The brawlers are about to invade Lake Erie. Thousands of anglers — men, women and children from across the U.S. and Canada — will come to the shores of Lake Erie between mid-October and late November in a quest for the biggest walleye as Walleye Fall Brawl returns for its 10th straight year.
Frank Murphy, tournament director and one of the originators of the brawl, acknowledged that COVID-19 will have an impact on the 2020 brawl. “It's affected everything else,’’ he said. “I cannot imagine it won't affect us.”
While Murphy speculated registration may be slightly down from last year's record-breaking 6,000-plus participants, even a pandemic won't keep determined anglers from attempting to land a winning walleye.
Part of their motivation is the prizes for adults and kids who place in the top five spots at the end of the competition. Murphy wanted to step it up a bit to celebrate the 10th anniversary. As a result, two boats, each valued at about $100,000, will be awarded to the top two place finishers in the adult division. Cash awards, gift cards and fishing equipment are also available. Two $1,000 college scholarships will be awarded to the girl and boy who write the most compelling short essay about “My Best Day Fishing.”
Walleye Fall Brawl began as a friendly wager among a dozen or so fishing friends 10 years ago, including Murphy and Craig Lewis, owner of Erie Outfitters in Sheffield Lake. Each threw a few dollars into a pot and the one who caught the biggest fish won the pot.
The following year, 100 participated. Last year the 6,000 who took part are testimony to the popularity of fall walleye fishing and the determination of those who love fishing to don parkas and heavy outerwear to withstand Lake Erie's cold water and blustering winds as fall ends and winter begins. They have come from as far away as Florida and far western states as well as Canadian provinces.
More than 3,500 have registered this year. However with a week to go, that number is guaranteed to rise, Murphy said. He admitted that, prior to the COVID outbreak, he secretly hoped 10,000 would participate. He knows the hoped-for number will be considerably less and said he'd be happy if it hit last year's total.
He watches the numbers carefully because cash prizes come from participants' $30 registration fees. Those fees defray tournament expenses for liability insurance, mailings, postage, bank fees and banners. They also pay a portion of the grand prize boats and the equipment installed on each. Once those expenses are covered, every single dollar of those fees is put towards cash prizes for the third-, fourth- and fifth-place finishers in the adult division as well as the top five in the kids' division.
As Murphy explains, “Payout is based on the amount of participants.” Neither he nor any other person who helps organize the tourney is paid for their work. Most spend the better part of the year lining up sponsors, maintaining massive mailing lists, or fielding hundreds of calls and emails from those interested in entering the Brawl. The Brawl also has a number of loyal sponsors. Murphy said COVID has also affected them. The Brawl lost some due to the economic downturn while others reduced what they were able to donate.
Brawl organizers also make a habit of supporting local nonprofits. They typically co-sponsor Avon Lake Community Resource Service's Hooks for Hunger fundraiser. After it was canceled, they held a fill-the-truck food drive this summer in front of Erie Outfitters. They also support Berea Animal Rescue, Friendship Animal Protective League, Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation and All Faiths Food Pantry.
At the close of the tournament each of the past nine years, an award banquet has been held. Murphy said he hopes there can be something this year, but it will not be as big as in the past, if at all. “I was hoping for something different to make this one special because of the 10th anniversary,” he said. Despite COVID, “We're making the most of it and trying our best to make it as best as we can. I hope everybody has a good time.”
Registration for Fall Brawl runs through Oct. 14. Register in person at Erie Outfitters, 5404 Lake Road, Sheffield Lake. Online registration can be done at lakereriefishingtournament.com or by downloading the application and mailing it with a check for the fee to Erie Outfitters. The Brawl begins at 12:01 a.m. Oct. 16.
Contact freelance writer Michele Murphy at email@example.com.