The Eagle River Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center, along with Musky Clubs Alliance of Wisconsin, will bring the 34th annual National Championship Musky Open to 72 area lakes this Friday through Sunday, Aug. 16-18.

In 2018, 1,308 men, women and children gathered to fish in the tournament and all have an opportunity to win thousands of dollars in prizes, according to Kim Emerson, chamber executive director.

“We have preregistered 1,080 anglers and that is up a little over last year at this time,” said Emerson. “Our goal is to set a record, topping 1,332 anglers in 2017.”

The on-site entry fee is $70 per person. Anglers can register at the Vilas County Fairgrounds this Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m., or Friday from 6 to 6:30 a.m. or 5 to 8 p.m. One final registration is set for 6 to 6:30 a.m. Saturday.

The National Championship Musky Open is a total catch-and-release tournament, with families encouraged to participate, according to Emerson. All tournament activities will be at the fairgrounds.

“The tournament is so popular because it is a family-oriented event,” said Emerson. “Professionals, amateurs and first-time muskie anglers all fish in the tournament.”

Everyone who enters will get a chance to win a 2019 Ranger boat powered with a 150-horsepower Mercury outboard and RangerTrail trailer valued at nore than $40,000, whether they catch a muskie or not.

“The Ranger boat is the model 1880 Angler and it’s powered by a larger motor, a 150 XL Pro XS Mercury outboard motor,” said Emerson.

Hundreds of other prizes will be awarded in the tournament that hands out trophies for the best catch. A second Ranger boat, motor and trailer will be given away in a public raffle, with the drawing also set for Sunday afternoon.

“The tournament is a real tradition for family and friends,” said Emerson. “That’s what makes it so popular. We’re looking for another great year.”

Seven lake families

Anglers are allowed to fish on one of seven lake families, assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, according to Emerson.

“With seven lake families, it really spreads the anglers out,” she said.

The lake families include: Eagle River Chain of Lakes, Three Lakes Chain of Lakes, Big Lakes family near Phelps and Conover, Western family near St. Germain, Sugar Camp Chain of Lakes, Eastern family including lakes near Eagle River, and Northern family west of Land O’ Lakes.

“Lake family one, which is the Eagle River Chain, is always the most popular family,” said Emerson.

The Big Lakes family, including North Twin and Lac Vieux Desert, also attracts a good number of anglers, as does the Three Lakes Chain of Lakes.

Fishing hours

There will be angler briefings at 6:30, 7:30 and 9 p.m. Thursday; 6:30 a.m. and 6 and 8 p.m. Friday; and 6:30 a.m. Saturday. All anglers must attend one briefing, according to Emerson. A muskie fishing seminar is planned at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Fishing will be allowed from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday (optional); 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; and 6 to 11 a.m. Sunday. All fish verification slips must be registered with the chamber of commerce by 12:30 p.m. Sunday at the fairgrounds.

Door prizes will be awarded at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, at which time winners must be present. There will be more door prizes, the awards ceremony and the grand prize drawing at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Steve Heiting of Musky Hunter magazine will be the tournament emcee. He will offer insight on tournament rules, as well as fish tales from the anglers. Trophies, sponsored by General Beer Northwoods, will be awarded to the top six anglers based on total points, the anglers catching the largest fish on each lake family, the top husband-and-wife team, the top youth angler and the guardian and youth trophy.

“A registered adult (age 18 and older) and child (age 8 to 17) can enter to win the guardian/youth category,” said Emerson. “The winners of this category will win a trophy for their efforts.”

In 2018, there were 87 youth anglers, 86 guardian/ youth teams and 77 husband-and-wife teams.

Last year, the 1,308 anglers registered 131 tournament size (over 34 inches) muskies, with 49 inches being the biggest. It was caught Friday afternoon by Jerry Driessen of Kaukauna on Lac Vieux Desert. The angler releasing the largest fish in this year’s tournament will receive a free graphite reproduction by Joe Fittante Taxidermy in Antigo. Driessen will receive a reproduction of his fish on Sunday.

Last year’s overall winner was Steve Klesmith of Wisconsin Rapids. He caught four muskies measuring 37, 383⁄4, 39 and 44 inches.

The record of 219 fish registered in the tournament was established in 2013.

Other activities

An additional event will be the Help Fight Hunger program.

“Everyone bringing a nonperishable food item will get a chance to win numerous door prizes provided by anonymous donors,” said Emerson. “For each food item you donate, you will receive one chance in the Help Fight Hunger drawing. So if you bring in 12 cans of soup, you receive 12 tickets.”

“We have a lot of great prizes for the Help Fight Hunger raffle,” said Emerson.

Any prior angler of the Musky Open who gets a new angler to enter the 2019 tournament can enter their name in a special drawing for a muskie rod and reel.

“Part of the reason our numbers keep increasing is because of the bring-a-new- angler program,” said Emerson.

Emerson said the Rotary Club of Eagle River will be serving food at the fairgrounds Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday afternoon.

For more information on the tournament, call the chamber at (715) 479-6400.