CLEAR LAKE | On a beautiful spring or summer day, Clear Lake glimmers in the light, oftentimes full of boaters and swimmers enjoying a sunny time by the water.
But soon, those waters will be full of fishing boats, with anglers all trying to catch a prize as part of the 30th annual Walleye Classic.
The popular event, which takes place May 18-19, is put on by the Clear Lake Fishing Club.
According to club officials, demand is high for Clear Lake's biggest fishing event each year and is limited to 100 boats. Anglers who participated in the previous year’s tournament get first crack at a spot. Because of that, oftentimes only a handful of spots are available.
Scott Grummer works for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which helps the CLFC with the event. Because of limited staff and resources, the DNR usually doesn’t attend the fishing events, but due to a partnership with the Clear Lake club, it has assisted with the end of the day weigh-in process.
“The Clear Lake Fishing Club turns around and they put in a couple of our public docks and contribute back to the lake and anglers using Clear Lake,” Grummer said. “It’s been a nice partnership for us to help them out, because they’re helping anglers of Iowa back with some of the money they generate from these events.”
Over the years, the DNR and the fishing club have partnered on projects like putting in an artificial reef in 2009 and dredging Clear Lake. According to Brad Bull, president of the Clear Lake Fishing Club, this has significantly increased the lake’s fish population.
“Large-mouth bass numbers are starting to increase and the walleye numbers are very good to excellent,” he said. “That’s a big change for the lake that has been really different over the past 10 years or so.”
For the Walleye Classic, fishing teams are limited to two people, with each angler being allowed three fish per day. At the end of the day, each team weighs the five best fish, which are then put into an oxygenated tank, provided by the DNR, allowing the fish to recover before they are released back into the lake.
In preparation for the Classic, the DNR stocked the lake on May 8 with walleye fry (newly hatched fish). Nearly five million fish were hatched the day before, according Sean Peterson of the DNR, trucked to Clear Lake and dumped into the water at McIntosh Woods State Park.
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The fish will grow for 3-5 years before they are big enough to keep or be a part of fishing tournaments. They are trucked in from the hatchery in Spirit Lake, a two-hour drive.
Anglers come from similar distances, with a few coming from South Dakota, Wisconsin and Missouri. Grummer said the tournament can get competitive, but it also is a good time for people to reconnect and spend time together.
The weekend begins with a rules meeting on Friday night, followed by a meal provided by the Clear Lake Fishing Club for the participating anglers.
“From what I see, it’s a family thing,” Grummer said. “It’s a father and son, or two brothers. It’s their time together. The teams that they draw cover a wide spectrum of friendships and family members. There are some husband and wife teams. It’s a pretty diverse group of anglers that it draws.”
For those concerned about the well-being of the fish, fear not. Bull estimates that the survival rate for fish that are caught and weighed is close to 99 percent. After being caught, the fish are put into an oxygenated tank, and deposited back into Clear Lake.
“We very rarely lose any fish,” Bull said. “We may have 500 fish on some years come in each day, and we might lose two or three at the most. Our survival rate is very good, and the fish end up back in Clear Lake for other anglers to enjoy.”
The tournament is also valuable to the economy of Clear Lake. According to Bull, nearly half of the participating anglers come from out of state, meaning they are staying in local hotels, eating at local restaurants and patronizing local bait shops.
Bull didn’t have any numbers as far as how much money the tournament brings in on a yearly basis, but the amount of people who come to town to participate, and to attend the weigh-in means stores are receiving business.
“The impact that they have [means] more boat gas, more bait,” Bull said. "It is a huge impact, as far as people coming.”