Waiting to Watch the Walleye Drop

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Proud of its fishing prowess, the Lake Erie town of Port Clinton, Ohio, calls itself the walleye capital of the world. Eleven years ago, Mayor Tom Brown began a New Year's Eve tradition: the town drops a 600-pound fiberglass walleye to ring in the New Year. He tells Linda Wertheimer about the = custom. =20

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Did you know Port Clinton, Ohio, is the walleye capital of the world? And did you know that at midnight every New Year's Eve the people of Port Clinton drop a 600-pound Fiberglas walleye to celebrate the turn of the year? That's why we have Mayor Tom Brown on the line. He started this tradition 11 years ago and he joins us from Port Clinton.

Mayor Brown, welcome.

Mayor TOM BROWN (Port Clinton, Ohio): Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: First of all, why is this fish, the walleye, special to your town?

Mayor BROWN: We are the walleye capital of the world, and you have to kind of--I know there's other cities through all America that might claim that title, but you got to understand that each year over one million of these fish are caught on Lake Erie, with the majority being reeled in right here in Port Clinton. And we're located in the western basin of Lake Erie in Ottawa County, and this county has over 15,000 boat docks, which is more than half of all that are on Lake Erie's shoreline.

WERTHEIMER: So you claim at least half the walleye in the whole lake?

Mayor BROWN: Yes. Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now the walleye that you actually drop is Fiberglas.

Mayor BROWN: It's 600 pound Fiberglas, about 20-some-foot long. It looks just like a real fish, too, all the coloration. We use pie plates as his eyes, saucers. We haul him up on this 60-foot crane that looks like a rod and reel, and...

WERTHEIMER: Oh, my goodness.

Mayor BROWN: ...then at the countdown at midnight we do the official countdown, Wiley(ph) drops down, the lights go on, `Welcome 2006,' and then the big fireworks show follows.

WERTHEIMER: And I understand that there is a dance called the wallerina.

Mayor BROWN: We mimic another very famous dance called the macarena.

WERTHEIMER: Macarina, right.

Mayor BROWN: We do the wallerina with fin movement.

WERTHEIMER: Now this has been a big success for the town, hasn't it? I understand that something like 12,000 people stood out in what has got to be freezing-cold weather.

Mayor BROWN: Last year we had 12,500 people here. And just remember, Port Clinton's only about 6,391 people. And I think it's because we have stayed with it for 11 years. There have been other communities mimicking us a lot, and some of those have no longer since done it because we work year round on it every month.

WERTHEIMER: What is the largest walleye that's ever been pulled out of Lake Erie, do you think?

Mayor BROWN: I'm glad you asked that question because I know the answer. The largest walleye recorded--I have a picture of it here in my office--is 16 pounds, four ounces.

WERTHEIMER: Wow.

Mayor BROWN: Now if you--in other words, if you'd hold that up probably to your shoulder length to the floor, that'd be just about the length of it. I will tell you, that is huge.

WERTHEIMER: What do you use for bait?

Mayor BROWN: It's a red and white Erie Dearie lure. And you drop it in about 20, 22 foot of water, and as soon as he hits the hook, you jerk it, because you got to catch him on the lip. Otherwise, he'll get away from you.

WERTHEIMER: Tom Brown is the mayor of Port Clinton, Ohio, and the mind behind the New Year's Eve Walleye Drop. Thank you very much for being with us, Mr. Mayor.

Mayor BROWN: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: It's 22 minutes before the hour.

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