As many as 10,000 contestants will be fishing for $200,000 in prize money beginning next month during a walleye tournament that is potentially one of the richest tournaments in the area.
The top prize in the competition is $60,000, and the total of potential prizes is about $200,000 during this area's first "Wallython" on Lake Erie, June 3 through Aug. 1.
But because the organizers were unable to catch and tag 1,600 fish -- each worth $25 paid by 57 local sponsors -- an 8 1/2 -pound minimum has been set to award the smaller prizes.
"We do have 46 big-money fish tagged. I caught them myself and released them all the way from Buffalo to Dunkirk," said Ed Kleber, derby director.
"Our cash awards for lunkers -- nine pounds and up -- is still in place," he said. "The 16-foot boat, motor and trailer to be drawn from among all the winners is still in place, and the big-bucks fish worth $1,000 and up have been tagged and set free."
As many as 10,000 anglers are expected to pay the $5 entry fee before fishing anywhere along the state's Lake Erie shore, although the contest is centered in Dunkirk. If anglers catch a walleye weighing more than 8 1/2 pounds during the contest, they can take it to any of the authorized weigh stations for certification.
Fish weighing nine pounds or more get "lunker awards" -- nine-pounders worth $50, 10-pounders worth $150, with any 13-pound walleye winning $5,000.
Each of the 46 tagged fish is worth at least $1,000, depending on the sponsor. Inland Marine, the local rs $200,000 to lure 10,000 anglers
fishing map company, has a $1,000 fish; Berkley line has a $10,000 fish, which was released in Buffalo.
Johnson Reels offers a minimum of $15,000 cash, but if it is caught on a Johnson "Tangle Free Tom" reel, the prize becomes a $60,000 fish.
"We originally wanted to have state university researchers tag the fish for us," Kleber said. "They could not get a netting permit, and the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) would not give me a special permit either. They felt it would disturb the spawning beds. I respect them for that."
Neither Ontario nor New York commercial fishermen could supply 1,600 live fish for tagging, nor could the area's two large walleye fishing clubs.
Kleber went out on a commercial fish tug and "got two or three fish that way."
Bill Frey, of Dunkirk's Pro Angler Shop took Kleber fishing for a solid week from 9 p.m to 3 a.m, catching and tagging the big-buck fish.
"It got kind of nice out there," Frey said.
He added that the tagged fish range from about three to slightly more than nine pounds.
As a sponsor, Frey feels the change from tags to an 8 1/2 -pound minimum limit is fair. And it might produce more $25 winners than a tagged fish program would.
Last year in Ohio, about 4 percent of the 1,600 tagged fish were returned by registered anglers.
"Some sponsors didn't like the change in the rules, but most thought it was OK," Kleber said.
If any angler feels the rules change warrants his withdrawal, the organizers will refund his entry fee, Kleber said.
"Just send the registration tag to Wallython USA, Box 2568 Decatur, Ala., 35602, and we'll refund the $5."