A less dramatic version of the Weight Gate scandal that rocked the professional fishing world in October 2022 took place over the weekend in Dunkirk, New York. On July 30, a competitor in the Bart’s Cove Walleye Duel was caught stuffing walleyes to increase their weight.
The local tourney brought together more than 30 teams, according to organizer Mark Mohr. Each boat was after the heaviest bag of six walleyes, and they competed for cash prizes, with the top team winning an all-inclusive trip to Panama.
Mohr made the discovery during Saturday’s weigh-in. When he cut open the fish that were submitted, it appeared that one competitor, Pete Smith, had stuffed two of his walleyes with smaller fish to increase their weight. He found a 12-inch walleye with its tail cut off inside one of Smith’s fish. The other had an intact white perch stuffed inside it.
“They both had holes in their lips, and they were both stuffed inside bigger walleyes,” Mohr tells Outdoor Life. “The 12-inch walleye, it looked to me like they tried to stuff it and it wouldn’t go down, so they cut the last three inches off. It was suspicious because the fish was still really bright, and then I picked it up and could see a hook mark in its lip.”
Mohr explains that cutting open fish is standard practice at the Bart’s Cove tournament—and has been since long before the cheating scandal that took place on Lake Erie last fall. His rules explicitly state that if a fish is being entered in a payout structure, it will be cut open and inspected. (He doesn’t believe in using lie detectors and thinks they do more harm than good in tournament settings.)
“It’s always been that way since before Ohio. But after what happened there, I absolutely insisted that every single one of these fish be cut open—not just Pete’s,” Mohr says. “It’s just stupid what he did, especially after last year. I still can’t believe it.”
The tournament director then found himself in a tricky situation. Mohr knows Smith and his family personally, and he didn’t want to disqualify him on the spot because he was worried about everyone’s safety at the event. (Re-watch the infamous “weights in fish!” video and you’ll see why Mohr was worried about a potentially violent response from either Smith or the crowd.)
Mohr also wanted to be 100 percent certain that Smith had cheated, and Smith insisted that he was innocent. So, instead of publicly disqualifying Smith at the event, Mohr contacted officials with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, who confiscated the two fish on July 30. The agency confirmed in an email to Outdoor Life that their investigation is ongoing.
Officials with New York DEC confiscated the fish in question and their investigation is ongoing. Courtesy Mark Mohr via Facebook
As for Smith’s claims of innocence, however, Mohr now has even more reason to believe that he knowingly cheated on Saturday. What’s even worse, Mohr adds, is that Smith didn’t have to break the rules to have a shot at winning the tournament.
“I got a phone call from Pete’s wife. She let me know that one of the individuals in Pete’s boat admitted to her that they did cheat, and that he was afraid to come to the weigh-in on Saturday,” Mohr says. “But the thing about it is that Pete didn’t have to stuff them. He only gained maybe 10-12 ounces, less than a pound. But he had a 22-something-pound bag, and the next closest was 19 pounds.”
Mohr says that it’s up to the DEC to file criminal charges against Smith. Either way, he joins a list of seven individuals who’ve been banned from the Bart’s Cove tournament for life. And if nothing else, he hopes that Saturday’s incident will get more tournament organizers around the country to tighten up their rules.
“Everybody needs to know about this, and hopefully it makes other tournaments have more integrity,” Mohr says. “I don’t care if you’re stuffing lead in Ohio or stuffing fish in Dunkirk, or if you’re water-bathing fish or fishing Canadian waters when you’re supposed to be fishing New York waters. There’s always something going on. And until these tournament directors step up to the plate, it’s going to continue.”
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