Most have heard the reasons why salmon had been put in Lake Michigan - to clear up the overabundance of alewives. It was horrible. In 1968 I remember a day the the beach at Michigan City, Indiana seeing dead alewives floating every 10 feet or so in the shallows. Rumor had it, the Michigan DNR had stocked coho salmon in the lake to eat the alewives. The salmon were in the lake, no one knew where.
|Dead alewives fouling beaches. |
The next spring they showed up in Indiana and people actually started catching them. It was big news. A photo in the Chicago Tribune accompanying this news showed an aerial view of the lake showing what I realize now was a cloud shadow. But the photo caption proclaimed the shadow to be a huge school of salmon swimming near the surface. Fake news even back then!
Still, with youthful confidence, I was convinced. It was spring break. A friend and I drove up to Odgen Dunes. No gate, back then. We parked as far north and east as we could and then hiked over the sands between there and the mouth of Burns Ditch, sat along the edge and cast bass and pike lures out into the ditch water. No fish.
|A brown trout I caught in the late 1980s|
My dad had traded services for a 50's era 14 foot, Glastron “speedboat” in the late 60s. Originally it came with a “Gale” outboard (sold at Montgomery Wards). He repowered with a 35 HP Johnson and I inherited it in 1979. (He was tired of mowing around it in the back yard.)
I nursed it back to health - barely - it would only pull start. Eventually, I built some home made downriggers, home made rod holders, home made downrigger weights and became a “salmon” fisherman.
I caught 56 salmon that first year in probably 10 trips. That sounds good, except back in those days, any mope with two rods and an orange Rapala could catch an easy limit.
After the second season, now repowered with a 50 HP Evinrude A few years later I met a man who told me he fished every morning from a boat at Michigan City and invited me along. I went, we caught four or five cohos and I was hooked. I fished with friends a few times in the several years and in 1979 I got my break.
- I caught many more fish including several 20 plus pound kings.
That winter I bought a 16-foot Sylvan SeaMonster, slapped the Evinrude on it, rebuilt my downriggers, rod holders and fished that boat from northern Wisconsin to Port Clinton until 1987 when I traded up to an 18 ft. Sylvan with a 3.OL Mercruiser. Great boat. I wore it out by 1995, sold it for more than it was worth and went back to buy an identical boat. By then, Sylvan didn’t make 18 footers with I/Os so I moved up to a 21 footer with a 3.0L. Horrible boat.
It rode like a john boat, the seats fell apart, motor mounts collapsed, hull rivets popped loose. The only good thing was it was large enough to comfortably hold four people and myself so I earned my captain’s license and started Brother Nature Fishing Adventures. I chartered out of it in 1998, found a sucker to buy it that winter and bought the current Brother Nature in 1999. It's still going strong, but I installed a new motor in 2017.
|The Brother Nature, new in 1999|
Through all of this the fishing evolved from cohos only, to cohos and kings. Brown trout and steelhead were added. Skamania mania swept the Great Lakes like an epidemic and Indiana was ground-zero. Bacterial kidney disease nearly wiped out the king salmon program, Early Mortality Syndrome nearly wiped out the coho program. Mussels changed the nature of the lake, gobies were supposed to be as bad, commercial fishing wiped out the perch, Asian carp get all the money and lake trout get all the blame.
The fishing has gone from three guys holding rods trolling lures, to rod holders, downriggers, planer boards, diving planers, lead core, stainless steel, copper and fluorocarbon line. My first sonar was a flasher, then paper graphs then a liquid crystal graph. My first marine radio had tubes and three channels. I was cutting edge with Loran-C navigation system, then a handheld GPS and now I have one unit that does it all and two back-up units.
It’s been a wild ride, fun, exciting, enjoyable and I’m as excited about my first trip next spring as when my college friend and I marched across the dunes almost 50 years ago.