The SandPaper

Contest Becomes a Leaden Downfall for Cheaters; LBI Bluefin Tuna Travels to the Mediterranean  

The Fish Story

GOING WITH THE FLOW: It’s autumn time and the fishing is easy. This PWC’er has settled in for a leisurely Little Egg Inlet angling session, letting the drift do the jigging work – and allowing a beverage to take the edge off as he kicks back to enjoy comfy air temps in the 70s. (Photo by Jay Mann)

The real-time capture of cheats at an Ohio walleye fishing contest has become a nationwide news sensation, highlighted by scathing social media comments evoked by smartphone video recordings of the exact instant a two-man team of fishermen fraudsters were publicly exposed – and run out of Dodge, barely making it out in one piece.

Anglers Jacob Runyan, 42, of Cleveland, Ohio, and Chase Cominsky, 35, of Hermitage, Pa., were openly busted during post-contest weigh-in ceremonies at the Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament contest in Cleveland.

Things went precipitously south for the anglers at the scales, when event organizer and weighmaster Jason Fischer sensed a disturbing disconnect between gathered contest participants and his announcing the winning team of Runyon and Cominsky. There was not so much as a celebratory peep from the crowd, most of whom knew the duo were on a suspiciously successful walleye winning streak, dating back many a tourney. One event hosted a $151,670 Warrior fishing boat as first prize. The couple won the boat and quickly sold it, splitting the cash.

Adding to the off-kilter intrigue of the moment was the fact this event – and weigh-in – would decide the Team of the Year walleye fishing honors, a distinction offering valuable endorsements and a $30,000 prize. Runyon and Cominsky needed only a modest 16.8 pounds worth of walleyes to win the whole shebang. That proved small potatoes for the duo who came to the series finale scales with an inconceivable 33.91 pounds worth of weigh-ins!

Every angler on scene knew the normal weight of the five fish brought to the scales by the men should come in at about 20 pounds, based on long-term walleye average size and given the weights of other near identical fish caught that day. The disparity wasn’t lost on Fischer.

According to sports.yahoo.com, “Fischer looked over the duo’s five-fish catch. He knew the general weight of a walleye on sight, and he could tell that they’d caught five fish in what should have been a 3- to 4-pound range. He weighed the catch’s biggest fish first — the ‘fat fish’ — and realized instantly that something wasn’t right. ‘It weighed 7.9 pounds,’ he recalls. ‘I thought, there’s no way. I had a pit in my stomach.’”

Fischer went in for a closer look, telling the crowd he was going to do “a little tallying up.” It consisted of some highly irregular forensic surgery on the momentarily winning fish.

“He knelt beside one of the fish, took out a fillet knife, and slit open the belly of the fish. He reached his finger in and withdrew a chunk of lead with a dramatic flourish. ‘We’ve got weights in fish!’ he shouted. And then all hell broke loose,” explains sports.yahoo.com. There was a surge of fishing folks toward Cominsky, after Fischer aired a roundhouse punch near the angler’s face.

Inside the walleyes were eight pounds of oval lead sinkers, along with some fillets removed from other walleyes. The fillets were meant to disguise any bulges from the sinkers.

The math was telling: Even without the sinkers and force-fed fillets, the fish would have naturally been heavy enough for Team of the Year honors.

To get the real feel of that ugly moment of exposed cheating – and why it became a viral news sensation – check out youtube.com/watch?v=mdsVAu5iDzc  or type in “walleye cheats.”

But there was also a bizarre bit of back story. This might not have been the team’s first failed cheating venture. During another walleye series event, called the Fall Brawl, the two failed a polygraph test and lost out on a six-figure Ranger boat prize. Astoundingly, Runyan indignantly went public. On Cleveland.com he was quoted as saying, “It wasn’t just the loss of a very expensive boat we had rightfully won, it was having our names drug through the mud, and smeared on social media and among walleye fishermen around the area.”

Due largely to the media hubbub over the cheating, the two men have been indicted on felony charges of cheating, attempted grand theft, possessing criminal tools and misdemeanor charges of unlawfully owning wild animals. They’ll be arraigned this week. And, no, I haven’t a clue as to what that final charge is all about.

CHEATING GETS NO CHEATIER: The Great and Failed Walleye Cheat Caper was far from the first case of high-end fraud within the competitive American freshwater angling realm. Arguably the largest – and weirdest – bust took place in 1984 when four Louisiana anglers confessed to extended cheating, temporarily winning $200,000 in bass fishing tournaments in East Texas.

This scam was lead-free. Instead, it involved an elaborate scheme that included the importing of huge black bass, grown in South Florida, to Louisiana and Texas. The covert transporting was carried out by Elro Vernon McNeil, who used a beat-up truck and aeration tanks to carry the fish. Once in tournament territory, the Floridian fish were passed onto corrupt contestants.

McNeil’s imports led to $105,000 and $50,000 first prizes, a $15,000 second prize and an $8,000 third prize.

All four men involved were busted when witnesses, willing to testify in court, came forth, exposing the scam.

As to weirdness, one of the major witnesses was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound … on the week he was to testify. His family greatly questions that “self-inflicted” official COD determination.

But there’s more – and just as weird. This largemouth cheating scam had initial success after the bad guys routinely passed mandatory polygraphs tests administered by event organizers. Well, it seems they should have also been given drug tests. Steven R. Hamilton, an agent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told the NY Times, “The investigation revealed that alcoholic beverages and narcotics – either Quaalude or Valium – were used to put the body at ease so they could pass a polygraph.” Tell me you wouldn’t love to see videos of those good old Bayou boys taking that polygraph, skunked out of their gourds.

For the local record, we’ve had our very own leaden misdeeds done during a major Island tourney. As I recall – selectively forgetting names – it had to do with a weakfish weigh-in with a fish that had been weight enhanced by some surfcasting-grade sinkers. To this day, I’m not sure how much of that incident was a certified swindle effort and how much was just an insider joke by a fellow known for his odd sense of humor. Humor or no, the perpetrator was banned from the tourney for life.

Now onward to Tunisia. Tu-where-ia?

TUNA TREK: Tunisia is the most northerly nation in Africa. It is called the “Gem of the Mediterranean,” though it now shows a glaring flaw in the form of a wigged-out leader. Fortunately, Tunisia is not what one would call a military menace. In fact, much of its fighting capacity is centered on a medium-sized unexploded conventional bomb it bought on eBay. The delivery system for that bomb is pretty much three Tunisian soldiers running with it balanced on their shoulders – with one of them making a whistling dropping bomb sound.

But enough with my geo-sociopolitical ramblings and onward to how Long Beach Island and Tunisia have been hooked up through a held-in-common … bluefin tuna.

To get there, harken back to 2012 when offshore angler Steve Matthews and boat captain Bob Matthews, aboard Low Bid, caught and tagged a 40-inch bluefin tuna directly east of LBI. Post tag-and-release, the tuna took off – as in way off!

According to the Billfish Foundation’s fish-following division, that self-same tuna was recaptured after 3,100 days, in January 2021, nearly 4,000 nautical miles away in that Tunisia place. The fast-moving/growing pelagic had lengthened to 95 inches and weighing 560 pounds. The increase in weight was indeterminable since it had not been measured off Jersey – to assure a safe release.

While Tunisia ended up being the worst of places for the fish, speaking in a sashimi sense, its sacrifice was not for naught. The Billfish Foundation says, “It’s loops like this that really show how incredibly important tag and release data can be for scientific discovery.”

By the by, that documented distance it had swam can be hypothetically increased, greatly. The 4,000 nautical miles is simply a straight-line NJ-to-Tunisia measure. Straight-lining is generally unheard of in the tuna realm, as schools swim hither and yon on food-seeking extravaganzas.

QUICK CREATURE COUNT: Looking over Division of Fish and Wildlife 2022 stats, NJ remains quite bearish for its size, speaking in non-economic terms. Black bear populations appear to be burgeoning, based on bear-related calls to the division.

So far this year, the DFW’s “black bear unit” has received 1,701 bear calls, compared to 617 calls during the same period in 2021.

The calls are broken down into three “bear” categories. Category I Bears are a threat to public safety and property. Category II Nuisance Bears are not a threat to public safety or property. Category III Bears exhibit normal behavior and are not a nuisance or threat to public safety.

So far this year, Cat I and II calls have both increased over 250 percent.

Importantly, the state’s bear stats do not include calls made to local police departments. When we have even a single stray bear in our hood, PDs get dozens atop dozens of calls.

It’s tough to get any exact read on NJ’s bear count. While one official source pegs it at 3,000, another reliable site ups that by almost 1,000. Whichever, NJ has indeed gotten quite bearish. On the other Karen and Ken hand, the call-in increase might be a case of the population getting more snittyish – a very real trend by my read.

The surge in bear calls has alarmed Gov. Phil Murphy, who ended NJ bear hunting last year, fulfilling a campaign pledge to do so. “There have been one too many sightings over the past number of months for my taste,” he has told media. “We’re watching this very carefully. We’re trying to learn.”

That “pledge” angle still looms large as it reflects the abiding sentiment of many state residents who want the bears fully protected. However, the increase in Cat I and II calls might indicate enough is reaching the enough point, Ursus-wise.

Another creature count has to do with a waterfowl we have compatibly and appreciatively lived with for as long as we have been here. I’m speaking of the beloved mallard duck.

It was once said of mallards, “If they weren’t so common, they’d be beautiful.” Well, they’re gaining in beauty in the worst possible way.

None of us need an official population tally to know full well that these wonderful winged ones have been locally disappearing like there’s no tomorrow. Who recalls a flock of them greeting us at the old BH Terrace Wawa?

Officially, numbers confirm a potentially disturbing mallard fadeaway hereabouts. The annual Atlantic Flyway Breeding Waterfowl Survey for 2022 estimates there were 11,734 mallard pairs in NJ. That was 45% below the 1993-2021 long term average of 21,153 pairs.

While the world mallard numbers are decent, around 19 million, in the wildlife population realm, it’s not where a species is at, but where it’s going. In my case, it’s where it’s not showing. My grassy backyard used to host a feeding mallard couple or two on a daily seasonal basis. Nary a one for over a decade, long time passing. Studies are trying to determine the root of their decline in NJ.

RUNDOWN: Joining the 2022 Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic is now mandatory, per a directive from Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Hey, all I had to do was tell him I personally knew Chales Pfizer IX – and slip him a few bucks, since he’s hurting for employment.

Not to worry, boosters are unlikely and you’ll love being in the 2022 event. It might even go viral on ya.

You can get your shots, I mean your entry forms, at Fisherman’s Headquarters, Ship Bottom; Jingles Bait & Tackle, Beach Haven; or Surf City Bait & Tackle, Surf City.

The Classic’s striper segment is finally heating up with Rick Anderson’s 37-inch, 17-14-pound bass in the lead. Despite Rick’s closeness to the 37.99-inch allowable max length, there’s tons of room for competition. A bass at the maximum enterable legal length can run as heavy as 25 pounds. Get crackin’.

There have been 20 tog entries into that Classic segment. That’s quite cool since the competition for the Classic winner is as much for bragging rights as nabbing the $300 worth of prizes ($100 per segment). The biggest blackfish to date goes to Alex D’Agostino for his 4.48-pound entry.

It pains me no end that the blues are again forsaking us, big time. Congrats to Chris Masino for his 1.42-pounder, the lone Classic entry to date. Many of us had so hoped this fall would see a return of gators/slammers/choppers. At the same time, just one wayward bluefish could make a Classic contestant a big winner with three $500 segment prizes and a $1,000 grand prize up for grabs.

Kingfish have yet to show. Go figure. Paul Donnelly has the largest to date with a 0.74-pound Classic entry.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

Leave a Reply