Last year in its baptismal run, the Rossford Walleye Roundup, presented by Bass Pro Shops, was an ambitious endeavor backed by a lot of energy and passion, and one that featured an exceptional product: Lake Erie’s gold mine of walleye.
The organizers and promoters also will tell you the first time was a true learning experience, and one that allowed them to bank a lot of knowledge on the many nuances of staging a fishing tournament and fine tune their expertise for showcasing the community.
“We learned a lot,” Beth Genson, executive director of the Rossford Convention and Visitors Bureau, said about the 2017 event. “I wasn’t really a fishing person going into hosting such a tournament, but we knew we wanted to do everything we could to treat the fishermen like kings and have the public involved, and we accomplished that. Now we are in a position to make it even better.”
Genson said when the proposal to host a spring tournament first was pitched, the organizers had a relatively short window last year in which to bring everything together. The 2018 tournament will benefit from a full year of preparation, and the lessons learned from the inaugural run.
“The reception from the participants, the customers, and the public was great, so we feel like we have a good grasp of what they really liked and the ways we can make the experience even better,” Genson said.
Scott Liebert, the general manager of Bass Pro Shops in Rossford, said the public enjoyed having the final day weigh-in at the store, so that will be part of the schedule for both days this year. The tournament runs April 20-21, and the organizers already have 20 two-person teams registered with the hope of a full field of 40 teams by the event’s starting date.
“We are pretty adamant about keeping the field at a manageable number,” Liebert said. “Our intention is to make this an elite tournament, and have people feel privileged to be a part of it. Everything we are doing is targeted toward making it a first-class event.”
Liebert said although the huge outdoors equipment supplier has sponsored numerous bass fishing events around the country, the Rossford tournament was the first walleye tournament Bass Pro had staged.
“And since this is the walleye capital of the world, it seems fitting that this is the place to do it,” Liebert said. “And with the acquisition of Cabela’s, we can learn some things from them since they are huge in the walleye industry.”
The tournament competitors will be permitted to fish the Maumee River and the Ohio and Michigan waters of Lake Erie. Last year, some teams made a 100-mile run on the big lake in pursuit of trophy-class walleye.
The two-day event will be launched from the Rossford Marina, with many additional activities at Bass Pro, including the final weigh-in and awards ceremony. There is $20,000 in cash and prizes up for grabs, and the fish caught in the event once again will be donated to charity, with Cherry Street Mission, Helping Hands of St. Louis, and St. Mary on the Lake Church as beneficiaries.
Liebert said the size of the field for last year’s tournament, which was just 13 teams, likely suffered from the fact it was a new event and it fell on the same weekend the Lake Erie Walleye Trail staged an event. That conflict isn’t repeated this year.
Gary "Bo" Bowman, a veteran competitive angler from Michigan who is back for another stint as the tournament director, agreed a better date on the calendar, plus a lot of goodwill, should bring significant growth to the event.
“The first year was tough getting teams since we were going up against the LEWT schedule, and they usually take 50 to 55 teams for their events,” Bowman said. “But what happened is that the anglers who fished our event last year were treated so well by the people from the convention center and by the folks at Bass Pro that word got around that this was a very good tournament. Word of mouth was very positive.”
Bowman said the tournament has added some new sponsors for 2018, and the defending champion father/son team of Brent and Ethan Wright from Saginaw, Mich., are registered to compete again. The pair had a two-day catch of 44.75 pounds of walleye after a stunning opening day when it weighed in 36.17 pounds of fish, including a 15.12-pound monster.
“We’re excited about watching this thing grow and become a major event,” Bowman said. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I’ve fished in quite a few tournaments, so I’ve seen it done right and I know the importance of the little things.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.
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