Walleyed War of the Walleye Capitals
Baudette, MN; Garrison, MN; Isle, MN; Ray, MN; Rush City, MN; Garrison, ND; Port Clinton, OH; Umatilla, OR; Mobridge, SD; Shell Lake, WI
The Walleye is a favorite catch for sportsmen angling in America's north-central lake regions. But the glassy-eyed, needle-toothed fish's popularity only partially explains the pile-up of redundant "Walleye Capital of the World" claims made by tourism bureaus of little lake towns. Maybe a brain-damaging chemical accumulated in the fish makes walleye eaters blind to the obvious -- there can be only one Walleye Capital of the World.
Garrison, Minnesota: Walleye worship became official in Minnesota after it was designated as the state fish in 1965 by the MN legislature. Moving quickly, the town of Garrison declared itself "Walleye Capital of the World," in part because the adjacent lake, Mille Lacs, is the most popular walleye spot in Minnesota. A scant 15 years later, they commissioned a 15-ft. long fiberglass Walleye Pike (from F.A.S.T., natch) for display in an annual parade. Today it is permanently installed along the shores of Mille Lacs.
Garrison, North Dakota: Okay, there's something a little creepy about two towns in different states both named GARRISON and both claiming to be "Walleye Capitals." Wally, "World's Largest Walleye," is the 26-ft. long symbol of this Garrison's claim to the title "Walleye Capital of the World." Turn onto Main Street off of ND 37 and you'll see him -- his tail curled in mid-thrash, his fins erect and menacing, his toothy mouth agape -- floating above the park at the far end of town like an angry, blind fish god.
Large walleye statues can be found in other Minnesota towns, perhaps hesitant to join the "capital" fracas:
- Isle, Minnesota: Not sure if they're claiming WCotW status, but they own a big walleye statue.
- Ray (Kabetogama), Minnesota: It may not be the largest Walleye, but the photo op along Highway 53 near Lake Kabetogama is the only one we've seen that provides stairs and a ladder so you can climb on and ride, mutant bucking bronco style.The original was built in 1949. A brightly painted sign below adds that important postcard touch.
- Rush City, Minnesota: A big walleye seems to gasp for air outside a convenience store off I-35. Appears to be more of a commercial eye-catcher than a civic claim to fame....
- Clark's Grove, Minnesota: Walleye statue
Port Clinton, Ohio: Since 1996, the Lake Erie fishing village of Port Clinton, Ohio has augured in the new year with "Walleye Madness at Midnight," when they lower Captain Wylie, an 18-foot long, 500 lb. fiberglass walleye, by crane from a roof in downtown Clinton. A local volunteer in a bowtied Captain Wylie costume wanders the sidewalks during events and parades... The town holds an annual Walleye Festival on Memorial Day weekend, when they crown the new Junior Miss Walleye. Port Clinton gets points for its over-the-top commitment to the Walleye theme....
Umatilla, Oregon: Umatilla has no statues to cement their claim, but it does have an annual tournament --and the fish caught in Umatilla are 12 lbs. vs. a scrawny 8 or so for Baudette.
Mobridge, South Dakota: No statue here, either, or much of a current Chamber of Commerce push. But they claim to be known nationally for outstanding walleye fishing. Also home to Sitting Bull's bones.
Shell Lake, Wisconsin: The town doesn't appear to be claiming anything beyond a notion that they are "Walleye Country" ("Year Round Recreation"). But their Walleye statue/sign has an unusual feature: the fish has two tails, making photos attractive from either side, and really strange from the back.
Baudette, Minnesota: The largest tribute to the fish is Willie Walleye, over 40-ft. long and weighing about two tons. Wille was constructed in 1959. The town's festival, Willie the Walleye Day, cranks up the first week in June. Baudette lays claim to the title "Walleye Capital of the World," though signs on approaches to town state, simply, "Home of Willie Walleye."
If bigness of statue is the defining quality of the "Walleye Capital of the World," then Baudette holds the title.