An early ice out, low water conditions, and an abundance of catchable walleye in the Wolf River, has local anglers gearing up for 37th annual Big Whopper Fishing Weekend in New London.
The event, sponsored by the New London Fish and Game Club, is set to take place April 17, 18 and 19 in Riverside Park.
Dale Sternhagen, one of the event’s organizers said that so far conditions are favorable for anglers seeking a prize stringer of walleye.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of fish this year,” said Sternhagen, noting that lower water conditions make it easier for anglers looking to find concentrations of fish.
Perhaps Sternhagen knows best, that every year is different.
Big Whopper Weekend traditionally occurs on the weekend closest to April 15.
Two years ago, there was speculation that the ice wouldn’t be gone in time for Whopper Weekend. In other years, the water level of the Wolf reached near flood stage threatening to swamp the Big Whopper tent at Riverside Park.
“We’ve seen a lot in the last 37 years,” said Sternhagen.
Prior to building the pavilion in the park, the fish and game club used to set up a 20 x 20 tent, which they used as a headquarters for Whopper Weekend.
Sternhagen recalls the early days of sitting in a cold tent with a wood chip floor.
“There are four of us that are still alive, that actually were working at the first Whopper Weekend,” said Sternhagen.
After 37 years, Melvin “Doc” Borchardt, John and Jean Hedtke, and Dale himself can still be found behind the bar, or cooking buffalo burgers for customers at Whopper Weekend.
Sternhagen says the grand prize for the raffle drawing has also evolved over the years. In the first year 1978, he traded $300 worth of advertising for a small Aluminum boat at McPeak’s Sports Shack.
“It was just the boat, no motor or trailer,” said Sternhagen. The top prize then was nothing compared to the grand prize of today, a $9,000 Polaris Ranger EXT.
Thousands of dollars worth in other prizes are also raffled off on the final day of Whopper Weekend.
You don’t have to fish to win big.
Many area businesses support the fish and game club raffle, and 100 percent of the proceeds are donated back into the community through scholarships and projects.
Anglers entering the Big Whopper fishing contest win trophies for the longest walleye, longest bass, and the longest one-day, and longest three-day stringer of walleye.
Sternhagen recalls the first meeting where the Fish and Game Club considered holding such an event.
“We were at Don’s Supper Club talking about doing some sort of an event in the spring during the walleye run,” said Sternhagen.
Then one morning he met with Fish and Game Club member Harlan Hensel at Bucky’s Restaurant. Dale asked Harlan, “Why don’t you guys do something?”
Harlan told him to bring his ideas out to the club and they’d run it by the members.
Sternhagen attended the next meeting with some ideas, Big Whopper Weekend being one of them.
“We argued round and round,” said Sternhagen.
Art Spoehr responded, “Dale I have a question for you.”
“How are you going to make this legal? How are you going to make sure they don’t go to the Wisconsin River or someplace else to catch their fish?”
Sternhagen answered. “We’re not. If they want to go all the way over to the Wisconsin River or someplace like that to win a trophy, let them go.”
Spoehr replied. “I make a motion that we do this.”
Sternhagen said he was elected to the board of directors that night. He’s been a Fish and Game Club member since.
Whopper Weekend opens up at 6 a.m. Friday, April 17, and runs round the clock until the raffle drawing at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 19.
Food and refreshments are available throughout the weekend. Star Fire Family band will perform from 8 p.m. to midnight Friday, and Dave the DJ will play music from 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday.