Mercury National Walleye Tournament crowns 40th champions in 40 years
Fond du Lac, Wisc. – Those who are unfamiliar with the Mercury National Walleye Tournament will probably focus on the numbers: 292 two-man teams competing on Lake Winnebago in southeastern Wisconsin; a $35,000-plus first prize; and 32 pounds, 2 ounces of walleye caught by the winning team.
And while Ryan Morgan of Fond Du Lac, Wisc., and Logan Lynch of Eldorado, Wisc., were more than happy to leave Lakeside Park in Fond du Lac on Sunday with a Tracker-donated Targa V-18WT powered by a Mercury V-6 3.4L 200hp FourStroke and $4,000 in cash for winning the event, the custom wooden plaques awarded the winning team will carry bragging-rights value long after the team’s cash winnings are spent.
“The Mercury National is like the Daytona 500 of walleye fishing tournaments: this one really isn’t about the prize you get at the end,” says tournament director Ken Krueger, who competed in the “Walleye Weekend” event as an angler for 10 years. “Lake Winnebago is such a difficult lake to put together a solid bite two days in a row and come up with the winning basket, you’re really held to a higher standard when you win this event. It’s a very, very difficult feat to accomplish.”
A little research into the competitive history of the 40-year-old event bears out that sentiment. In a sport where even the highest-ranking professional tournaments routinely have repeat winners, the Mercury National has never had a two-time winner.
You can thank the fishery for that.
The Lake Winnebago system is notoriously temperamental, and the traditional late-spring timing of the tournament can present fishing conditions that swing from flat-calm and sunny in the morning to blustery, rainy and rough in the afternoon. An area that produces 23 pounds one day can turn into a wind-tossed wasteland the next.
And that’s exactly what happened to Day 1 leaders Gary and Hunter Will.
The team from nearby Watertown, Wisc., weighed in an impressive five-fish limit of 23 pounds, two ounces on a flat-calm first day, but then saw their trolling bite dissipate into three fish for 8 pounds, 9 ounces on Day 2 as temperatures dropped and winds picked up out of the east.
“That happens a lot,” said Krueger. “Fishing in many of our previous tournaments (on Winnebago) has been very, very good, but that east wind tends to shut some of the system down and sends people scrambling. (Day 2) was a totally different bite, and it really seemed to shut down (the Wills’) bite. “You can find a few of those elusive 20- and 21-inch fish one day, and then nothing but small fish the next.”
Morgan and Lynch, meanwhile, banged out 12-3 to add to their Day 1 total of 19-15, just enough to slip past Will and Will for a 2-ounce advantage for the win.
“It’s not really real yet,” Lynch joked. “It feels pretty darn good.”
NOTES: The 292 teams accounted for 2,316 walleye and 5,693 pounds, 14 ounces … the big fish of the event was a 7-9 caught by Mike and Dan Roloff.