TOLEDO, Ohio (13abc Action News) - It began as a friendly competition between friends. Today, it is the largest event of its type on the Great Lakes with payouts in excess of $100 thousand.
The annual Walleye Fall Brawl is about to begin. The tournament is a big fish competition.
Between October 20 and December 3 of this year, the biggest walleye caught in the Ohio waters of Lake Erie by a registered contestant will win a fully-equipped Warrior boat worth $75 thousand.
The anglers who catch the next four largest walleye will win thousands of dollars in cash prizes. Last year’s winner took home a paycheck of $20 thousand. The tournament is the brainchild of Frank Murphy of North Royalton.
“It was a group of guys who liked to fish in the fall when the night bite gets started,” said Murphy. “So we all threw 25 dollars in and said the biggest fish at the end of it wins, that’s how it started.”
From those humble beginnings in 2011, the tournament has grown to what it is today. More than 2,500 contestants are signed up for this year’s event, and it is expected to go higher. There are contestants from two countries and 15 states. Registration ends on October 18. The cost to register is $30.
Lake Erie is the top walleye fishery in the world, and during the fall, many large walleye enter the shallows in search of baitfish. That makes them easy for shore anglers to target, as well as for boat fishermen and fisherwomen to pursue. However, you can’t be afraid of the dark. That is because those fish move into the shallows after the sun goes down. Lake Erie is famous for the “night bite” of the late fall and early winter.
“Until last year we had someone fishing from the shore finish in the money,” said Murphy. “That’s what makes this tournament so popular, anyone can win. You don’t need a boat, and I try to make it affordable.”
100% of the entry fees are paid out in winnings.
So, how do you target those night-feeding walleye? If you’re shorebound, the answer is casting the rocks and shoreline structure with stickbaits and crankbaits like Perfect 10’s, Thundersticks, Flicker Minnows, and Husky Jerks. Live bait will also work from shore. Some of the popular places to cast for walleye are breakwalls found along Lake Erie. In northwest Ohio, Cullen Park in Toledo can be productive, as can the rocks at Maumee Bay State Park, the Port Clinton breakwall, Catawba Island State Park, and East Harbor State Park.
Trolling those areas, and deeper can be productive for people fishing from boats. The lures used are the same. You will find Fall Brawl trollers working the waters from Toledo to Ashtabula. It is a lakewide event.
“The popularity of the night bite has just gone crazy the last few years,” adds Murphy. “Boat ramps are staying open later in the season because of the popularity.”
That has had an effect local economies. Businesses reap the benefits from Fall Brawl anglers. Murphy says there is even interest from lakefront communities to develop tourism business because of the popularity of the late fall fishing bonanza.
While the dollars and cents are important, Murphy says the real benefit of the tournament is the human factor; the joy and camaraderie that can be found in fishing.
“People get to meet people, they spend time with each other and with family. They make friendships that last a lifetime. It’s my way of giving back and raising community spirit.”
All of that made possible by what started out as a competition for bragging rights among friends.