Pair accused of cheating in big Lake Erie walleye tourney

Lewt Cheating Scandal
Jake Runyan (left) and Chase Cominsky pose with their winning walleye from the 2021 Walleye Slam on Lake Erie. (Photo courtesy Walleye Slam)

By Maggie Kelch

Cleveland — Two men were disqualified from the Lake Erie Walleye Trail (LEWT) 2022 Championship held here on Friday, Sept. 30 when tournament organizers exposed an alleged cheating scheme.

The LEWT is a series of walleye tournaments held at different locations on Lake Erie each year. It culminates in a two-day championship held in Cleveland. This year, due to small craft advisories, it was only held for one day.

Chase Cominsky and Jake Runyan, who were leading both the tournament and the LEWT Team of the Year competition, were disqualified when Tournament Director Jason Fischer cut open the five fish they had entered to find that they were allegedly stuffed with eight pounds of lead weights and fillets from smaller walleyes.

Walleye Cheating Scandal 1

Some of the walleyes in question lay on the pavement after their bellies were slit open by tournament organizers to reveal lead weights and fish filets stuffed inside. (Photo courtesy of Jason Fischer)

Cominsky, of Hermitage, Pennsylvania, and Runyan, from Cleveland, who fish tournaments together as “Team Crankin’ Hogs,” weighed in five fish with a total weight of over 33 pounds. That amount of weight compared with the size of the fish raised a red flag for Fischer and for other competitors who had entered similarly sized fish.

Fischer said he was intensely watching their weigh-in because they were in first place for Team of the Year honors going into the final tournament of the series. He had already calculated how many pounds of fish they would need to clinch the top spot for the year.

“I really work hard to try to be exciting and give the guys what they deserve,” Fischer said. “So, I studied the weights, and I study what guys need to win. As this will be our last tournament, I knew what weight they needed to have in order to win. So when they come up, I’m like, alright, they need 16 pounds. Then the scale jumped to like 33 pounds.

Walleye Cheating Scandal 2

A portion of the lead weights and fish filets are shown, which are alleged to have been stuffed into the bellies of the caught walleyes. (Photo courtesy of Jason Fischer)

“But I have to tell you, the wind was sucked from my sails because it just was not right. It didn’t look right. It didn’t add up. And, in a tournament where half the field didn’t even catch fish. And then these guys, which obviously carry with him some controversy over the years, blow away the field for what would have been the fourth tournament in a row. And I just said, hey, standby, we’re going to get some photos of your guy’s fish.”

Fischer then inspected the fish. When he felt something hard in one of the fish, he decided to cut open the five fish.

His reaction, saying, “We have weights in the fish,” was recorded on video by many of the anglers in the crowd that had gathered for the tournament weigh-in. It has since been seen by thousands of people as several of those videos have been uploaded to YouTube and shared on social media. (The full YouTube video is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktSVZMuBmHk)

This was not the first time that controversy has surrounded Cominsky and Runyan. In 2021, Runyan entered a 12.770-pound walleye in both the Walleye Fall Brawl and the Walleye Slam, two big money tournaments held in the fall on Lake Erie. However, he was disqualified from the Fall Brawl when he allegedly failed a polygraph test. However, he did pass the polygraph test for the Walleye Slam and was awarded a fully-loaded boat worth more than $150,000. Cominsky finished in 10th place and was awarded $5,000.

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Lake Erie Walleye Tournament Trail Director Jason Fischer (left) confronts angler Jake Runyan with some of the lead weights that are alleged to have been stuffed into the bellies of the team’s walleyes. (Photo courtesy of Jason Fischer)

Over the past two years, Cominsky and Runyan have won a number of tournaments including several of the 2022 LEWT events (Ashtabula and Lorain) as well as the 2021 LEWT Championship event. Had they won the 2022 LEWT Championship and Team of the Year honors, they would have won close to $20,000 (including a boat sponsor’s cash prize), Fischer said.

Fischer said that he did not know if there is any way to contest the pair’s previous tournament wins. He said that LEWT had given Runyan and Cominsky polygraph tests and voice stress tests following tournaments earlier this year. In addition, LEWT had a cameraman accompany them in their boat at one of the tournaments this year as part of video production.

“I mean, did they do something wrong (in the other tournaments)? I have no idea. But they won tournaments and passed voice stress and full polygraph tests. They had a camera guy on their boat the whole day and now this. It just throws into question anything they’ve ever done,” Fischer said.

For their part, Runyan and Cominsky are not talking. The alleged scandal has been widely reported from local news authorities such as The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, but also by national news outlets such as The Washington PostThe New York Times, and Sports Illustrated.

Fischer said that the pair will be banned from any future LEWT tournaments. In addition, he reported the alleged incident at the championship to the Cleveland Metroparks Police and the Ohio Division of Wildlife, who have jurisdiction for the marina where the tournament was held. Fischer said the agencies have confiscated the fish, weights, and walleye fillets and will be conducting an investigation.

Following the disqualification, the team of Steve Tyszko and Christopher French became the LEWT Championship winners. They entered five fish with a total weight of 28.18 pounds. Winning the Team of the Year honors were Steve Hendricks and Brian Ulmer.

In addition to the LEWT events and championship, Fischer is the tournament director for the Lake Erie Walleye Fall Brawl. The Brawl and the Walleye Slam will both be kicking off on Oct. 15. Fischer said that going into this year’s Brawl, tournament organizers had made changes to the way they will administer the polygraph tests and that they are also considering other changes to uphold the integrity of the derby.

Craig Lewis, owner of Erie Outfitters and one of the organizers of the Walleye Slam, said that tournament organizers are evaluating other possible ways to prevent this type of incident in the Slam. They will announce rule changes prior to the kick-off.

Both Fischer and Lewis said they are concerned that this instance of alleged cheating may have an impact on how people view tournaments.

“What happened is not good for walleye fishing,” Lewis said.

“The thing is, we all put these on for fun. To not only help our own businesses but to help other local businesses as well. I just hope that what (allegedly) happened is not a reflection on our events. In the end, it’s all about having fun,” Lewis added.

Categories: News, Walleye

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