Communities with fishy festivals abound across the good ole U.S. of A. If you’re looking for a fun time in a town that totally gets fishing, read on to find the right destination for you. If you prefer to make your plans a few months in advance, here are some fishy festivals that might get you excited for special plans throughout 2014 and even into 2015.
Aiming for spring, there are events like the Smelt Festival on May 2 in Lewiston, New York near Niagara Falls. Enjoy free smelt samples prepared by the Niagara River Anglers Association and live music along the river. You can even meet the Smelt King.
“Or a Smelt Queen and a Smelt Princess this year, too,” said Jennifer Pauly, president of the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce. “It is a really fun event, rain or shine.”
You can start your year with the Walleye Drop at on New Year’s Eve in Port Clinton, Ohio. Located on the south central shore of Lake Erie (east of Toledo and west of Cleveland), you’ll find a small town that takes their passion for the walleye to a fevered pitch. They don’t need no stinkin’ disco ball, the city of Port Clinton drops Wylie the Walleye, a 600-pound fiberglass replica walleye, complete with teeth and glistening eyes. The passion for fishing, especially walleye fishing, runs deep in Port Clinton, and the Walleye Festival is a summertime big deal there, too.
“Every New Year’s Eve the main street downtown is closed for a day and night of festivities, leading up to the walleye drop at the stroke of midnight,” shared local resident and charter captain Julia Davis. “Fireworks, music, great food and drink, games for the little ones, and just plain good old-fashioned camaraderie help ring in the New Year with thousands who celebrate this unique event.”
Not to be outdone, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin takes its fishing fanaticism to a frenzy on the first full weekend of June each year. Originally tied to the Mercury National walleye tournament on Lake Winnebago, Walleye Weekend has grown to a citywide event with food, music, and a plethora of family events. The net proceeds funnel back to community non-profit service clubs, a whopping $225,529 last year.
“The funds were divided to the groups that worked the event, logging 1,600 volunteers who gave over 13,000 hours last year,” said Leanne Doyle, executive director of the Fond du Lac Fest. “It brings out the best of our community.”
In the winter, the Fond du Lac area folks roll out Sturgeon Stampede, tied to the opening weekend of sturgeon spearing through the ice with ice sculptures, ice kiting, ice bowling—even a bar up to your belly made of ice (note to self: avoid sitting on the ice-sculpted bar stools unless you are wearing your IceArmor bibs).
Of course, in Wisconsin a brewski or two might be part of the ongoing celebrations. Come to think of it, that component is present in most fishy events.
“We here in Fond du Lac are kind of partial to two of our favorite fish found in Lake Winnebago, the walleye and the sturgeon,” shared Craig Molitor, president of the Fond du Lac Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have the Walleye Weekend in the summer and the Sturgeon Stampede in the winter. The winter event pays homage to the fact that Fond du Lac, Wisconsin is the Sturgeon Spearing Capitol of the World!” The Sturgeon Stampede culminates with a flaming pyre of a large, wooden sturgeon.
Organized around the elusive eelpout, the ugly bottom-dwelling burbot, the International Eelpout Festival in Walker, Minnesota creates a city for 10,000 to 12,000 hearty souls for three days on a frozen Leech Lake. Bathing suit-clad, cold-water plunges raise money for charities, providing a worthy cause for braving and surviving northern Minnesota’s extreme winters. Really nice accommodations are available but they sell out quickly—so book a room at Chase on the Lake Resort and make plans to go next winter, February 19 to 22, 2015.
“We get a lot of national publicity around this event,” shared Jared Olson, the official event director. “The uniqueness of the fish combined with hearty Minnesotans surviving long winters place this event on the edge of absurd and ridiculous. That’s what gives it its charm.”
There are dozens and dozens more festivals like the Brown Trout Festival in Alpena, Michigan and two different bass festivals in Mancelona and Crystal Falls, also in Michigan. Coho Salmon Days herald from Sheboyan, Wisconsin, and you can find the Sturgeon Excursion up on the Rainy River in the Lake of the Woods Area of northern Minnesota. And we haven’t even started in on fishing festivals in the South.
Feel free to jump in and add a comment (below) about a fishing festival near you. Fish on!
K.J. Houtman is the author of the award-winning Fish On Kids Books series, chapter books for eight- to 12-year-olds with adventures based around fishing, camping, and hunting. Her work is available at Amazon and local bookstores. Find out more at fishonkidsbooks.com.