Two men accused of stuffing lead weights into fish to try and win the $28,000 (£24,000) top prize at a lucrative US tournament have denied cheating.

The allegations surfaced last month at a Lake Erie walleye fishing competition.

Tournament director Jason Fisher became suspicious because the fish caught by Jacob Runyan of Ohio and Chase Kominsky of Pennsylvania was much heavier than a normal walleye of that length.

An angry crowd in Cleveland’s Gordon Park on September 30 watched as Mr. Fisher cut open a walleye and announced that they were stuffed with weights and fish fillets.

Pike perch is a type of pike. File image: AP

Their “winning” catch was confiscated by Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials as evidence.

Earlier this month, Mr. Runyan and Mr. Kominsky were charged with wire fraud, attempted grand larceny, possession of criminal tools and illegal possession of wildlife.

Both pleaded not guilty in a Cleveland court on Wednesday and were released on $2,500 (£2,150) bail.

The first prize in the tournament was about 28 thousand dollars.