Lake Erie’s Fall Brawl is bigger than ever

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Lake Erie fishing boat
A fishing boat leaving mainland on Lake Erie.

Call it a monster of a fishing contest and it would be a good way to describe the biggie of the year, the annual Fall Brawl, a huge fishing event made even grander each autumn as more and more anglers from more and more places hear about it and take part in it.

Indeed, the 2018 edition of the brawl may draw more than 4,000 registered contestants, that after an unspectacular birth a few years back when some four dozen casual Lake Erie walleye “night- bite” fans tossed in a couple bucks each to provide a prize for the catcher of the biggest walleye.

It was thought to be a fun contest between friends, nothing more. That was then, but this is now, and this year it’s all about winning a $100,000 worth of goodies for first prize.

Running late October through November, the brawl is all about Lake Erie’s now legendary night fishery for near-shore walleyes, fish of all sizes that seem to be staging for the upcoming winter months and following that, the early spring move to the western basin reefs.

Big

However, fish of all sizes don’t play a part in this game. Just the big ones do, the real big ones.

Winning fish are all females, the biggest of the species, and if last year’s winner wasn’t big enough to bring spectators out of their seats, no walleye ever will.

The 2017 top spot was awarded to Matt Branigan for his 15-pound walleye. Previous winners were more common trophy fish in the 12-pound class.

Night Brite

The Night Bite is just what it sounds like. Ten years ago it was something only the brave took part in.

Others might call it stupid, but come on, good fishing is good fishing and the only others out there were duck hunters.

Best months are November and December, maybe even January if the lake is still ice free.

The interest in night fishing grew steadily but with the creation of the Fall Brawl it has increased so rapidly that almost ever harbor from east to west is jammed with anglers heading out at sunset on any given evening.

Some call it a city of lights as hundreds of boats crowd in near the shore waters to catch their share, and one thing the brawl has made very clear; it’s all about luck, nothing more.

In a nutshell, the luckiest person and the unluckiest walleye will meet. It may happen on a Thursday or maybe a Sunday and it isn’t about the most skilled or the best equipped or the highest paid.

The winner may just be that fellow with the beat-up boat, the cheap fishing rod and a borrowed lure. That’s the best part of the whole event.

Pre-registration, due by Oct. 17, is offered online ($32) or on paper ($30) along with all the rules at www.lakeeriefishingderby.com.

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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.

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