BY D’ARCY EGAN
An online company that deals in booking fishing trips, from exotic adventures to casting much closer to home, the FishingBooker folks took time out recently to determine which towns around the country hosted the best fishing festivals.
It was a slam dunk, and only in part because Lake Erie is widely known as the Walleye Capital of the World. The fabled fishing port of Port Clinton is also home to a pair of outstanding walleye events.
The annual Walleye Festival, to be held on Memorial Day weekend (May 23-27) again this year, takes over WaterWorks Park in downtown Port Clinton. The Walleye Drop, the airborne adventure for Wylie Walleye II, will soar on New Year’s Eve, earning national recognition.
The other top finishers seemed pretty cool, but two of those festivals are dedicated to fly fishing, not exactly a mainstream way to hook bass, catfish or walleye. The Texas Fly Fishing & Brew Festival is in Plano, Tex. The Virginia Fly Fishing Festival sets up in Doswell Va.
The Brainerd (Minn.) Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza targets walleye, too, just down the road from the annual International Eelpout Festival in late February on Leech Lake in Walker, Minn., a town of slightly more than 1,000. Completing the most popular fishing festivals are the Fall Fish Fest in Lake Tahoe, Calif.; the Issaquah Salmon Days Festival in Issaquah, Wash.; and The Hawaii Fishing & Seafood Festival in Oahu.
It’s doubtful those other festivals have the impact of the Main Street Port Clinton Walleye Festival has on Port Clinton and Ottawa County. In fact, Ohio Sea Grant funded a Bowling Green State University study in 2016 to prove just how important the Walleye Festival has become for the local economy.
Guided by researcher Bob Lee, an associate professor and program coordinator of tourism, leisure and event planning at BGSU, the study determined the Walleye Festival generates 67 jobs, $1.8 million in labor income, $2.1 million in value added income and $3.8 million in total economic output.
They found the Walleye Festival lured tens of thousands of visitors each year who enjoyed the huge parade, carnival atmosphere, food and drinks, kids fishing derby, live music, tours of the new Port Clinton Lighthouse and a Walleye 5K Run.
The Walleye Drop provides a one-day explosion of visitors on New Year’s Eve. Wylie Walleye II is the star, of course, but the kids have their own Minnow Drop earlier in the day at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Port Clinton, thousands of fish dinners are consumed at pubs and restaurants around town and at the Port Clinton Fish House, a short cast from the main stage where Wylie Walleye II resides.
If you’d rather cut a few holes in the Gull Lake ice during Minnesota’s bitterly cold last week in January – which they’ve been doing since 1991 – they’d love to have you. And if you have seen the movie “A River Runs Through it” a dozen times, those fly fishing festivals might be fun.
We’d all probably like to head to Oahu on the first Sunday of October for The Hawaii Fishing & Seafood Festival, a fabulous place to score a delectable fish dinner at the Pier 38 fish market, the focal point of the festivities. But that’s also a great time to be fishing for walleye around Lake Erie, the world’s best waters for catching them.