Walleye Rodeo History

Back in the early 1960’s the Canton Chamber of Commerce meetings were dominated by the discussion of having a fishing contest at Canton Lake.  In 1968, at the March Chamber meeting, the fishing contest became a reality.  A motion was made that the Chamber members sponsor a fishing contest and this was how the Canton Lake Walleye Rodeo began.  The name was chosen because the Department of Wildlife chose Canton Lake as a good location to start a new habitat for the Walleye Pike, an exotic northern fish.  The word Rodeo was chosen because the natural schooling of the Walleye resembles a herd of cattle.  When one Walleye strays from the school or “herd”, another Walleye will “round him up” and return him to the herd.

The first Walleye Rodeo was scheduled for May 9-12, 1968 due to Walleye spawning season. Chamber of Commerce members and others helping with the first Walleye Rodeo were:  Delbert Strahan, Mac McClanahan, Harold Day, Bob Haigler, Dennis Ashby, Gary Smeltzer, Bill Duggan, Alvin Adams, Darny McNabb, Roy Shaw, Ray Cook, Bob McGahen, John Darbro, Aaron Grothe, Bud Eliot, Cletus Long, Cecil Gray, Henry Vorderlandwehr, Gene Phillips and Max Fowler, who served as chairman the first two years.  George Byers was the first weighmaster.

For these first years of the Rodeo, prizes were donated by Longdale, Canton and other surrounding community merchants plus manufacturing companies of fishing equipment.  The group decided that the Grand Prize should be a tagged Walleye worth $1,000.00 if caught.  An area businessman, Bill Duggan, sponsored the first $1,000.00 fish and Richard “Dick” Smith, Watonga designed the official Walleye Rodeo Logo, a fish called “Wally Walleye”.  The prized Wally Walleye eluded fishermen for ten years before being caught in 1977 by John Foley of Woodward.

Since the Walleye Rodeo began in 1968 the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife has caught and tagged all the fish for the Walleye Rodeo. The first Walleye Rodeo registered 466 people and has grown every year.  In 2003 1100 fishermen registered for the 3 ½ day tournament and prize money was available in excess of $25,000.00

In 1970 the Canton Lake Walleye Rodeo separated from the Canton Chamber of Commerce and became an independent organization.  As in the beginning, all help for the Walleye Rodeo is volunteer.  Through the efforts of many hard working, dedicated people who have given freely of their time and money, the Walleye Rodeo has continue to grow.  Each year thousands of people come into our community during the Walleye Rodeo weekend, which gives a great financial boost to the town. 

Submitted by Darlene Robinson