BY D’ARCY EGAN
The Walleye Capital of the World outdid itself on New Year’s Eve, providing hours of merry-making for the thousands who packed downtown Port Clinton and cheered heartily as their favorite fish slowly swam back to his cradle on North Madison Street.
It was only fitting.
Lake Erie was just finishing its finest year of walleye fishing, and the amazing catches still hadn’t ended by the holiday season. With plenty of open water, anglers were launching boats and hauling back limits of trophy walleye as New Year’s Eve arrived.
Mother Nature helped a bit this New Year’s Eve, taming the usually bitter winter weather with temperatures in the low 40s, a respite from frigid rains or a plentiful snowfall in recent years.
To make the night even more enjoyable was the 2nd annual Bar Swim. Plush buses safely gave revelers a full evening of bar-hopping in the Port Clinton area without having to get behind the wheel. The pubs and restaurants had New Year’s Eve specials, and a new law allowed folks to stroll around the downtown area with open containers of adult beverages.
If you missed the big bash, or just want to re-live the celebration, check out Nick James Productions on Facebook. The talented videographer captured Wylie and the crowd, and featured hosts Bob Gatewood, the popular Put-in-Bay crooner, and wild and woolly Bob Kansa.
“We’re here because it’s always a fun night,” said Gatewood, whose tune “Friends of the Bay” was long ago voted the official anthem of Put-in-Bay. “The Walleye Drop has really put Port Clinton on the map.”
While in Key West, Fla., Sloppy Joe’s Bar drops a conch shell. On Times Square in New York it is a very shiny ball. Neither can match the glamorous walleye the Wylie Walleye Foundation had created a couple of years ago to replace its well-worn paper mache walleye that first slid down a guide wire on Madison Street 23 years ago, heading into a monstrous landing net.
“That’s a pretty incredible fish,” marveled a couple from Columbus, admiring the new Wylie as it was readied for its midnight journey. “She’s a real beauty. This entire evening has been quite a treat for a group of us. We’d heard about the Walleye Drop, and decided this would be the year we went to Port Clinton.
“The whole town has been so friendly, the food and drinks have been great. It seems like everyone is in a great mood and ready to have fun.”
The new Wylie is a remarkable 20-footer, weighing 600 pounds and sporting a wide array of LED lights that can constantly change color. The big fish is now lowered by a massive crane at midnight.
The Wylie Walleye Foundation didn’t forget the afternoon crowd of the youngest partiers. The Minnow Drop Kids Party settled in at the Knights of Columbus Hall, a block from the Walleye Drop, with entertainment by Gabby’s “Once Upon A Time Princesses,” Anna and Elsa, and even a Wylie the Walleye and Batman.
On North Madison Street, plenty of popcorn flowed out of the Great Lakes Popcorn Company, and yellow perch and walleye dinners were extremely popular at the Port Clinton Fish Company.
There were lots of contests, from Touch-A-Truck for the kids to the Wall-Eyes Giant Dice Game and a Rock-Paper-Scissors Contest. Hometown DJ Hondo produced the music all evening, making sure people were dancing in the streets.
The nonprofit Wylie Walleye Foundation was created to benefit Port Clinton area businesses, as well as other nonprofit groups and agencies in the community, with its annual Walleye Drop. It now draws international attention each year, just like the fabulous Lake Erie walleye fishing, putting the spotlight on Port Clinton.