Port Clinton had long been known for its bountiful fishery, especially the plentiful and prized walleye.
It was time to cash in on the city's sterling reputation with anglers, who travel across the United States and beyond to reel in the tasty fish.
The city began its first New Year's Eve walleye drop at midnight that year, and what locals said for decades was official: Port Clinton is the Walleye Capital of the World.
There's just one problem. At least six other towns in the United States claim to be the walleye capital, too.
Baudette, Minn.; Garrison, N.D.; Mobridge, S.D.; the Big and Little Bays de Noc near Escanaba, Mich.; the Saginaw Bay along Bay City, Mich.; and Umatilla, Ore., are advertised as capitals. And Brown might have swiped the title from the rest of Lake Erie, which Fred Snyder, Ohio State University Sea Grant extension specialist, said was known in the early '80s collectively as the capital.
Tourism officials in Baudette knocked two other Minnesota towns off the walleye wagon last year when they obtained a state trademark for the term. Then they applied for a federal trademark to definitively make Baudette and its Lake of the Woods the only capital.
In January, however, the Lake of the Woods Tourism Bureau abandoned its application for the trademark, effectively rendering its effort dead, at least for now. Bureau officials did not respond to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's request for more information on how they would use the walleye capital moniker, according to the trademark office.
Bureau Executive Director Denelle Cauble said she didn't know the application was abandoned.
"Everybody knows the truth," she said. "Lake of the Woods is the walleye capital."
Snyder said Cauble's assertion is a kettle of fish.
"When you look at Lake Erie, there is no other body of water that produces the poundage per acre of walleye that Lake Erie does," Snyder said. "Tens of thousands of anglers come here to fish each year."
What makes a walleye capital?
Port Clinton has all the ingredients to keep the walleye capital name, Snyder said.
Roughly one-third of the 360 to 380 marinas on Ohio's Lake Erie shoreline are located in the Port Clinton area. With the nearby islands and harbors in the area, it is a prime location for marina development and therefore has an advantage in attracting anglers, he said.
The city is located along Lake Erie's Western Basin, the shallowest part of the lake. Rife with submerged reefs, the basin is a perfect place for walleye to spawn.
"Fish from all over Lake Erie come to spawn here," he said. "From the biology standpoint, this is the most fertile part of the lake for feeding and spawning. Most of the walleye fishing goes on in the waters of Ottawa County."
With all those fish, anglers have a better chance of successfully bagging the coveted fish, he said.
Add Captain Wylie, the 17-foot-long fiberglass walleye the city drops from a crane on New Year's Eve and the annual Memorial Day weekend Walleye Festival, and Snyder is confident no body of water can beat Port Clinton's part of the lake.
But that doesn't mean other areas are without great walleye fishing.
Fishing is Baudette's main attraction, and it, too, draws anglers from across the country, Cauble said.
Since 1959, Willy Walleye, the 25-ton, 40-foot long fiberglass walleye that dwarfs Port Clinton's Captain Wylie, has anchored the town of 1,100 people, Cauble said. Each June, the locals celebrate Willy Walleye Days, a festival similar to Port Clinton's Walleye Festival.
Michigan's capitals don't have giant walleye statues, but they have plenty to brag about.
Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay walleye numbers have increased in recent years after excellent spawning classes from 2003 to 2005 and in 2007, said Jim Baker, fisheries unit manager for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Southern Lake Huron Fisheries Management Unit.
"We're very fortunate," Baker said. "We have a lot of fish in the pipeline at this point. Our catch of walleye can match to just about anybody's."
In the Upper Peninsula, the Big and Little Bays de Noc that feed into Lake Michigan and Green Bay draw some of the same major fishing tournaments as Port Clinton, said Steve Masters, executive director of the Bays de Noc Convention and Visitors Bureau in Escanaba.
"We're becoming such an established fishery," Masters said. "Ice fishing is huge up here. Generally, in the winter, we have thousands of ice shanties on the Little Bay."
Walleye Capital of the World is more than just a name. Tourism bureaus and cities use it to promote their area and bring in anglers and tourists and their much-needed money.
Masters said the various walleye capitals should learn to share the crown.
"I'm for everyone succeeding," he said. "If we can all use that to parlay economic success, I don't have a problem with that."
But the loss of the brand-like moniker probably wouldn't hurt most of them, officials said.