'Weights in fish!' fishermen plead guilty to felony cheating charge

Two fishermen who stuffed weights in fish to win an Ohio tournament have pleaded guilty to cheating.

The long net of the law has bagged two fishermen who put weights in fish in an attempt to win a fishing tournament in September 2022. The men were caught in the act, and became worldwide news, when the tournament's organizer called them out with the instant-classic line, "We got weights in fis

Jacob Runyan, 43, and Chase Cominsky, 36, have pleaded guilty to charges of cheating and "unlawful ownership of wild animals," according to Cuyahoga County (Ohio) prosecutor Michael C. O'Malley.

“This plea is the first step in teaching these crooks two basic life lessons,” O'Malley said. “Thou shall not steal, and crime does not pay.”

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Runyan and Cominsky were competing in the Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament in Cleveland, with a first prize of $28,760 at stake for the anglers who brought in the five largest fish. The two fishermen had aroused suspicions before the Lake Erie tournament because of their long run of striking success in various fishing tournaments, combined with the fact that they didn't follow the custom of donating their caught fish to local food banks. So when they brought in some weighty fish, the tournament was already on high alert.

Jacob Runyan, left, and Chase Cominsky, sit in court as they are arraigned, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022, in Cleveland. The two pleaded not guilty to cheating and other charges in a lucrative fishing tournament on Lake Erie in the end of September where they were accused of stuffing five walleye with lead weights and fish filets. (AP Photo/Mark Gillispie)
Jacob Runyan, left, and Chase Cominsky, pictured in court on Oct. 26, 2022, in Cleveland, pleaded guilty Monday to charges of cheating and unlawful ownership of wild animals. They also agreed to three-year suspensions of their fishing licenses. (AP Photo/Mark Gillispie)

As the fish were being weighed, the tournament organizer recognized that the fish seemed to weigh more than expected, and sliced them open. Ten lead weights, along with several walleye filets, were found in the fish. The two fishermen were instructed to leave the tournament as the other anglers grew uneasy. The Cleveland Metroparks Police Department responded to the scene, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources investigated the case.

Runyan and Cominsky pleaded guilty to one count of cheating, a felony, and one count of unlawful ownership of wild animals, a misdemeanor. They also forfeited the boat that had been used in the competition. They will be sentenced on May 11.