Hook, Line, And Sucker: Tournament Anglers Caught Cheating
Stolen fish. Lead weights. Secret bass delivery networks.
The competitive fishing world has had its share of creative cheaters, and now a new scandal is consuming the circuit. After a dispute over the winning marlin in last month’s White Marlin Open in Maryland, 13 competitors are stuck in limbo, as the tournament still has not awarded its $2.8 million prize. Officials say the original victor, Philip Easley, caught his 76.5-pound winning fish before the tournament started. Easley maintains his innocence.
Though anglers are outraged, competitive fishing has a long history of cheating. The idea for the modern big-money derby—in which competitors buy into an event, fish in an area for a specific period of time, and award the pot to the biggest haul—came from an Alabama insurance salesman specifically aiming to clean up the sport. Ray Scott charged a $100 fee for the first All-American Invitational Bass Tournament in 1967, hoping it would only attract serious fishermen and leave frauds at home. “Cheating was almost synonymous with fishing [at the time],” Scott told Grantland in 2014.
To deter cheating today, tournaments administer post-catch polygraph tests to competitors. While the White Marlin Open’s pot is the largest disputed sum in the sport’s history, officials still frequently catch people submitting illegal fish. These are some of their stories.
In the early 1980s, Florida man Elro McNeil and three accomplices worked with at least six different anglers to scam fishing tournaments in Texas and Louisiana. McNeil would buy black bass in South Florida, deliver them in an aerated tank-rigged truck, and split the prize money with competitors. The group made more than $200,000 by 1984, when McNeil pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and ended up spending five years in prison.
Weight A Minute
North Carolina’s John Hoyle finished third in the Walmart Bass Fishing League tournament on Lake Wylie, S.C., in 2012, but was disqualified after officials found an 11-ounce lead weight in one of his fish’s stomachs.
In 2013, Kentucky hosted a tournament for commercial fishermen to attach the invasive Asian Carp disrupting the state’s lakes, offering $20,000 in prize money. Officials disqualified the winner, 63-year-old Ronny Hopkins, after realizing one of Hopkins’ biggest fish was stolen from the local aquarium where he used to work.
At last year’s Sealy Big Bass Splash in Lake Fork, Texas, officials determined the winning fisherman doctored the winning fish by trimming its tail to fit under the tournament’s height limit. The angler was charged with a third-degree felony.
Father’s Day Fraud
Last summer in Vermont, 44-year-old Craig Provost collected over $13,000—including $3,000 from a “super bonus pool”—for the 10.26-pound walleye he submitted in the Lake Champlain International Father’s Day Fishing Derby. As it turns out, one of Provost’s boatmates, who didn’t enter the bonus pool, actually caught the fish. Provost’s ex-girlfriend turned them in. In July, Provost pled not guilty to felony fraud.
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