The Real Problem with the Walleye Tourney Cheating Scandal

walleye cheating

I didn’t want to write this story. It’s too depressing. But I kind of have no choice because that’s what TikTok is forcing me to do. We live in a world in which the number of memes that a certain item generates on social networks determines its worth and newsworthiness. If you take our insatiable desire to see raw drama and human suffering off the equation, the scandal surrounding walleye tournament cheating involving anglers would be eliminated. Jacob Runyan and Chase Cominsky that’s rocking the media(Reported worldwide by The New York Times, CNN, the CBC, and many more) probably wouldn’t be a blip on your radar. If it were a written account, there would be no. viral video component, you’d care very little. Because they did it, I know that it was not original nor new. The oldest trick in the book is actually to stuff lead weights into the stomachs and make fish heavier for tournament weigh ins. So old that it’s essentially a joke.

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Cheating in fishing tournaments, however, is rampant—something the non-fishing public doesn’t understand. Before the current scandal, you had big bass gurus. Mike LongIn 2019, he was exposed for cheating. In 2020, two bass anglers got nailedIt is difficult to weigh fish caught days before a tournament at Lake Powell. This New York Times storyThe 2012 article covers a similar event in Texas, which leads to a larger discussion on tournament fraud in many states. I could post links for days—and that’s a real downer.

What I’m not depressed about, though, is what Runyan and Cominsky did, because this kind of thing happens all the time. I’m depressed because of all the great things in the fishing world that deserve national media attentionYet, our community is given 15 minutes of fame over a Will Smith/Chris Rock moment.

Unoriginal Gangstas

As mad as everyone is at Runyan and Cominsky they aren’t any less moral than anyone who has ever cheated in tournaments, kept 25 fish more than the limit, or knowingly poached fish outside of season. I don’t think so. But I do think they’ve earned the extra heat for the simple reason that, in this day and age, if you’re going to do bad stuff in public and don’t consider the public’s ability to have it on YouTube before you can blink, you deserve to be a meme. They are also really dumb cheaters and deserve to be shamed.

Ross Robertson, my friend and veteran Lake Erie guide, pointed out this in the New York Times articleThey were informed about the incident “sloppy.”Smarter cheats include stuffing fish in ice to melt the evidence, having friends deliver live fish to the tournament, or having secret hidden living-wells in your boat to keep fish from being eaten alive before the tournament. Robertson, a former walleye tournament angler, said that one of the reasons Robertson stopped fishing competitively many years ago was because the temptation for anglers cheating grew as prizes like new boats became more popular. To Robertson’s point, one of the saddest aspects of the Runyan-Cominsky debacle is that there were miles of red flags leading up to them being exposed. They should have fallen from grace long ago, and if you want to hear more of the gritty details about Runyan and Cominsky’s shady history from the tournament directors that knew them well, I highly recommend tuning into this episode of Roberstson’s podcast.

Raising Red Flags

I completely understand the fascination with the viral videos circulating from a purely psychological perspective, because we can all put ourselves in Jacob Runyan’s shoes to a degree. At some point we’ve all been caught red-handed doing something we weren’t supposed to do. Here is your wrongdoing being exposed, there is an angry mob that rightfully wants to spill your blood, and there’s no way out of the situation. I have to imagine Runyan’s mind is racing harder than ever to come up with something—but there’s nothing.

I was also told that Chase Cominsky, his partner, ran and locked himself inside the truck as soon as he realized the walleyes were getting slit, forgoing the whole “take one for the team” thing. There are so many levels to the soap opera the angling and non-angling public is seeing online, but I’m much more intrigued by the prequel.

I have learned from sources in the Lake Erie Walleye Scene that Runyan & Cominsky had been accused of cheating a long time back. It’s just that nobody had the evidence until now. It’s not unusual for a team to suddenly win events like they did. This naturally raises eyebrows. What’s interesting is that they kept to local and club tournaments with smaller cash prizes and fewer participants. If they were that good why not move up to the national circuit and win some serious cash? It’s not impossible, however, that they’re just that skilled, so a winning streak might not be enough of a red flag. How about a regular refusal to donate fish for local soup kitchens after a tournament. It’s common for tournament directors to have refrigerated trucks on standby to haul fish away for the needy. It seems that most anglers will give their fish to charity, but not Runyan or Cominsky. How about a refusal to have camera operators on their boats? In my opinion, you couldn’t possibly raise bigger red flags.

Wait and Lie

Then there’s the question of how Runyan, Cominsky passed all the lie detector tests required for winners at these events. This story, I believe, will grow into a larger one. But the question is, how many people will follow up on the viral videos and read it? Those who fish might, those that don’t likely won’t. People all over the internet are talking about punishment and what Runyan or Cominsky should be punished for. Myself and many others who I spoke with agreed that the ramifications would likely be minimal and insufficient. They may (and should) be banned from competition, they may end up paying some fines, but the odds of them spending any time behind bars—which seems to be what many people want—is highly unlikely, because in the end this probably won’t meet any type of legal standards for a felony.

That doesn’t mean I don’t feel for the organizers and people who work so hard to run a clean event, but when you strip away the gut reactions and look at the deed, people do much worse things on a daily basis. Robertson also highlighted the tragedy in this case in the New York TimesThe problem is that it could have tarnished a tournament circuit run by good people and fished by many honest anglers. It could also give the impression to non-angling enthusiasts that it is not a tournament. All Tournament anglers cheat. Runyan and Cominsky’s actions make the entire fishing community look bad.

I predict that by the time we don our Halloween costumes and grab the plastic pumpkins, barring some major curveball that’s yet to come to light, the Ruyan-Cominsky saga will be largely out of the public eye. There will be follow-up stories, but you’ll have to hunt them down.

If you’d like to read more, I have some recommendations. “The Big One”David Kinney. It chronicles a similar scandal that occurred during the famed Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, only the origin of the lead weights found in a fish aren’t cut and dry. Enjoy a good book, a nice drink, and a fire. It’s much more compelling and thought provoking than the Runyan-Cominsky story, and certainly better for your mental health than scrolling through 2,985 memes of lead weights battered and deep fried. 

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