For years, Alfred Mead’s fishing practices drew the ire of anglers all over Minnesota.
So did two previous gaming-related convictions on the Long Prairie, Minn., native’s record.
On Feb. 2, the man who commonly went by the name “Tom” vindicated the trail of suspicion surrounding him.
In a story originally reported by the Park Rapids Enterprise, Mead was sentenced this week to seven days in jail for cheating in the Park Rapids American Legion Community Fishing Derby. Desiring the event’s 10,000 Ice Castle fish house prize, he hatched the following ploy: Sneak a pair of live northern pike onto Fish Hook Lake, put one on a hook when no one was looking, thrust said fish into his hole in the ice and miraculously pull out a winner moments later.
But one of the competition’s 2,000-plus participants noticed Mead executing his plan, and Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes escorted him off the ice, reportedly to jeers of “Cheater!”
“I’ve heard about it happening before,” derby chairman Jerry Benham said, “but never seen it happen where a guy actually got caught.”
Mead, 72, built a reputation in local fishing circles for his prize gets and displeasure at any fellow fisher entering his proximity. He’d been booked previously for fishing with improper hooks and transporting live fish.
“I’d known the guy; he’d been coming up to the derby for quite a while,” Benham said. “He was always talking smart: ‘I know how fish.’ He’d go on about how … he was gonna show some people this and that, but then he never let anybody fish with him.
“There were people that had suspicions on him for quite a while.”
Mead’s failed sneak attempt put him behind bars for a week and cost him hunting and fishing privileges in Hubbard County — of which Park Rapids is the county seat — for two years. He’s also banned from all fishing competition for four years.
As he left the ice that frigid February day, Mead told Aukes “What can I say, I got caught. God told me not to do it, but I did it anyway,” according to the criminal complaint.
Benham said cheating during heavily populated ice fishing contests is actually a fairly rampant problem. Catching perpetrators is generally difficult, however, given the heavy volume of contestants spread out over the surface area of a large lake.
It’s hoped that Mead’s foiled attempt at victory sheds light on the issue, Benham said.
“I don’t think we’re gonna take any more precautions than we normally do,” said Benham, who’s currently in the planning process for next year’s fishing derby. “Hopefully, this will build awareness out there, because this is happening all over the country. In what’s best for the tournament, it’s actually good that it happened.”