To say I was nervous would be an understatement. Black was not a dark enough color to describe the predawn darkness. There was a hint of red on the eastern horizon encouraging us that sunrise would come. The line of trucks and trailers with normal sized boats to the Kewaunee boat launch was nearly a mile long. It was the heyday of salmon fishing on this big farm pond called Lake Michigan. It was 1994; the year Josh Bostedt caught the 44 pound, 47 inch, king salmon off Door County that still stands as the state record today. Once on the water we fell in line behind the massive charter boats and rode their wakes and waves east toward dawn.
My broken leg has kept me on shore too much this summer but good friend and guide, Ben Elfelt just returned from Michigan with a boatload of fish. I was a guy who learned Michigan on my own. That was the hard way. Ben told me about an easier way that can make you successful right off the bat.
“There are rules you have to follow to stay alive out there fishing on your own,” he said. “If you do you can feel safe fishing Michigan. And then you ask, “How do you catch these things?” The best thing to do is to go with someone who has experience so you can learn and gain enough confidence to know you can catch these things safely in your own boat. “
Next is Lake Michigan fishing etiquette.
“How not to get torpedoed by a giant charter. It’s all about trolling in the same direction or the opposite direction. You do not want to cut those big boats off trolling or they will cut all your lines and maybe jerk off a downrigger. You have to watch how and see how all the other boats are running. Fall in line and do what the other successful boats are doing. Learning this and starting out your first time in daylight will make it easier to head out in the early morning when fishing is usually the best.”
Ben knows, “You can fish three lines per person on our Great Lakes so everyone has to know their job. Usually one guy drives the boat, another fights the fish and the third person does the rest. Nets the fish, clears other lines and gets downriggers up and out of the way if necessary. You often hook into more than one fish at a time. You might have to let a rod be and hope this fish stays hooked up until you can get to it.”
“Lake Michigan can make its own weather. Cold water and warm winds can cause stormy seas that may not appear on the morning news and could leave you in a bad position but modern weather apps can really help.”
Next week Ben will teach how to bring home a couple hundred pounds of salmon.
Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and worked in the St. Croix River Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org