National Walleye Tour Cheating?!
Can you believe there is more cheating in fishing tournaments? We can't. This is now the 3rd separate case in a single calendar year (that we know of at least). At this time last year it seemed safe to say we all remember the old saying 'Winners never cheat, cheaters never win' but after this past year I'm starting to wonder if some grew up never hearing this. Cheating has no place in any competition but it becomes extremely immoral in fishing as you aren't even in direct competition with your opponents. How they behave has no bearing on your success whatsoever as you are fishing with and against yourself in a tournament. Sure we compare the results at the end but how much someone else catches has no impact on what you catch just on who gets the prizes at the end. All acts of cheating are to gain a small edge over your opponent but a choice to break rules, laws, and disrespect the organization putting on the event, other anglers, and usually the fish we all enjoy chasing. Not to forget it is an attempt to steal cash and/or prizes from others. There is no excuse for such acts and absolutely no room in the sport or industry for individuals who put their own greed ahead of so much.
You may be asking yourself what is the latest cheating scandal in the fishing world? Is it more weights in fish, cut tails, or caged fish caught before the event? How many more ways can someone try to cheat in a fishing tournament. Well, there is one more to add to the list and its from a televised fishing tournament series that has somehow not got any attention for how it handled the incident so far.
On July 27-28, 2023 the National Walleye Tour made a stop in Sault St Marie, Michigan for the final regular season event of the 2023 season. The event took place on the St. Mary's River which is a part of Lake Huron & close enough to the border that anglers would have access to both American & Canadian waters. The NWT is a televised fishing circuit with prizes in excess of $1 Million so no angler is joining just for the fun of it. The total prize winnings for 1st place at the Sault St Marie event included a new boat and cash with total value $82,288.
Fishing regulations can change considerably even within neighbouring zones in Ontario let alone across international borders so it would be expected the National Walleye Tour (NWT) would provide sufficient direction to avoid any confusion with the rules amongst anglers. Not only are there the harvest limits to content with but anglers would need to have canadian + american fishing licenses, import+export laws become a factor, passports & access outside a port of entry, & since this is a televised + paid outcome event may even need to consider work visas. You may think this is extreme for a fishing tournament but these are the things that need to be considered when crossing international borders. Laws are in place for a reason and an event organizers responsibility to ensure they are known and followed to the best of their ability or deal with the repercussions. In our opinion hosting an event and not limiting anglers to american waters is just asking for trouble as there are too many potential complications.
All of the international border crossing laws are too complex to discuss here and we are by no means any sort fo authority on the matter but we know its very complicated and you need your ducks in a row in these sort of situations. What is a little more simply to understand are the fish harvesting rules for the area. Like we mentioned previously they can change drastically from one zone to another. Here's how the rules differ for Walleye in the areas anglers have access to fish in this event. The limits are per angler:
St. Mary's River (Ontario Zone 14)
2 with max one greater than 56 cm (22") and 0 between 41-56 cm
Exception: from the gates of the Compensating Works downstream to longitude 83°45′W., which extends from Eagle Point (Hay Bay) south to the international boundary with the United States Walleye - S-4 and C-2; any size.
St. Mary's River (Michigan)
5 with none below 15" (~13 cm)
Lake Huron (Ontario Zone 13)
6 with no slot size
Lake Huron (Michigan)
8 with none below 13" (33 cm)
As you can see there is a pretty big difference between the possession limits in each of the waters. Most notable Zone 14 on the Ontario side where anglers can only have one fish in their possession over 56 cm. Since tournaments are won by biggest fish this doesn't help your chances as you need to fish it first and leave after getting your one big one or be in breach of the laws by having multiple fish in your possession over 56 cm.
Following the event allegations came forward that the winner of the tournament was not only fishing in the Ontario Zone 14 but catching the entire tournament limit from the area (5 Fish / Day). Given the full limit weighed in each day and the results showing length of each fish this would put him at 4 counts of possession over the limit each day or 8 total! Each of these counts would be subject to Ontario MNRF fines, confiscation of the fish, and revoking of fishing license. The allegations were investigated by the National Walleye Tour and found to be at least partially true. In a facebook post following the incident the angler admitted to catching and keeping more fish than an individual angler was allowed per the laws where he was fishing (although stated it was due to a misunderstanding after discussing with a game warden prior to the event). The tournament director cited that due to no ill intent they would penalize the angler 6.4 lbs and fined him $6500. This still resulted in the angler winning the tournament and keeping all the winnings previously mentioned which the fine barely puts a dent in. Despite the direction received from the game warden the zones are clearly identified in the Ontario regulations. The areas the angler claimed to be fishing (Eagle poin to Plummer Bank) are all within Zone 14 and in fact, this is not anywhere near a zone boundary which raises the level of suspicion as to how genuine this statement really is.
Despite the pro / co-angler format of the tournament according to the rules the catch's of each angler are combined and weighed in as a boat with each angler receiving the score of the boat unlike bass tournaments which each angler would weigh in individually and receive an individual score. This becomes a very grey area as now the boat could bring in twice the limit yet each angler would still need to follow the individual limits meaning either angler could not catch all the big fish using the boats total limits. It seems simple enough but how many times do you think a pro or co angler catches their second fish over the slot limit and keeps it instead of tossing it back because their partner does not have one over the limit yet. While technically illegal to do this is something that likely happens in tournaments for every species but especially in team tournaments where partners are chosen rather than randomly assigned. We are not sure that this discussion is ready to be had nor that the overall impact is one worth having for catch & release tournaments. The discussion could easily divert into topics like who is really the one who caught the fish the one with the rod or the one with the net, are anglers allowed to set the hook and then trade rods to avoid going over the limit, etc the line becomes very blurry for the end result that is the same (in team tournaments anyways).
Given that the tournament is a live release tournament, there was effort to understand the zones - although incorrectly, and no fish were reported dead at weigh in I would expect some leniency in the penalties given out by Ontario MNRF but this does not resolve the individual of breaking the law. Rumours have stated that the OMNRF investigation has been handed over to Michigan DNR but this is still unclear as to its validity. According to the rules of the National Walleye Tour:
"Interpretation and enforcement of these rules shall be left exclusively to the Tournament Director whose decisions are final in all matters and are not subject to any appeal. Contestants agree to report any rule violation to the tournament director immediately upon discovery. Failure to report violations may be cause for disqualification. In the event of a rule violation, officials may impose such sanctions, as deemed appropriate including, without limitation, fines, forfeiture of prizes or weight, in all or in part, by fish, by day or overall, disqualification and/or prohibition from future participation."
While it does seem like this was a genuine mistake by the angler that does not relieve him of the acts committed. The National Walleye Tour rules, which are easily accessed on their website, do not state that breaking of the law results in an immediate disqualification for the angler as many other tournament series rules do (at least in Ontario). Despite the controversy around their decisions on how to penalize the angler, the angler was penalized, paid fines for his actions, and the rules of the tour were followed. Their decision [NWT] to allow the angler to keep the bulk of the prizes from the tournament and be credited with the win is not one that is sitting well with tournament participants, spectators, and walleye anglers across the country which can only lead to negative impacts for the series as a whole.
For Reference of Rules & Regulations:
National Walleye Tour
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