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  • Updated: 05/30/01
  • Mercury Outboard Motors The Water Calls Mercury Marine Presents 

    A Great Family Event and Weekend Festival: Fond du Lac's Mercury National Walleye Tournament  Quarter-Century-Old Fishing Tournament Quickly Became a Major Wisconsin Festival
    by Tom Mielke, Dir. of Public Relations and Marketing Communications

    05/30/2001 - FOND DU LAC, WI .... If you're looking for a great family weekend escape circle the dates of June 8 10, on your calendar for one of Wisconsin's fun family celebrations with the Walleye Weekend festival and the always-competitive Mercury National Walleye Tournament in Fond du Lac. 

    The weekend event is a tradition on the southern shoreline of vibrant Lake Winnebago at the city's picturesque 400-acre show place, Lakeside Park. It's just an hour drive traveling northwest up U.S. 41 from Milwaukee, or south on 41 from Green Bay. Fond du Lac is also the hometown of the world's leading outboard manufacturer Mercury Marine, the company that started the tournament in 1976. 

    The tournament is so popular that 600 fishermen pre-registered within just one day in April making up the 300 teams to compete on the lake in the Saturday and Sunday competition. It's recognized as the most prestigious single-event walleye tournament in the nation. Most of the anglers are from Wisconsin and surrounding states. There's even a repeat competitor coming from as far away as Jamberoo, Australia. 

    It began as a regional fishing tournament and two years later the Walleye Weekend family festival was added. Now this community celebration offers over 50 activities for the entire family. Attendance at the tournament and festival has grown with each successive year as crowds gather to take in the fun, food and fishing. 

    Last year the tournament and festival's statewide appeal along with sunny weather in the 80's, accounted for over 100,000 visitors over the three days, according to Kathy Wollersheim, executive director of Fond du Lac Festivals. 

    Fishing tournament is a family affair
    Beginning its second quarter century the "26th Annual Mercury National" tournament has become quite a family affair. "We see a lot of teams of family partnerships in father and sons, brothers, husbands and wives, uncles and nephews and cousins," said Mercury's Tournaments and Events Manager Rob Riesterer. "We have professional walleye anglers, tournament anglers and 'weekend warriors,' all vying for the bragging rights -- and the $13,000 check -- that comes with winning the first place portion of the event's $85,000 purse," he added. 

    The margin of victory can be very close. Two years ago a pair of cousins beat out a father and son team for that $13,000 check by just a mere 1/25th of a pound for a dramatic finish. The second place team picked up $7,500 to split. 

    Defending champions are Tim Lynch, Eldorado, Wis., and Scott Gray, St. Cloud, Minn., who totaled 27.43 lbs of walleye last year. 

    Parsons and Kavajecz; MC's and Newest Fishing Hall of Fame inductees
    Two guys who have fished Lake Winnebago and the Mercury National often but will not be on the water competing are Keith Kavajecz and Gary Parsons, both of Wisconsin. 

    They will be inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in a ceremony on stage before Sunday's weigh in at 1:30 p.m., then also serve as the masters-of-ceremonies'. Between them Parsons and Kavajecz have amassed over 40 circuit championship qualifications, 13 major tournament wins and eight "Angler of the Year" titles. Both Mercury Pro Team members have introduced many innovations in tackle and techniques to the world of walleye fishing. 

    Family Festival: More fun activities, competition and great eats
    Walleye Weekend has also become famous for the fabulous food and beverages (brats, burgers, beer, corn, fried cheese curds and more) the Fond du Lac service clubs offer. The World's Largest Fish Fry, operated by the Lakeside Evening Kiwanis Club, has left an indelible culinary mark on the waterfront landscape. 

    It's one of the few festival events that include five stages of entertainment, along with a Familyland with all kinds of attractions for kids. Look for Nickelodeon's Big Helper's in Action and the Cartoon Network's Hullabaloo Show, Johnny Bravo and Cow and Chicken characters roaming entertainment. Best of all, it's totally free for the whole family. The fest has grown into a place of great participatory activity where you can take a golf swing at the $100,000 Hole-In-One-Shoot-Out over the water to Fisherman's Pier. Other sporting events include the state's largest volleyball tournament, a 3-on-3 basketball competition, several family cycling runs and the Walleye Run/Walk that attracts 3,000 Midwest men and women runners for one of the area's most competitive road races. And to emulate what's happening on the Lake, moms and dads are encouraged to fish with their youngsters in a family fishing tournament along the banks of the lagoon. Prizes are awarded to every child and the fish are plenty. 

    Behind the Scenes: Mercury Works with Wisconsin DNR and civic groups
    Working closely with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), the Mercury National not only promotes walleye fishing, but the practice of catch-and-release and protecting the nation's fisheries and waterways through conservation and habitat programs, notes Riesterer. In keeping with these goals, this live-release event awards extra points to anglers with healthy fish (instead of point reductions for dead fish, like most tournaments). 

    The WDNR and Mercury Marine work together in setting tournament rules and handling of the fish. The Mercury National boasts an average 65 percent daily fish return rate to Lake Winnebago. Last year 1245 fish were caught and 2132 pounds of walleye were weighed. Credited with helping achieve a successful fish release rate are more than 30 volunteers from the Lighthouse Anglers of Fond du Lac. The volunteers assist with an "assembly line" staging of oxygen fed tanks leading to the weigh stand and operate specially equipped release boats. 

    "This tournament is such a cost-effective way for us to collect important data on the walleye population and in turn helps us to manage the resources," said WDNR Sr. Fisheries Biologist Kendall Kamke who inspects the fish as they come in. "It's one way of monitoring the walleye population of the Winnebago System," he said. Fish with a low chance of survival are filleted and donated to non-profit agencies that provide meals. 

     "A $25 portion of each $300 entry fee is donated to both the FishAmerica Foundation and Walleyes for Tomorrow, two groups dedicated to preserving and enhancing fish habitat and populations," added Mercury Marine's Riesterer. Ranging from the $13,000 first prize to $300 for 65th place, the tournament pays out over 100 percent in cash and prizes. The teams finishing 66 and 67 will receive a MotorGuide Trolling Motor. Those finishing 68 through 75 will receive Mercury Precision Outboard Oil. A special bonus goes to the angler landing the biggest walleye each day. They'll receive a Mercury 9.9 h.p. four-stroke outboard, compliments of Mercury Marine. 

    Daily prize drawings will award lucky anglers MotorGuide Trolling Motors, Mercury Propellers, cases of Mercury Precision Oil and other fishing and boating accessories. 

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