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FIFTY YEARS OF FISHING: Canton Lake's Walleye Rodeo

Rick Williams from Ellensburg, Wash., holds a walleye caught on Canton Lake. [PHOTO PROVIDED]

Rick Williams from Ellensburg, Wash., holds a walleye caught on Canton Lake. [PHOTO PROVIDED]

Certain Oklahoma lakes are associated with a species of fish.

For Texoma, it is striped bass. Largemouth bass dominates the discussion about Arbuckle. Eufaula is the crappie lake.

When you mention Canton Lake to a fisherman, the first thing - and maybe the only thing - that crosses his mind is walleye.

“It is the best walleye lake we have in the state, for sure,” said Chas Patterson, northwest region fisheries supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Canton Lake will be the site of the 50th annual Walleye Rodeo beginning Thursday, the oldest fishing tournament in the state.

The lake, which in recent years has suffered through a drought, tornado and Oklahoma City nearly drawing it dry for municipal water needs, has recovered and so has the Walleye Rodeo.

“It looks pretty good,” Patterson said of Canton Lake last week. “It's full, which is always a good thing.”

The striped bass hybrid fishing has been hot lately, especially below the dam, Patterson said. The walleye fishing has slowed from the spawn in early March, but still steady, he said.

Walleye, a northern fish that are excellent to eat, were first introduced to Canton Lake in the early 1960's. The Wildlife Department brought in walleye from Ohio to stock in Oklahoma lakes to provide additional angling opportunities.

“They were tried in a handful of different lakes, and Canton was the most successful,” Patterson said. “We saw the walleye really take off there and it developed into a walleye fishery.”

In addition to having cooler weather on average in northwest Oklahoma, Canton Lake also has “got a lot the habitat that a lot of those walleye fisheries have up north,” Patterson said.

Canton Lake held its first Walleye Rodeo in 1968. At the time, the Canton Chamber of Commerce wanted to sponsor a fishing tournament and decided to call it the Walleye Rodeo since the fish were doing so well in Canton Lake.

They chose the term “rodeo” because the natural schooling of walleye resembled a herd of cattle.

The first Walleye Rodeo had 466 anglers and the tournament continued to grow each year. Before the water woes earlier this decade, the Walleye Rodeo would attract as many 1,100 anglers.

Canton, a town with fewer than 900 residents, would triple in size during the hey day of the Walleye Rodeo, which includes a parade, fish fry, street dance and other festivities, said Jean Howard, a 30-year member of the Walleye Rodeo planning committee.

When the lake dipped in recent years so did the number of participating anglers with only 272 in 2013. Last year, however, the number of anglers was back up to 623, the most in five years.

“It's coming back,” Howard said.

Anglers from Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Missouri and Colorado have made the drive to Canton to fish in the Walleye Rodeo, which gives prizes for all species of fish caught in the tournament, not just walleye.

“A lot of them have been coming since they were kids with their parents,” Howard said. “Now they are bringing their kids.”

To mark the 50th anniversary this year, the Walleye Rodeo will be awarding lifetime fishing licenses to 50 youngsters entered in the kids fishing derby.

As the only major lake in northwest Oklahoma, Canton Lake is an important recreational source for residents in the region.

And it's an important economic source as businesses in and around Canton depend on the revenue generated by lake visitors in the summer.

”It definitely has an impact,” Howard said.

It also has an impact on other walleye fisheries in the state.

The DNA from Canton Lake walleye is found in every other Oklahoma lake that have the fish with the "ol' glass eye." Canton Lake provides the Wildlife Department with the broodstock for the state.

In the spring, state wildlife officials net walleye in Canton Lake and take the fertilized eggs from females back to the Byron State Fish Hatchery.

There, the eggs are hatched and the walleye are raised into fry and fingerling-size. Approximately 3 million walleye fry are stocked into Canton Lake each year. They are also stocked in other lakes around the state.

Even a lake like Broken Bow, which has natural reproduction of walleye, still gets supplemental stockings of walleye from the Byron State Fish Hatchery.

“Over time, every lake (with walleye) has had fish from Canton in it,” Patterson said.

It's the same for saugeye, which is a hatchery-raised cross between walleye and sauger.

State wildlife officials catch sauger from the Arkansas River and bring the males to Canton Lake where they fertilize the eggs of female walleye and become saugeye.

After being raised at the hatchery, tiny saugeye is then stocked into lakes like Thunderbird for anglers to enjoy.


Where: Canton Lake

When: Thursday through Sunday

Fishing: Cash prizes from $200 to $1,000 are awarded for the five largest walleye caught in the tournament and $500 for the largest number of pounds of walleye for all four days. Prizes are also awarded for the largest fish caught in 10 different species.

In addition, 15 walleye will be tagged for a $500 prize and about 300 other fish will have tags ranging from $20 to $50.


Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›