Fall Brawl founder Frank Murphy explains Lake Erie walleye tournaments: Erie Interviews

Matthew Branigan shows off his 14.97-pound walleye, which just might win the Lake Erie Fall Brawl, which ends Sunday. (Craig Lewis, Erie Outfitters)

Meet Frank Murphy, who runs the Fall Brawl walleye derby on Lake Erie each year.

From now until December, you can find a fishing tournament every month, with prizes ranging from several hundred dollars to a tricked-out boat worth more than $100,000.

The tournaments – which generally award prizes for the five biggest fish caught by a team – can transform a solitary, contemplative pastime into a adrenaline-fueled, competitive sport.

“It’s bragging rights among the guys,” said Murphy, of North Royalton. “Lot of guys have expensive boats, and tow vehicles. It’s a way to showcase their stuff, kind of like Tim ‘the Tool Man’ Taylor. “It’s look at me.”  

Murphy, 61, has been fishing since he was 7 or 8 and has owned a boat most of his life. His favorite tournament is a small, private contest held by an electricians’ union.

The big public tournaments include the Fish Crazy derby this month, Cabela’s Lake Erie Masters Walleye tournament in May, Hooks for Hunger in Avon Lake June, four Walleye Madness Tournament events, including in Geneva-on-the-Lake and Conneaut, and the first-ever Geneva-on-the-Lake Walleye Open – Big Fish Friday in September.

Most contests have 50 or so boats, which troll for walleye.  Many anglers have a long-time fishing buddy they enter tournaments with. But some contests can handle bigger teams, as long as you have no more than six rods.

And anyone can win, said Murphy.

“On any given day, you get on a good bite… it could be your day,” he said. “It happens quite a bit. If it’s your turn and you have the basics down, you know how to fish, it could be anybody’s game. It’s not like NASCAR, with who’s on a hot streak.”

See Murphy’s take on why people enter fishing contests and how to get more kids involved.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why do anglers enter tournaments?

There’s a group of guys and some women that kind of follow the circuit; they like the competition, to go out and fish against people. You get away, the camaraderie and that. Most of the tournaments you don’t get rich on at all. You almost have to win to break even for some of these guys. It’s more the, ‘I went and did it’ kind of thing.

Is there any trick to winning a tournament?

Luck. That’s what I think. A lot of it’s luck. A lot of these guys go out, pre-fish for five days before the tournament and find pockets of fish. Then the day before the tournament starts, you get a big blow. It shuffles the deck, the fish move and what they did is all for naught. When I fish a tournament, I give myself one day.

It comes down to you need five nice bites, five good fish.

The Fall Brawl last year drew 3,800 angles last year, trying to catch the biggest walleye in the Ohio waters of Lake Erie. How did you start the competition?

In 2010, a bunch of guys got together. We were out doing the night bite fishing for walleye anyway. And for something to do, we threw in some money. It wasn’t a lot. We got some donations for some raffle prizes. We ate, drank, had a lot of fun.

Then it kind of took off. I thought it would, but hey, you never know until it happens. Now it’s a runaway freight train for me.

This year we were giving away a bigger Warrior boat, valued at over $100,0000. We’re also giving away for kids a 16-foot Hughescraft boat with trailer, motor and rod holders, a fully equipped boat for some lucky young kid and his family. I think the kids boat, there’s going to be a lot of hysteria. I’m all about kids, dragging young people  out from behind their cell phones, get them outside.

Why do you like to fish?

Just to be able to get out and relax, that’s the thing I love the most about it, to wake up at 4 o’clock on a Sunday, before my wife and daughter are up. I’ll go out and fish for three or four hours, just to get out. It’s just relaxing, clears my head.

Do you like to catch walleye the most?

I’ll catch anything. I’ll sit out at the docks and fish for little 6-inch bluegill. I don’t care. Walleye are probably my favorite. I like how they taste. This is probably second-to-none here. I’d like to catch the state record walleye one day, that’s everybody’s dream.

My favorite time to fish is December. Last Christmas Eve, I fished until noon with my buddies. If you’re going to catch a state record, it’s proably going to be then.

Every time you get a bite, it could be that fish.

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