How Wylie the Walleye lights up the skies to celebrate New Year
In New York, it’s the Ball Drop in Times Square, in Paris, fireworks on the Arc De Triomphe light up the city, while in Sydney, a million-dollar pyrotechnics display turns night into day over the harbour.
But none of the world’s most famous cities compares to the small Ohio town of Port Clinton when it comes to celebrating New Year’s Eve. Perched on the shoreline of Lake Erie, Port Clinton is known as the Walleye Capital of the World. So what else would it do on the stroke of midnight but lower a 20-foot, 600lb walleye from the sky?
Wylie the Walleye has been descending by crane on the town’s 7,000 inhabitants for more than two decades, during which time it has grown from a modest specimen to the monster it is today. The event is managed by the Wylie Walleye Foundation and attracts upwards of 6,000 people. The Foundation’s mission is to raise money for educating families and youth, for charities and for the area’s tourism industry. The ‘drop’ is the town’s number one fundraiser.
This year things will be different. With COVID preventing the gathering of people, Wylie will make his 23rd annual appearance in a unique virtual broadcast. Wylie himself has changed over the years. Spawned in 1997 as a small, papier-mâché model, he has been remodeled three times to become the LED-lit, fibreglass, weather-proof walleye that he is today.
“It started with a real tiny fish 23 years ago, and has grown over the years,” said Lauren Schubach, Walleye Drop Chair from 2015 to 2018. “The number of people who come out to see the drop increases every single year. We try to do something new to keep them coming out.” Wylie also has a new sponsor in Fisherman’s Central, a tackle retailer with shops in Port Clinton and New Franklin.
“Lake Erie is the premier walleye lake in the world,” said Fisherman’s Central President, Dan Blackert. “It is also a top location for small and largemouth bass, yellow perch, steelhead trout and more.” Blackert’s business opened its doors in 2014 and carries brands including Berkley, Shimano, Daiwa, Strike King, Rapala and Zoom, as well as sourcing niche products from Duo Realis, Megabass, PH Custom – Old School, Ohio Pro Lure, StankX, Jackall, Roboworm, AA worms and Damiki.
The first virtual Wylie the Walleye drop tales place from 9pm to midnight and features other entertainment including live music.