, surrounded by competitors, cutting open the fish with a knife and pulling out what he said was a lead bullet. Jacob Runyan, a member of the two-person team who allegedly cheated, stood quietly and watched a video Fischer shared with CNN.

Runyan and his teammate, Chase Cominsky, should win the $28,760 prize, Fischer told CNN. The prize money at each tournament he hosts comes from the entry fee each angler pays to compete.

Neither Runyan nor Cominsky responded to CNN’s request for comment.

Lead weights and fish fillets were found inside the team's catch.

“Everybody was going crazy,” Hendricks said Tuesday. “It’s just a shame it had to happen.”

Fischer, who hosts about eight tournaments throughout the year, has done a “good job” of keeping the competition “legit,” Hendricks said. But the scandal has been “an eye-opener”, and he speculated that competitions in the future might have to use X-rays or cut up the fish in the top five boats to ensure fair play.

“This is a rare thing,” he added, saying that “99.9% of the group” that competes doesn’t cheat. “It’s a great group of guys out there doing what they love and it’s just a shame we had to deal with this.”

In his statement Monday, Fischer said the tournament would learn from the scandal and “make some changes to tournament fishing that protect the integrity of all circuits.”

“We’ll fix this. We’ll start by implementing new rules at weigh-ins and boat control,” Fischer said. “We’ll work hard in the off-season and learn from you all about what safety measures you want to see in our series.”

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