CLEVELAND — Allegations of cheating at a Lake Erie fishing competition have gone viral and grabbed nationwide attention, and now the state says it's investigating.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources responded to the Lake Erie Walleye Tournament on Friday after being contacted by tournament organizers. According to the ODNR, officers collected evidence and are preparing a report for the Cuyahoga County Prosecutors Office. The state declined further comment.
"It was an insane atmosphere. You could feel it," said Nate Lueders, who was competing in the tournament's kayak division. "[Everyone was] just angry. They're stealing from us. But the fact that they were finally caught also brought a sense of relief."
In one of the widely seen videos, which contains strong language, Jason Fischer, owner and director for the Lake Erie Walleye Trail, is seen at the Lake Erie Walleye Trail Championship cutting fish open and pulling weights and other items out of them at weigh-in. Fischer confirmed to News 5 that two fishermen had their fish inspected after they weighed more than what he thought they should be based on their size. Fischer also said the fish felt lumpy, prompting him to cut them open.
"People questioned it and it's been suspected. I think people just finally got tired of it and spoke up and said something about it. They clearly weren't as big as what the scale said they were," said Lueders.
Fischer declined an on-camera interview but did a Facebook Live Monday night, and the accused fishermen did not respond to News 5's requests for comment.
"All of the information from Friday has been turned over to the Division of Wildlife and they will handle the case or any potential criminal action from this point forward," Fischer said in his Facebook Live.
The attempt to win the tournament by making the fish heavier was met with an emotional backlash from other contestants. Lueders said tens of thousands of dollars were at stake at the LEWT Championship and many anglers felt not only cheated out of potential winnings, but also a sense of betrayal.
"It's like we're out there fishing with our friends. That's really the feeling that I get from it. We're all friends out there. We're all just having fun trying to win some money. It's rare to come across a couple of boys like that," he said."
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley said his staff will be meeting with the agency’s officers Tuesday.
“I take all crime seriously, including attempted felony theft at a fishing tournament,” O’Malley said. “These individuals will be held accountable.”
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