Angler in Park Rapids contest accused of cheating; he denies it
An angler was accused of cheating at the Park Rapids American Legion Community Fishing Contest on February 2.
"It's unfortunate," said tourney organizer Jerry Benham of the alleged cheating incident. The case has been turned over to authorities, he said.
Sheriff Cory Aukes escorted Tom Mead of Long Prairie from the ice Saturday afternoon after anglers reported him cheating. Mead said he was stunned at the accusations.
Alexandria residents may remember Mead. He won the Ice Fishing Challenge in Alexandria in 2004 with a 7.14 pound walleye he brought to the weigh-in station during the contest's final seconds. He won a Ford F150 pickup with the catch.
Mead denied cheating in an interview Monday. He has not been charged. He blamed jealous competitors for ending his derby chances prematurely. Two years ago he won an ATV four-wheeler by catching a 5-pound northern pike at the Park Rapids tournament.
"I caught a northern and put it in the pail and I was unhooking it and stuff and they said I had it in the pail or whatever," he explained. "They went to the sheriff and everything else. That's about what I can tell you."
When told he had been accused of cheating, Mead said, "It probably looked that way. But all's I can say is I wasn't."
He said he won the four-wheeler "fair and legal."
He said he's a good angler and has "even talked to you guys on the radio a little bit" about catching big fish.
"It was a bad scene," he said of the February 2 incident. "We will get it all straightened out."
Aukes said he had some difficulty escorting Mead through the crowd as angry anglers yelled "Cheater!" and crowded around him and the disabled man.
Other than that incident, Aukes said the derby went off without a hitch.
Because Mead has a disability, he is able to drive a vehicle out onto the ice. Security personnel otherwise were checking every angler for contraband on the way through the entry gates.
Mead, for his part, insists he is innocent and when the facts come out, he will be cleared of any alleged wrongdoing.
Echo Press Editor Al Edenloff contributed to this story.