CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If you happen to be on the lookout for the proverbial Next Big Thing, you might want to consider next year's Eric Workman Memorial Fishing Tournament.The first-ever tourney, held June 1, far exceeded organizers' expectations. The event drew 100 anglers and raised more than $5,000 for muskie research and enhancement."I never dreamed we'd get that many people fishing, or that we'd raise that much money," said tournament spokesman Scott Smith. "I thought we might raise $1,000. We made five times that, and still have money coming in from T-shirt sales."The tournament honors the memory of state Trooper Eric Workman, an avid muskie angler killed in the line of duty after a shooting last August. Workman's family set up a foundation in his name, and the tournament is its principal fundraiser.
Smith said the tournament was originally to be held on the Elk River, Workman's beloved home waters, but the sheer number of fishermen forced organizers to expand it to any of the state's muskie rivers or lakes.River fishing wasn't much good during this year's event. Smith said 80 percent of the anglers fished the rivers, but most of the fish came from lakes. Of the 15 legal-sized muskies caught, only two were river fish - one from the New River and the other from the Tygart."If the river bite had been on, we probably would have had 30 to 40 muskies caught," Smith said.Jason Staats took home the prizes for the most muskies caught, three; and for the largest one caught, a 48 3/4-incher.One even bigger fish was caught, but it didn't count because it was landed after the tournament ended. Angler Jason Lusk, who hadn't caught a fish inside the event's official time period, decided to skip the post-tournament banquet and keep fishing, even though he knew his catch wouldn't count.He's glad he did. At 7:30 p.m., he boated a 50 1/2-inch monster from Lincoln County's Upper Mud River Lake."When you hold a muskie tournament, you always worry that no one's going to catch a fish," Smith said. "We had a fair number of fish caught, and some nice ones, too. I think next year, if there's any kind of a river bite, a lot more muskies will be caught."More than 200 people attended the banquet at the Big Otter Volunteer Fire Department building. Smith said food sales, as well as sales of T-shirts and raffle tickets, boosted the event's profits far above expectations."Right now we're working with muskie clubs and the [Division of Natural Resources] to see how best to disburse the funds," he added. "We want to focus on things like muskie research, muskie stockings, purchasing minnows for hatcheries, repairing boat-launch sites and possibly even establishing new sites."We might get into some habitat-improvement work, too. We're open to ideas."Smith said the Workman family is planning to set up a nonprofit organization with a board of directors that can oversee future tournaments and disburse the funds.
"I think the tournament's going to get bigger as we go along," he added. "If the response we've gotten so far is any indication, we'll have bigger prizes and a lot more stuff to be raffled off."A website for the event, and for the charity work it supports, is also in the works. Smith believes it will come online sometime early this fall."It will have news about next year's tournament, pictures and results from this year's, and updates on how and where the money we raised is being spent," he said.