Updated Thursday, October 6: Updated information on the story will appear at the end of this article.
Conspiracy and Controversy in the Air?
September 2022 saw World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen embroiled in a lengthy turmoil involving allegations of cheating against 19-year-old foe Hans Niemann.
The younger Niemann has admitted to cheating in the past when playing online games, but argues that he has played it straight for quite some time. This would include his recent in-person games against Carlsen and other ranked players.
Carlsen, who has reigned atop the chess world for over a decade, says he refuses to play against in Niemann, suggesting the American-born player has “cheated more… than he has publicly admitted.“
Across the industry, many have speculated as to how Niemann may have cheated (assuming he, in fact, did). One popular theory is that he used electronic anal beads that were stimulated by a remote party who would instruct Niemann which moves to make next according to the suggestions of a high-powered chess simulator.
It may sound crazy (and rather uncomfortable) on the surface, but when money and glory are on the line, is anything ever truly off the table?
Success Breeds Attention
As is the case in world-level chess competition, high-profile fishing tournament success can open countless doors for anglers. In the case of Jake Runyan and Chase Cominsky, both of whom live near Lake Erie, their success on a series of walleye tournament trails in 2021 landed the pair over $300,000.
Understandably, many eyes were on the duo leading into this year’s Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament event, which began on Friday, September 30.
According to Spectrum1 News, the duo has been accused of cheating in the past. Much like Niemann in the chess world, then, success has bred both attention and scrutiny for Runyan and Cominsky.
There’s Coincidence, and There’s Evidence
While the jury remains split on the Carlsen/Niemann turmoil, it appears evidence may work against Runyan and Cominsky.
In a YouTube video (warning: explicit language) by Mo Fishing Adventures filming the Lake Erie Walleye Trail weigh-ins, Runyan and Cominsky are announced as being “definitely team of the year champions” after recording a weight of 33.91 pounds – for comparison, the closest bag was 28.18 pounds, followed by 25.25 pounds.
Off-camera voices in the crowd begin audibly questioning the weights on the duo’s fish. At the 4:55 mark, after reaching into the stomach of one of the winning team’s walleye, Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament director Jason Fischer exclaims, “we got weights in fish!”
In the roughly 70 seconds that follow, multiple tournament anglers appear on the screen expressing their displeasure about what appears many believe is a deliberate act of cheating. In the days that have followed, the visual of a dejected Jacob Runyan watching the extraction have already become infamous.
Tournament fishing – walleye or otherwise – can be incredibly expensive, time-consume, and stressful, so the reaction of the crowd is understandable and, it appears, warranted.
Angler Gene Merck has shared a video on Facebook that, as of Saturday, September 1, has been viewed over 2.4 million times and shared over 40,000 times. In the corresponding post, Merck notes that there were eight pounds of weights stuffed into the walleye.
Course Correction and Looking Ahead
In the immediate aftermath of one of the biggest fishing stories of the year, Lake Erie Walleye Trail Tournament Director Jason Fischer took to Facebook and expressed his feelings about the event, stating that he was “disgusted” and, later, “still at a loss for words.”
He also announced that anglers Steve Tyszko and Chris French (who landed the 28.18 pound bag) were awarded the Trail Championship victory. The team of Steve Hendricks and Brian Ulmer also secured the trail’s 2022 “team of the year” award.
Just as the chess world will have additional eyes on accountability, however, the fishing community may be paying additional attention to the scales in the months (and years) to come. Cheating in fishing is nothing new, but hopefully it will eventually become a thing of the past.
In a Facebook Live video published on October 3, Jason Fischer offered apologies to the Lake Erie Walleye Trail sponsors and the youth who were encouraged to attend the event because of the “profanity and unprofessionalism” he demonstrated after discovering the lead weights.
In the same video, Fischer states, “On Friday, 9/30 of 2022, we witnessed one of the most disgusting, dishonest acts that the fishing world has ever seen in live time.”
Fischer continues, “there’s always been stories of dishonesty in competition, but I have personally never seen anything quite like this in competitive fishing, that is. The individuals involved here appear to have put greed and ego in front of anything else, forever tainting our sport.”
Later, Fischer notes, “to see so much negative light on our sport hurts me to the core.”
Updates as of October 4, 2022
- AP News reports that the county prosecutor’s office in Cleveland, Ohio, has opened an investigation into the “apparent cheating scandal.” The same article notes that Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley has stated, “I take all crime seriously, including attempted felony theft at a fishing tournament,” and that “these individuals will be held accountable.”
- Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament director Jason Fischer told WOIO-TV that he cut the fish open (see video link above) because the fish “appeared heavier than typical walleye of that length.” Numerous anglers suggested that this may be the case, and the widely circulated video shows lead weights being pulled out of multiple fish.
- Several days removed from the event, YouTube videos, articles, and memes chronicling the event have been viewed tens-of-millions of times, making this almost inarguably the most mainstream fishing story of the year.
- Angler Chris Bushart spoke about the event on Tucker Carlson Tonight