Event runs Friday through Sunday
By John Faucher
The New London Fish and Game Club and thousands of Wolf River anglers are gearing up the 38th annual Big Whopper Fishing Weekend in New London.
The event starts this Friday and runs through Sunday, April 17 in Riverside Park.
Dale and Judie Sternhagen of the New London Fish and Game Club have helped with the event since the humble beginnings 38 years ago.
“The early ice out and high water will definitely help the fishing,” Dale Sternhagen said.
Perhaps the Sternhagens know best, that every year is different.
Two years ago, there was speculation that the ice would not be gone in time for Whopper Weekend. In other years, the water level of the Wolf River reached near flood stage threatening to swamp the Big Whopper tent at Riverside Park.
“We’ve seen a lot in the last 38 years,” Sternhagen said.
Prior to building the pavilion in the park, the fish and game club used to set up a 20-foot-by-20-foot tent, which it 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,” Sternhagen said.
After 38 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.
Famous burgers part of the tradition
Each year, many visitors venture out to the three-day event to sample Whopper Weekend’s famous buffalo burgers. Thousands of pounds are served morning, afternoons and through the night.
New for 2016
“This year we’re going to have a new addition to the burger line-up,” Sternhagen said. The Wolf River Burger is sure to satisfy the hungry angler. The new entrée includes a brat patty, and a regular hamburger patty smothered in cheese and fried onions.
Thousands in prizes given away
Sternhagen said 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,” Sternhagen said. 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 do not 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.
“This year we also started adopting a local family at Christmas,” Sternhagen said. “It’s rewarding for our club to give back to the community that supports us.”
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,” Sternhagen said.
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 to the club and they would 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,” Sternhagen said.
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 has been a Fish and Game Club member since.
Whopper Weekend opens up at 6 a.m. Friday, April 15, and runs round the clock until the raffle drawing at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 17.
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.