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Norval Boufford was just trying to impress a girl, but putting a one-pound weight into a salmon and entering it in a fishing derby has instead netted the award-winning angler humiliation and a criminal charge of fraud.

The Port Dover, Ont., man said he artificially weighted a salmon - his specialty - as a "joke" to impress his wife, who was with him on a fishing trip. The joke fell flat when he entered the fish in the Salmon Masters Derby - a 61-day competition with a payout of $500 for the biggest catch of each day on and around Lake Ontario - two to three weeks ago. When officials noticed that the length and girth of the chinook salmon didn't seem to suit its approximately 20-pound weight, they explored the inside with a rod and found the steel weight.

They not only disqualified him, they contacted police who charged Mr. Boufford with fraud under $5,000, said Detective Constable Mark McNeil of the Niagara Regional Police fraud unit.

Mr. Boufford, who runs a boating and fishing tour company on Lake Erie, said he has been miserable as news of the scandal spreads throughout the angling community.

"What have I been doing since then?" he asked yesterday. "Besides throwing up daily and getting very little sleep?"

Andrew Pallotta of Salmon Masters said he was shocked. "It's no different than going and stealing from a bank or stealing from a business or company. At the end of the day, you've done something illegal that you're going to pay for."

Police have received a flood of e-mails from irate anglers who say the integrity of competitive fishing has been marred by the incident, said Det. Constable McNeil.

"Generally, the fishing world is pretty supportive of [the fraud charge] They go into these fishing tournaments to play fair. I don't think they have a whole lot of sympathy for anyone who tries to cut a corner," he said.

Mr. Pallotta said many of Mr. Boufford's fellow anglers are in disbelief, since the man is well known in the competitive fishing circuit. In 2007, he accepted the title of Angler of the Year and a first-place prize for his nearly 30-pound salmon from the Stelco Fishing Club.

Mr. Boufford said he knew there was a fish that had already beaten the weight of his earlier that day and didn't think his submission would lead to any controversy.

"It's very upsetting to me. It wasn't in the context to try and win something there and the guys involved know that," he said. "I should know better to even fool around even inside a derby. It was a lack of judgment on my part," he said.