Fish Tale

Port Clinton drops the big walleye on Y2K

Come December 31, an expected crowd of 10,000-plus in Port Clinton, Ohio, will be looking up to Capt. Wylie -- a 20-foot-long, 500-pound, fiberglass walleye. Hype heightens, excitement escalates, and Capt. Wylie experiences a big letdown.

The Wylie Drop has become a New Year's tradition in Port Clinton, located on Lake Erie's western basin. As the waning seconds of Y1.999K tick away, a crane will lower him from his perch of 60 feet into a net below, marking the New Millennium for the "Walleye Capital of the World."

The plunge is number four for Wylie. His first two came in the guise of an 18-foot, 127-pound papier-mâche figure designed by Andre Cuthel of Olmsted Falls. The fiberglass Wylie -- $8,000 worth of faux fish -- debuted last year and is the handiwork of local taxidermist Jim Wendt. Fashioning a flair for the dramatic, Wylie varies his entrances: In past years, he has been lowered onto the street, into a boat, and onto a stage.

"This year he's going to be dropped into a big fishing net made of a soccer goal," says Port Clinton Mayor Tom Brown. "We'll have kids holding the net as his front part drops into it and 2,000 lights on the net light up."

Adopted and revered as the community's New Year's mascot, Wylie was the brainchild of Brown; Melinda Huntley of the Ottawa County Visitors Bureau; Julie Wahlers, former executive director of the Port Clinton Chamber of Commerce; and Dan "the Drop Man" Sedlak, former manager of the Island House hotel and restaurant in Port Clinton.

If you're into walleye, the non-alcoholic, family-oriented festivities have it all -- walleye chowder, walleye tacos, walleye bagels, walleye chips -- whatever your walleye pleasure. The tiny village's fish-frenzy will be complemented by a fireworks display featuring "three or four grand finales," Brown says.

And lest "Walleye Capital of the World" seems a lame claim to fame, the Wylie Drop continues to be the focus of local, national, and international attention for Port Clinton, claims the mayor. Major periodicals, news organizations, and Ripley's Believe It Or Not have all recognized Wylie's world.

"There have been several detailed calls from ABC," says Brown. "There's a positive belief that we'll be on ABC's millennium stopovers. They are going to be all over the world New Year's Eve, covering unusual events."

And in case you wondered, papier-mâche walleyes don't die -- they hang from the ceiling at City Hall. -- Jeff Woodard