This weekend’s fishing could be great for Mercury National Tournament and Walleye Weekend Festival
FOND DU LAC, Wis. ---According to a state fisheries expert along with the tournament’s defending champion, the fishing could again be exciting for the 600 anglers competing on Lake Winnebago in the upcoming 27th Annual Mercury National Walleye Tournament this weekend (June 7 – 9).
Held in conjunction with the popular Fond du Lac Walleye Weekend Family Festival, this highly regarded live release tournament, draws a huge number of participants and spectators from across a six-state region.
Fish are healthy and robust
“Judging by the average size of the fish, it is safe to say that the population at this time is in great shape,” said Kendall Kamke, Sr. Fisheries Biologist for the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources (WDNR)
Kamke has studied the walleye population on the Winnebago System for the past 12 years.
“The fish we’ve sampled on the spring run for the past two years have been some of the nicest in size, health and structure over those dozen years,” he reported.
Despite low water and poor spawning conditions in the Wolf and upper Fox Rivers earlier this spring, Kamke said they handled and tagged over 1,600 fish. “Normally the count is six to eight thousand,” he said. “There was almost a one female to four male ratio of fish caught.” Kamke reported the average length of the males was 17 inches weighing in at 1.8 lbs. while the average female was 20 inches and about 4.2 lbs.
“We have a very robust population of medium sized fish, but there are still a reasonable number of fish out to 27 inches and we might see a few of them caught,” Kamke said. “Barring weather problems or rough water conditions it should be another good tournament. Expect to see a pretty good number of fish brought in with the caliber of the anglers in this tournament.
Two guys who love fishing Lake Winnebago are the defending champion team of Gary Gray with his cousin Ron Gutzman, both of Oshkosh. Last year they caught a total of 48.28 lbs of walleye, almost double the weight of the previous year’s champions.
“The Lake Winnebago system is really taking off and making a major rebound from what it was five years ago,” said Gray. “There are more people fishing than there used to be. Compared to 10 years ago when you had 500 people out fishing on a weekend, there are now 5,000 people. But people are also a little more conservative practicing more catch and release and taking fewer fish home.
“Lake Winnebago is the school of education for walleye fishermen throughout the country. There have been more guys that have hit the pro circuits hard, growing up busting their knuckles on this lake than any other place in the country. These guys we fish against are pretty tough competitors. They are out there from the first spring thaw to ice up in the late fall.”
Gray, who was also the Professional Walleye Trail (PWT) Angler of the Year last year said, “Because I’m on the road in the professional tournaments these guys get about five weeks of pre fishing on Lake Winnebago and I get jsut three days. It should be a fun contest,” he smiled.
Gray, a four-time winner of the tournament and Gutzman also won the Dan Schaad Memorial Trophy presented to the team that shows the best sportsmanship, conservation and professionalism on the water.
“Kamke’s and Gray’s comments could be good news for the 300 teams of anglers who will be competing for the $85,000 purse with the top winning team collecting the $13,000 first place check,” said Mercury's Tom Mielke. “And for the anglers catching the biggest walleye each day. They’ll win a Mercury 9.9 hp 4-stroke outboard among the many others prizes from Mercury,” he added.
“Based on Kendall’s long-term biological research and his spring tagging, if the weather holds this weekend with no radical changes, this tournament could rank among the best events we’ve had,” said Mielke.
“Gray and Kamke also want to credit the more than 30 volunteers from the Lighthouse Anglers of Fond du Lac who assist with helping to keep the fish release rate at a high-level. The group stages an "assembly line" of oxygen fed tanks leading to the weigh stand along with their specially equipped release boats.
The WDNR also inspects the Mercury National tournament catches to determine which fish have a high likelihood of survival. Walleye with a low chance of survival upon release are filleted and donated to local non-profit charitable organizations and agencies that provide meals for their residents.
Kamke added, "This tournament is a cost-effective way for us to collect important data on the walleye population of the Winnebago System, and helps us to better manage the resources.”
Tom Mielke, Dir. of Corporate Communications
Mercury Marine, at 920-929-5900