My business is to provide people the opportunity to sample the exciting and challenging fishing available at the southern end of Lake Michigan. This page is dedicated to showing a bit of the behind-the-scenes work it takes to do that and to highlight the trips and fun my customers are able to experience.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


I’m frugal. Okay, I’m cheap. The thought of shelling out hundreds of dollars for rainy day wear once seemed excessive.

Whether or not it’s excessive, it is a lot of money. I could buy a very nice shotgun for the price of a quality rainsuit; several dozen coyote traps, a bunch of rod and reel combos - probably a one way ticket to Honolulu, if I shopped smart.

But when I turned “pro” and started taking people on Lake Michigan for hire, one of my first acquisitions was a Bass Pro XPS rain suit. What I then hoped would prove to be a worthy investment I now say is among my most important assets.  I love it and wear it on my boat everyday during the spring and fall, rain or shine. It’s the perfect top layer, warm and wind proof.

I would buy another one - probably.

But I might switch to a Frabill XFE Stormsuit. The folks at Frabill gave me one to try out.

Just my luck, it came during a drought year, one with record warmth. So it’s just been sitting there waiting for a suitable, rainy, dreary day.

Like yesterday!

By sunrise, the rain gauge showed over 1/2-inch and the drizzle was steady. Temperatures in the 40s. I had traps scattered over 4 farms and I’d need to attend to each one. Not just drive by and keep going if there was nothing caught. Each trapsite was water-logged. I planned to remove most of them.

The perfect test day.

My initial impression of the Frabill suit? It’s great. It fits great, it’s built for outdoor activities that require standing, kneeling, sitting down, climbing into and out of trucks, boats and onto ATVs. It features pockets inside and out, special spots for pocket cams, cell phones, extra protection at knees and elbows. There’s even a tiny towel on string inside for, ah, well, maybe to dry off your glasses?

The materials and workmanship look to be top of the line. At the end of the day, I was warm and completely dry. Will it hold up for the long run? Ask me in a few years, I’m betting it will and I’ll be putting that bet to the test. 

Friday, November 30, 2012


A fishing trip makes a great gift
for any member of the family.

It can be very difficult to purchase great gifts for outdoor oriented people. If the favorite activities for the “giftee” are shared by the “gifter,” it becomes a bit easier. When the gifter is not a regular participant, it becomes almost impossible.

For instance, I enjoy pheasant hunting. My wife enjoys Pheasant’s Forever banquets. That’s about as close to pheasant hunting she has gotten since she was a farm girl growing up in South Dakota and her and her sisters were the “dogs” while her dad and the other hunters did the shooting.  Her giving me something I could use on a pheasant hunt would be a tough prospect. Chances are, what her idea of something “useful” for me and my idea of useful would be miles apart. Chances are, if it were truly useful, I probably own one or more of them already.

The same thing goes for anglers. So here’s an idea for you “gifters” out there looking for the perfect gift for your fisher-person giftee. Give them a fishing trip!

Of course, I hope you decide to give them a fishing trip with me, on board the Brother Nature. You can choose a different charter, should you wish or even send them with a guide for a day of fishing for musky, walleye, bass or other species.

I “do” several gift-trips a year on the Brother Nature and have it down to a good routine. Here’s how it usually goes....

The gift-giver goes on-line and finds my website: www.brother-nature.com. They look over the site, where I fish, best times to fish, prices and all the rest then either call or send an email. Since I base my prices on the number of people and the length of the trip, the gifter can decide the amount they want to spend and see what that will buy. For example: at my current prices, a three-person trip for 8 hours is about the same price as a four-person trip for 5 hours.

Hopefully, there is a few days or more until the day the gift will actually be bestowed. What I do is send a personal letter on my letterhead to the gifter to put in a card and hand to the giftee on Christmas, birthday or whatever occasion.

It starts out something like:

Dear Pete (or Sherry or whatever name is appropriate):
Congratulations! You have been given a 6-hour fishing trip on the Brother Nature for you and two friends. Yadda, yadda, yadda....

Then I go on to explain my services, the fishing available and other details about the trip along with contact information, phone numbers and other information.

If you have a hard-core fisherman on your gift giving list and are feeling stymied about what sort of present to bestow, give me a call. We’ll work it out and make it a gift he or she will long remember!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


The Brother Nature and the ol’ Burb are nestled in their winter quarters. I’ll drive the Suburban a few times over the winter to give it a bit of exercise, but it won’t be getting many miles on it. It always seems very weird driving it without having the boat and trailer tagging along behind since 99 percent of the time, you won’t see one without the other.

The winterizing went well. I lowered the lower unit and opened the vent and drain plugs to remove the gear lube oil inside. It was nice and clean with no milky look to it which means there’s no water leaking into the innards of the unit. I let it drain overnight, then refilled it with new lubricant.

The next step is to stabilize the fuel left in the tank to keep it fresh over the winter months. I measured in the Stabil, then took the boat for a ride so the gas in the tank would slosh around and mix with the stabilizing chemicals.

Motor Muff allows running the engine
while the boat is on the trailer
Back at home, I parked close enough to the house so I could attach a garden hose to the lower unit with a special muff. This handy tool allows the boat’s motor to be started with the boat on the trailer. Running the motor warms it up and burns the unstabilized gasoline in the carburetor.

The next step is to change the engine oil and oil filter. Not only does this step ensure the motor is stored with clean, uncontaminated oil, but it’s ready for spring fishing next March.

The final step is filling the engine with antifreeze. I have a five gallon bucket that I attached a boiler drain into. A short hose connects the drain to the motor muff. Four gallons of antifreeze go into the bucket.
When the motor is started, the drain is opened and the antifreeze pumps into the cooling system of the motor, displacing the water inside.

Park it just so in the garage. Pull the drain plug to completely empty the bilge and THINK SPRING!  

Friday, September 28, 2012


You can tell by the location of the damage
the prop damage occurred when the
boat was backing up.

I could understand a ramp being built in a Lake Michigan marina “too short” in 1987 when the water level in the lake was at a modern day high level. The drought of 1988 solved the high water problems. None of the Chicago skyscrapers fell into the lake and Lake Shore Drive wasn’t flooded, as doomsayers had been predicting. However, the falling water levels continued into the 1990s when the Portage Public Marina was being designed.

So with water levels heading down, and no scientific consensus about what the future water level would be, why not engineer the boat ramps to include another few yards of concrete to ensure the ramp would be sufficiently long, regardless of significant water fluctuations? No answer, but by the end of the decade, receding water levels had rendered the ramp useless for most boats suitably-sized to be safe on Lake Michigan.

It was a two pronged problem. Most boats and trailers, these days, are designed so the boats can be driven onto the trailers. Nose the boat into position, apply a bit of throttle and the boat slides up onto the trailer supports. However, the prop wash caused by power loading on a too-short ramp dislodges the sand or silt at the end of the concrete resulting in a drop off. Imagine, backing your trailer in far enough that the trailer wheels drop into the hole at the end of the submerged concrete. In most cases, you are stuck and in many cases people were stuck.

A complete rebuild or well engineered retrofit would have been very expensive. So instead, a patch was made by hauling large rip-rap sized stones to the ramps and pushing them into the water to fill the hole at the end of the launch ramps. Signs were places warning boaters that power-loading was prohibited.

The launch ramps are open for use 24/7. The marina is staffed from 7 to 7 in-season; 8 to 4 early and late in the boating year. Even when it’s open, the launching and loading of boats is only loosely monitored. One doesn’t have to watch very long on a busy day to see boaters violating the power-loading prohibition.

Currently, the lake is as low as it was in 1987 (due to last summer’s drought and other factors) and only an inch or two shy of the historic record low level reached in 1964. With the water level down, tons of softball to soccer ball sized stones shoring up the ill-designed terminus of the ramp and plenty of power-loaders unknowingly causing damage, my propellor became a casualty.

I was at the marina one day in mid-summer when additional rip-rap was pushed into the hole at the end of the ramp. In retrospect, I should have guessed what was happening. With the lake level down, even the large rocks were being “blown” out of position as high-powered boats were goosed onto their trailers. Where did those displaced rocks go?

Add caption
They formed an artificial reef to the rear of the hole and when I lowered my propellor into the water and backed away from the ramp, it impacted on the displaced rocks. Pictured is the result. This damage is from a single launch. The prop was perfect, previously.

So beware at Portage and beware at other locations, as well. I doubt the marina can or will do anything the rest of this season. Normally, water levels in the Great Lakes drop over the winter so be doubly aware in the spring. And if you sneak in a “power-load” after hours for convenience, cut it out.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


        I can’t say Steven Berg grew up on my boat, but he, his dad and uncle have fished with me many times since Steve was old enough to turn the crank on a reel. Actually, Steve started when he was almost old enough to crank a reel.

       A favored “fish tale” on my boat is the about the first day Steve fished with me, caught a limit of cohos and never lost a fish. Lot’s of people can say that, but not a 6 or 7 year old who took about 15 minutes to reel in each fish, mostly while the fish swam freely, lure dangling from its mouth, swimming hither, yon and anywhere else it pleased as he awkwardly and intermittently managed to reel.

His time on the Brother Nature must have made an impression on him to some degree. Now in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Hood, Texas and awaiting deployment overseas, Steve was home on leave. While on leave he had a bucket list of favorite places to visit, food to eat and things to do. Among them, fish Lake Michigan on the Brother Nature.

          I explained it’s late in the season, the fall run has been sporadic, at best - actually one of the worst ever - but if he wants to go, we’ll go.

We went. At the crack of dawn, I started deploying the lines and lures we’d be using. One line set, start on the next and, “FISH ON.”  It was lucky there were no other lines out and only one downrigger wire. This fish came to the boat hot and had there been other gear would have tangled and possibly been lost. Bad luck for the fish, good for us.

So we had great catching for the first 10 or 15 minutes, then settled in for a morning of great fishing, the remainder of the time - great fishing, just short on strikes or catching. But Steve caught a nice king salmon,  has a fishing tale to tell his Army buddies when his leave is over and a memory to rely on when he goes overseas.

Thursday, August 30, 2012



It can be the most rewarding time of year and because of that, it’s usually the most frustrating time of year. In late summer, Lake Michigan’s mature king salmon head back to the locations where they were stocked to go on their spawning runs. Those locations are public records so finding the fish is a simple matter. The records show exactly how many baby kings were stocked at Michigan City, Portage or over in Lake County.

The creel counts give an indication of how many of the fish were caught by fishermen, as well. A relatively small percent. Of course, some of the fish may have been caught elsewhere, or failed to survive their 3 ½ years in the lake, but statistically, there are a lot of salmon left and in September, they are mature and it’s game on for Lake Michigan anglers.

The problem is the fish are no longer feeding. Their goal is simply find the stream they need to swim up to spawn, wait until they are acclimated to fresh water, then wait for the right tide and continue their run.

Okay, there’s no salt water and no tides, but the fish don’t know that. They are a scant few generations away from ancestors who did swim the oceans and migrate to Pacific Coast streams and they still have western fish instincts.

After spending 3 ½ years at sea or in Lake Michigan, they are accustomed to snapping at any baitfish that comes within "mouth-shot." If your lure gets subbed in for a baitfish, lucky you!

That’s some days. Other days you can show your best baits to a thousand fish and only one or two will try to bite it. That’s the frustration.

You know where the fish will be, you know there will be lots of them but you don’t know when or if they will bite. That’s why you keep trying. For when it all comes together, you are hooked to one of the largest, meanest and most tenacious fish that exists in North America. That makes the frustration worth it!

Saturday, August 18, 2012


For all of you old enough to remember the old Peter, Paul and Mary song, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” here are some alternate lyrics to the tune.
Hopefully, Doug will catch a bunch of
these, while I sit back and smile! 

My bags are packed, I’m ready to go
The boat is hitched and ready to tow
It’s loaded up with beer and fishing gear!

So many fish are waiting for me
But will they bite, we’ll wait and see
All I know is we will surely try.

I’m leaving on a road trip
To Ludington in Michigan
Leaving ......

Okay, so maybe I’m a bit ebullient (as well as a poor lyricist) but in a few minutes Peggy and I will be out the door and heading for a week’s vacation. She needs it from her work at the hospital, I need it from my work on Lake Michigan.

You may think it odd that after spending much of the last several months on my boat on Lake Michigan that I’d take my boat and fish Lake Michigan as a vacation. When I have paying customers on the boat, I’m working to keep them safe, entertained and happy with the amount of fish they are catching.  It’s not bad work, but it’s work, none the less.

I’ll be fishing with Doug Wheelock, a long-time fishing friend and Bob Simpson, a retired charter captain from Thunder Bay, Ontario. Both guys are familiar with boats, fishing and the gear we will be using. I won’t be doing all the work and I might even get to reel in a fish. Actually, I don’t care if I don’t reel one in, as long as I can just be out there without the pressure to put fish on the line.

So I’m still humming: “leaving on a road trip, leaving on a road trip.......”

Monday, July 16, 2012


When the waves are running 2 to 4 feet and we have to troll into them or worse, we have to head 16 miles back to the marina and can only manage 12 or 13 miles per hour without slamming the boat down into the wave troughs, I wish we were becalmed. It’s a nautical term invented by sailors on their tall ships. No wind meant no progress and apparently on the ocean, at times, they’d become becalmed and the condition would last for days.
Expect to wear a jacket and experience
some chop on summer morning trips. 

In the summer on Lake Michigan, it happens to us almost every day. Or at least on many days.

Pick a day when the temperature starts out predawn in the low 70s but the afternoon highs are scheduled at 90 degrees or more. Common enough in June, July and August. Such conditions are usually accompanied by winds with a southerly component - winds that blow from the land out over the lake.

Such has been the case for the past week and I’ve been experiencing it each day with my busy fishing schedule. Each day we’ve been becalmed and it’s great.

In the morning the low temperatures on land pretty well match up with the temperatures on the lake and the lake’s surface water temperature. So when the wind blows, it just blows right out across the water. In fact, devoid of trees, hills, buildings and such, it blows very steady and in short order, and as one continues from the nearshore area to the offshore haunts of the salmon, the waves build from a few inches tall to crests measuring several feet.

Some mornings there’s a steady chop, others are quite rough. I deal with whatever comes, knowing the “lake effect” weather will soon ease the conditions.

Cumulus clouds forming over the Gary, IN
On land the rising sun begins to heat the air and the land. Another hot summer day. On the lake, we may still be wearing a light jacket. Hot air rises, cool air sinks. Us fishermen have the cool air and often, on the shore and inland, they have the hot air. Often, towards the distant shore we see cumulus clouds start to blossom - a sure sign of becoming becalmed.

As the wind blows, the hot air rises and simply floats aloft over the cooler air on the lake. We notice the wind and waves subsiding and in a relatively short time, the conditions go from choppy to slick calm.  If we were in a sailboat, we’d be becalmed.

The last fish of many trips comes when we are
I smile. It may still be a long boat ride (distance wise) back to the harbor but the Bro will easily cruise at 30 mph on a calm lake and by now, the wind stream we feel from the speeding boat feels great.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


I’m trying not to start off on a morbid note, but one of the realities of life is that everything is destined to die. Humans spend millions to fight off death. Animals instinctively know how to avoid being killed. Even plants have defense mechanisms that kick into gear under adverse growing conditions. But in the end, it’s the end.
Every fish caught comes with a story. 

Some things die hard. Ever had a weed in your garden that just kept resprouting? Some things seem to tempt their fate daily. Human daredevils can get rich or famous (or dead) from their exploits.

Some things just seem bent on destruction.

I encountered a steelhead yesterday that filled that bill to a T and gave a couple of fishermen some thrills along the way. One could argue it was the fish’s fate. Others might call it destiny.
After all, the reason one of Indiana’s fish hatcheries made the effort to capture it’s parents, care for them until the eggs were ripe and fertile, then nurtured the hatchling from fry to fingerling to big enough to stock in Lake Michigan was with the hope some fisherman would eventually hook up with it.

The last fish my group of anglers hooked Saturday morning came with a surprise. I extended the net and scooped the struggling fish out of the lake, ending the tussle. As I lifted the fish into the boat, I noticed a strand of monofilament line in the net along with the fish.

“Odd,” thinks me. I try to keep stray strands of mono picked up, and hoped one of my lures wasn’t attached to (or detached from) the extra fishing line.  As I removed the lure that had caught the steelhead from the fish, some of the wayward line was tangled in the treble at the end of the spoon.

“Doubly odd,” thinks me. I noticed the line wasn’t my line at all. Too thin. Probably 4 or 6 pound test. My first postulation was that the hook had snagged onto a length of discarded line, however, I’d think more than a few inches of it would have disturbed the action of the lure pulling through the water and the fish wouldn’t have bitten it.

Then it dawned on me to look again inside the mouth of the fish. Sure enough! Embedded inside was a bright red perch-sized hook.

The perch hook in this steelhead's mouth is a
clue that it's a part of some other fish story. 
Some perch fishermen in the recent past went home with a “fish story” that went something like, “I felt a tap and set the hook and instantly knew it wasn’t a perch.”  Or perhaps, “The rod pulled down like I’d hooked a nuclear submarine....” The end of what ever story he told had the same end. “The line broke.”

So this steelhead, destined from birth to die and nurtured from it’s conception to be caught by a happy angler, became a “well-storied” fish.  When it bit the perch fisherman’s minnow, it gave him or her a story to tell and a lasting memory. When it bit the spoon trolling behind my boat it gave a tale to the angler who fought and won the battle. In addition, it gave me a story to tell to you, as well. All fish should meet such a well-storied end.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Boat trailers are designed to be “rode hard and put up wet.” They better be - at least mine better be since I put several hundred miles on my trailer weekly and may dunk it into the lake twice daily, day after day after day.

But things that get used and abused wear out and the wooden, carpet covered bunks that support my boat were well worn. In fact, many of the supports under the bunk-boards were rusty and weak.

So a repair day was scheduled at Dick McNeely’s workshop near Attica. Not only does Mack have all the tools needed and welding equipment, I was able to recruit another mutual friend, Jim Eason, to pitch in on the work.

There was one downside to the location: no nearby lake to offload the Brother Nature so we could get at the trailer.  Our first chore was to jack up the boat high enough that it was suspended above the trailer. Some begged and borrowed jack-stands helped, a bit of blocking and crawling around under the rig and inch by inch, the Bro ascended and the trailer pulled free.

The old boards were removed and the metal work started, first removing the old board supports with torch and grinders, then welding new ones in place. A spritz of Rust-Oleum and they were good as new. Using Mack’s utility tractor, we tilted the trailer to make it easier to fasten the new bunks securely.

Repositioning the trailer under the boat went very smoothly and soon the rig was again road-ready!  A few Heinekens to reward ourselves for a job well done finished the job in style.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


There was an amazing incident on the boat yesterday that I decided would make a great blog posting. However, as those of you who have ever heard me tell a story can attest, sometimes my tales become a bit lengthy.   

By the time I was done, the story was long enough to be a full column for my regular slot in Michigan Outdoor News called “Great Lakes Logbook.”  So here’s the downsized version of the event.                                                  

While in the middle of a Great Lakes Fire Drill (the confusion that occurs when 2 or more salmon are hooked at the same time) and in 3 foot waves, my hat dislodged and fell into the lake. We couldn’t stop or turn around and by the time the fish were boated, the lines redeployed and the fire drill over, we’d trolled a half mile or so from the location. 

No, I didn’t mark the spot on my GPS and even if I’d done that, the hat would have floated off in the waves from any waypoint I’d created. Still, we had to fish somewhere and I knew there were active fish back where my hat was floating; so I made mental calculations of what heading would put the boat on course and steered a gradual turn. 

As we approached ever nearer to “ground-zero” a salmon bit on a long line trailing over 100 yards behind the boat. Those take a while to reel in, but the angler handled the chore admirably. Just as I scooped the fish into the net, one of the other passengers said, “There’s the hat!”  

Yes indeed! About 10 yards off the starboard bow, the bright yellow hat floated soggily awaiting rescue. The fish was in the boat, my white forehead saved from the sun and my lucky hat was saved.    

Monday, May 28, 2012


Perry Pendell, from Chestertown, NY, completed the BN
Grand Slam for 2012
 The Salmon Unlimited club used to give an award to any member who caught a coho, chinook, brown trout, lake trout and steelhead all in one year. Those are the 5 major species of trout and salmon in Lake Michigan. There are a smattering of pink salmon and Atlantic Salmon that stray into the northern part of the lake from Lake Huron, but not many. The award was called the Big Five. Others called it the Grand Slam.

Nowadays, getting the Grand Slam for the season is not as big a deal. Some people manage it in a single day. The Brother Nature normally has fresh DNA from the big five species on the boat by mid-April and if there’s a missing specimen, it’s usually lake trout since I stick close to shore as long as possible in the spring, before heading “out for trout” when the nearshore action wanes.

This year, the Brother Nature anglers had caught lake trout by early April and there were plenty of kings, cohos and browns in the mix starting in March. It wasn’t until I mailed in my catch report for April I noticed there hadn’t yet been a steelhead on board for 2012.

Steelhead should be increasingly important the
rest of this summer. 
Normally, in the nearshore early season fishery, one steelhead bites for about every dozen cohos. And since catching dozens and dozens of cohos is normal, the first steelhead isn’t long in coming.

Yesterday, May 27, was the first day we dripped a bit of steely-juice on the floor. I don’t think it’s a reflection of fewer steelhead available, rather just poor concentrations of ‘heads in the area I’ve fished and luck of the draw. The Indiana DNR stocks more steelhead than any other species.

As we get into the summer season, I expect to see these hard-fighting, high jumping beauties on the ends of the line on an increasing basis. I suspect in a week or two or three, the summer run Skamania strain will start crowding the shorelines and steelhead will become the feature attraction.

‘Til then, it’s good to have broken the ice and completed the Brother Nature’s annual Grand Slam.  

Friday, May 25, 2012


Pick your favorite flavor!

It’s partly because I’m cheap and partly because I enjoy making and using handmade items. In this case, it’s both. A 10-pound downrigger weight from Cabelas costs 40 bucks. I can make one for 25 cents worth of propane, scavenged lead, a discarded beer can and a piece of wire coat hanger.

But does it work as well as an “engineered” store-bought weight?

I’m a professional skipper. I use what works and what works well, not just something that works “well enough.” We aren’t talking rocket science here - it’s a 10-pound weight!

If you don’t mind what the can looks like, the chore is very simple. Melt lead, pour it into an empty can, hold the wire attachment loop and release loop in place and fill the lead to the rim. The paint will burn off the can, but won’t melt the aluminum. Done.

To keep the paint from burning off takes a bit more effort. You will need a 1-foot square piece of half-inch or thicker plywood. Measure the diameter of the rim of your can. Measure the diameter of the barrel of the can. Cut a round hole in the plywood midway between these measurements so the plywood will sit on the can, but not slide over it.
I use rubber band releases but any kind will work

Find or make a container slightly shorter than a can. (It can be plastic.) Fill it with water. Put the plywood on the can and the can into the container of water. Now, the paint won’t burn off when the molten lead goes into the can.

I use a propane fish cooker for heat and melt the lead in a small cast-iron skillet. Any ol’ skillet will do, or any old pot. It’s not rocket science, it’s just melting lead.

Once the can is about 3/4-inch from being full, stick the wire loops in and let the lead cool until it’s hard and supporting the wires. Now add enough more molten lead to top off the can.

This is dangerous and you can be burned.
Do the project outdoors for fumes and to keep from burning your house down.
Molten lead and water don’t mix. Use the plywood, make sure the can is empty. Do the words “steam explosion” mean anything to you?
Use personal protective equipment - safety glasses, gloves, leather boots, etc. I don’t, but you should.

Depending on the exact alloy (wheel weights are different than pure lead which is different from bullet lead, etc.), a 12-ounce can will weigh within an ounce or so of 10 pounds.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Nephew Sam from my Webpage

I’m often questioned about bringing young kids along on Lake Michigan fishing trips. Do I have any policies regarding kids? Is there a minimum age? The answer is no.

One of the reasons I show my nephew, Sam on the front page of my website is to show that youngsters are welcome. Sam was only 6 or 7 when he caught the pictured salmon. My own son, Wade, started tagging along on Lake Michigan outings when he was five. Both of these youngsters, however, had been handling rods and reels almost since they could walk - maybe not for king salmon, but the motor skills needed to hold rods and crank reels are the same whether the fish on the end of the line is a 7-inch sunfish or a 17-pound salmon.
Family Outings can include Mom

I was reminded of this last weekend when both days featured a pair of young boys in the quartet of fishermen on board the Brother Nature. Each duo was similar in age, but not in fishing skills.

On Saturday, each salmon boated turned into something of a torture-test, requiring both youngster trying to hold the rod and crank the reel and the oldster also holding the rod and even assisting with winding in the fish. We boated most of the fish that bit, but few of the catches were stylishly simple.

Abby shows off youthful fishing skills. 
On Sunday, we actually lost more of our hook-ups, but that’s more a tribute to “fishing luck” than lack of skills. Each boy wielded the rods and cranked the reels like seasoned pros. Because they were experienced from early life like Sam and Wade.

My point in this essay is to encourage parents to get “toy” fishing gear for their kids. Even if it’s a cheap Snoopy pole or comes in bright pink for a daughter. That early familiarity could engender a life-long passion for fishing in particular and the outdoors in general.

If you are reading this and wondering about bringing your own youngster, don’t hesitate. We will make it work, regardless of experience. There’s no gain in leaving them home.

Monday, May 14, 2012


My Lake Ontario Coho

So what does a fishing guide do when he doesn’t have to go fishing for a few days? He goes fishing!

At least that’s what I do and it’s not so much that I go fish for panfish, since I so often fish for Great Lakes salmon and trout. Nothing against panfish, or walleye, or bass or most any other kind of fish.

I love Great Lakes salmon and trout and I love to fish for them. So when I showed up in Niagara Falls for the annual Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writer’s "Cast and Blast" and got the chance to hop on Capt. Bob Cinelli’s boat for a morning of Lake Ontario salmon fishing, I went.
Capt. Bob helps Berdette pose her fish.

Fellow AGLOWers, Berdette Zastrow and P.J. Perea came along and plenty of fish showed up for the morning fun, as well.

Did I learn anything? Probably.

Did I care much? Not really.

I just enjoyed not being in charge. Let Capt. Bob and mate Roy handle setting the lines, net the fish, swab the deck and all the other details. I took my turn at the rail. Caught a couple, whiffed on one, tossed back a little one and caught some nice fish.

Captain’s holiday! Tomorrow is more salmon and then some smallmouth in the afternoon. Wednesday is, well, who cares? I’m going fishing.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


I’m a somewhat lucky guy. You might say, lucky, though not richer.

Originals I Re-Scanned
My boat is fairly open to the weather. Despite that, I’m required by law to carry certain legal documents with me on the boat. All boaters need to keep their boat registration and have their fishing licenses available if they are angling. I need to keep my captain’s license, proof of enrollment in a random drug testing program and the various licenses required by Illinois and Indiana to be in business as a charter boat.

Because of the lack of secure and dry storage, I tuck all the necessary papers into a Rubbermaid container designed to carry a large, rectangular cake to a bake sale or party. The container fits into a storage compartment and even if it gets damp or a bit wind-blown, the snap-on lid keeps everything secure.

It’s been a good plan since I bought the boat in 2000. When the government sent me the documents and registrations, I stuck them in the plastic box. When someone bought a fishing license, I stuck the money in the box. Though I always worried about leaving the box out or open on windy days, everything I ever put in the box had to be removed manually.

Over the winter my computer’s printer crapped out on me and I bought another that happened to be a printer/scanner combo. Didn’t really need the scanner, but it was the cheapest model available.

So when the paperwork started piling up for licenses, registrations, inspections and all the rest in late winter, I started scanning the documents and putting the originals in a file, kept in my office. After 11 years, no accidents, I decided to play it safe.

Lucky me!  On Saturday morning I climbed aboard, removed a couple books of blank fishing licenses so I could make sure the attendees at the Sunday, writer’s outing were covered. Evidently, in my haste, I didn’t return the plastic box to the storage compartment.

After trailering the boat 55 miles to the marina, I climbed in to find a few papers wedged here and there on the deck, but most of the contents of the box were scattered along I-65 somewhere. Luckily, the books of unsold licenses (which are paid-in-advance) were rubber banded together and didn’t blow out. Unluckily, over $50 of “folding” money in the box is gone forever. Most fortunate, is that I was able to locate the original registrations and licenses, re-scan and restock the box.

Lesson learned?  Only time will tell for sure....

Monday, April 30, 2012

Sometimes lake trout are the only game in town on this end of Lake Michigan. Though some people disdain the “great gray trout,” I don't mind them at all. One of my boyhood dreams was to make an excursion to some far-off destination where I could tangle with lunker lakers. Now, I can do it in my own back yard. I accept a laker isn't a salmon and love ‘em for what they are.

Though lakers readily bite spoons, plugs, flies and other sorts of baits, few baits can outfish a simple winged spinner body such as a Spin-N-Glow or Mepps Prop run behind a dodger. A few years ago I started substituting a small trolling fly instead of the beads and bare hook behind the spinner body and for me, the bit of mylar improved the presentation's overall performance.

Then one day, caught off guard with a paucity of laker lures on board, the trout bite got so hot, they demolished the flies and left me with only a bare hook dangling behind my Spin-N-Glow. I had some Berkley Gulp minnows on board, however - small, 2 1/2-inchers left-overs from a recent perch fishing outing.

"What the heck," I thought as I skewered one of the plastic minnow bodies on the bare hook. The minnow gave a bit of bulk to the rear of the spin-n-glow and I've had good luck on many species of fish using Gulp.

One of the things the Berkley scientists who invented their Gulp products engineered into it was an ability to leave a scent trail as the bait is pulled through the water. Did it work?
In spades! The rod with the beat up lure and the Gulp minnow trailer, ended up getting the lion's share of the action the rest of that day; and since then, Gulp rigs have continued to work great.

The 2 1/2-inch shad minnows continue to work, but the new garlic flavored pinched nightcrawler segments are giving the laker lovers on my boat a hardy work out this year.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


I wish I could remember why I invented the stupid white spoon. I would imagine someone called me on the radio one day and told me they were “killing” the fish on a white spoon with black dots. I must have believed them.  
The STUPID WHITE SPOON is a reliable favorite.

I had a supply of magnum white spoon blanks I’d bought from Cabela’s a few years earlier. I’d spray paint them with fluorescent red paint to use as Skamania steelhead lures. The white finish was an undercoating that made the bright red even brighter. So I added a hook to one of the plain white spoons and used a Sharpie to add nine dots to it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained - and I could always paint over the dots.
Most Lake Michigan trolling spoons are bright, shiny, gaudy things. Many of them glow-in-the-dark. The patterns painted on them rival anything Picasso could have envisioned - or Timothy Leery while experimenting with LSD. A white spoon with nine black dots was, well, stupid. 

But I tried it and for some reason, the fish liked it.Perhaps it only catches the stupid fish with too few brains to recognize it as a stupid looking spoon. Perhaps it only catches the smartest fish. The one’s with enough brain-power to snub the holographic, mylar crusted, atomic coated lures everyone else is using. 
Buoyed by success, I made a couple more (for spares) and handed one to Capt. Doug Iliff to use on his boat one morning. Later, out on the lake the spoon got it’s official name. Doug called me on the radio and told me he’d just caught his biggest fish of the day on that Stupid White Spoon. The name stuck.
Kings, cohos, steelhead - it works for all of them. Lakers love ‘em. So do I. Of course, I’d like any lure that is as reliable as the Stupid White Spoon.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


I offer “gift certificates” of a sort for fishing trips on the Brother Nature. Instead of a fill-in-the-blanks form like you used to get from stores or the plastic gift cards you get these days, I send a letter that says something like:

Dear Mr. Lucky:
Your loving wife is giving you a special gift for your birthday, this year. You and three of your friends are going fishing on the Brother Nature.

Then I add other pertinent details, a brief run-down on how the season is going so far and prospects for the rest of the year. I send the letter to the gifter who can purchase a card and use the letter as an insert.
Since I accept credit cards, it works perfectly. The “giftee” doesn’t have to bring any money the day of the trip. It’s paid for - it’s a gift!

Ike dumped over 16 inches of rain on NW Indiana
Joe Davis was “Mr. Lucky” a few years ago but the stars seemed stacked against us. Joe picked a late September “king salmon” date but it turned out to be after Hurricane Ike came through and dumped a foot and a half of rain on the south end of the lake.

What happened to the fish after that much rain, no one knows, but there weren’t any to be caught.  “We’ll put it off until spring.”

The following spring came and then summer, then another season was gone. We kept in touch but our schedules just never matched up.

Joe and Joe Jr. with some of the "party favors." 

Happy Birthday Joe! We finally had Joe’s Birthday Party. There wasn’t any cake and ice cream, however. Not enough time for that and the eats would have had the distinct flavor of Lake Michigan trout and salmon. We did have a party with the fish!  Better late than never.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Lots of people love their jobs. Many doctors, truckers, blue-collar, white-collar - even no-collar laborers as much look forward to going to work each day as coming home at day’s end. But few of them love every part of their work. All would have an answer to the question, “What’s the thing you dislike most?”

I love my job as a charter fishing captain. I love to be on the water. I love being outdoors. I love the challenge of getting the fish to bite for my customers and I truthfully enjoy watching them reel in a big one more than if I had the fish on the line myself.

So what’s the worst thing about my job?  Boat maintenance? Compliance with government regulations? Reluctant fish? Snotty customers?

Nope - it’s predicting the weather.

Everyone has expressed amazement that meteorologists can mis-forecast the weather so much of the time and still stay employed. (Maybe that’s why they like their jobs.)

Easy for them, they work indoors. No matter if their light and variable wind predictions turn into unexpected gales. No matter if a slight chance of rain turns into downpours.  For charter captains, it’s different.

All of my customers are choosing to go fishing with me over other leisure time activities. No one gets off work to go fishing, they plan for it. If they are out on the Brother Nature, they aren’t camping or golfing or staying home to putter in the garden. So if I’m wrong, not only do I subject my people to a miserable day on the lake, I exclude them from a different, probably more enjoyable activity.

This couple drove from Central Illinois to fish with me. 
Many of my fishermen come from afar. I’ve had them fly in to fish with me. Most drive several hours or more. I once had a guy drive non-stop from Slidell, Louisiana.

So I have to be better than the weather bimbos and staff meteorolgists. I have to be better than the weekend interns the government leaves in charge on weekends at the National Weather Service. I have to sift through and analyze forecasts that predict winds 10 to 20 miles per hour.

There’s about 5 feet of wave height difference between 10 and 20 miles per hour. There’s no such thing as a passing thunderstorm if it passes over the boat when we are 10 miles out in the lake.

So I’m sitting here side-lined on a white-capped weekend. Saturday was an easy call. Northeast gales always keeps the boat on the trailer. This time yesterday, however, the pros were calling for fairly calm seas for today. I didn’t much believe them.

I bet they are inside, maybe still in bed. Perhaps the interns are looking at the data and wondering what went wrong. The lake's weather buoys are registering east gales and showing 10-footers on the lake.

 Though I’m happy I made the right call, this time, I’m looking ahead to Tuesday when my next outing is scheduled. It’s not looking good. Wednesday looks better but what about the rain?  Thursday - I won’t even believe my own prediction for Thursday on a Sunday morning.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Reed, Jim, Doug and Roger with some of their
Ill-Weather trout.
Doug Wheelock and a group of his friends from Northwest Iowa show up every April for a few days of fishing on the Brother Nature. I won’t say we haven’t seen the best Lake Michigan can offer on a few occasions, but it sure seems we get a good dose of the worst weather each year or at least some years, as well.

Had the weatherman been right, the recent “Iowegian” outing would have been about on par. Great weather was predicted on day one, turning to so-so weather for Friday and iffy to downright dangerous forecasts were posted for Saturday.

The weatherman couldn’t have gotten it much farther from the mark. Thursday was okay, but we fished in 2 to 3 foot waves most of the day, though sunny and bright.

What would Friday bring, when more wind was added to the mix in advance of an approaching front. In a word, nothing. The wind calmed and the waves subsided making for another bright, sunny day with plenty of fish caught.

Saturday, with all day storms, lightning and wind did prove to be different from the first two days. No wind gave us slick calm seas but the skies were overcast. If anything, that made the fishing even better.

With the season running a month or so early from the warm spring, we targeted lake trout on the Indiana Shoals, a huge sandbar that juts out into Lake Michigan from Lake County, Indiana. The lakers invade the shoals to chow down on gobies and at times it seems the bottom is layered with the great gray trout. 

Limits were taken daily, along with a few salmon but the important thing is the fun and excitement each trip brings to the group.  I’m already looking forward to next year - though there’s plenty enough left of this year to keep things interesting, I’m sure.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Ray Shepard earned the LOSER tag! 

Chapter 1)  I know how the black lace brassier got into my tackle box and I laughed at my friend’s effort to “punk” me. In fact, I stuck the fancy lingerie garment in the back of the Brother Nature’s glove compartment and used it as a “joke” prop to pull out occasionally when the fishing was slow.

I’d hold it up and tell the others, “You should have been on board last week when one of the customers left this!”

Chapter 2) I pulled out the black bra and told the joke one day when my customers and I were experiencing some frustrating action. We were getting lots of bites, but an inordinately large percentage of the fish were becoming unhooked before they could be pulled close enough to net aboard the boat.

I don’t know who thought of it or why, but one of the customers, seconds after losing yet another fish, ended up with the black bra strapped across his upper torso (at least it was on the outside of his jacket). Donning the bra became a penalty for losing a fish and the lingerie had to stay on until the “loser” redeemed himself by successfully boating one later.

I also don’t know just what the wives of these guys may have thought when they were shown the photos taken on board that day.
Can he be redeemed?

Chapter 3) I thought it was a good joke - but not right for every group and I could understand that some guests would view the penalty as being downright distasteful. Still....

So I resurrected a neck-strap name tag holder, printed up and fitted the holder with a card having “ LOSER” printed on it in bright red ink.

Now, when an angler whiffs on a few fish or displays a particularly poor fish-fighting technique resulting in a lost fish, out comes the LOSER tag. Usually, a few seconds after having this badge of dishonor bestowed, out come the cameras. The morose of losing a nice fish is transformed into fun and good natured ribbing. Again, hooking and boating the next fish allows the “loser” to remove the garnishment - and whoa to the next loser!

After all, if you aren’t having fun, what fun is it?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


    There’s a saying among salmon fishermen: “A coho is a silver, the chinook is a king.”  It’s partly a maxim to ease the confusion between the Native American names for the two species of salmon and the names Europeans have given these fish. What Indians call coho salmon, English-speaking people call silver salmon. The Indian’s chinook salmon is the Anglo’s king salmon.

Nathan Eaton boated the first king
of the year on the Brother Nature
 But it’s more than that. The chinooks (or kings) are truly the kings of the salmon world. Both for size – the world record king is over 90 pounds, the world record coho is barely a third that size - and also for fighting ability.

  It’s easy math to say a larger fish fights harder than a smaller fish. But what if you were to hook a 7-pound king salmon to a 7-pound coho salmon?

The answer is subjective; since, to my knowledge, no one has ever done the experiment. But I’ve caught plenty of 7-pound coho and equally sized chinooks. The chinooks are much stronger. I think in the above “species to species” tug-o-war, the winner (you could say the “king” of the competition) would be the chinook.

   That’s not to say the cohos aren’t spunky and deserving of the “silver” medal in the contest. The two species react completely different when hooked to a lure, fishing line, rod, reel and fisherman. Cohos are more prone to jumping during their struggle, less prone to making long reel-torturing runs and very prone to spinning like a dervish when brought to the surface and into the landing net. The kings do make long runs - repeatedly - and are tough to wear down.

King salmon will bring a smile to
any angler's face. 
    It’s the way kings fight that bring a smile to knowing Great Lakes anglers when they hear good numbers of chinook salmon are being caught. Just whisper “the kings are in” and watch a salmon fisherman’s eyes glaze as he ponders his immediate (non-fishing) schedule, the weather forecast and other factors that stand between going toe to toe (hand to fin?) with some Great Lakes kings.

     Kings don’t usually get active until the water temperature in the lake warms solidly past 40 degrees and they kick into their spring feeding frenzy when the alewives move close to shore to spawn. That’s now!

    I told my fishermen yesterday it looked good on the sonar when huge schools of alewives showed close to the shoreline. I set some likely lures just above the swarms of spawners. Before the day was done, each of my guests had tangled with one or more of the king-chinooks, as well as a bevy of coho-silvers.

    As they left they told me, “Be sure to let us know next spring when ‘the kings are in’!”

Sunday, March 25, 2012


My cell phone rang as I sat waiting for my customers to show. "We are parked by the yacht club."

"Okay," I reply, I'm in the boat down at the boat ramps. Head back for the marina entrance and you'll find me. You can walk or drive down here and park. It’s not far.”

Ten minutes later, still no customers. (It’s only a 100 yards or so.) So I hit the “dial the last number” buttons on my cell phone and ask the guy if he’s gotten lost.
After a short pause, he said, “I’m on your boat.”
A nice brown trout was the trophy catch of the day 
“There’s no one on my boat but me,” I told him after a quick check.  The Brother Nature isn’t that big and it’s impossible to hide on it, but I checked anyway.

Then the customer said, “Oh, we’re on the wrong boat!”

I looked over to the D - Dock where I’d seen Capt. Mike Evano loading his customers a few minutes earlier.  Captain Evano looked over at me and waved.

Evidently, my group came walking along asking for Captain Mike and they were Shanghaied aboard Lakeside Charters.

It’s an easy mistake to make at the East Chicago Marina. Besides myself, there’s Captain Mike Orr, Five Orrs Charters, Captain Mike Tapper, N-Pursuit Charters, Captain Mike Evano, Lakeside Charters and Captain Mike Florey of Shadow Charters. I’m suprised this sort of mistake doesn’t happen more often.
Maybe it does, to the others. It was a first for me.

Once we got all the people on the right boats (the Lakeside customers showed up a few minutes later), we headed out for a frustrating day, losing as many salmon as we boated. Still, a fat brown trout ended up being the big fish for the day and there were plenty of coho filets in the ziplocks as they headed for home. (If they can find it.)

Monday, March 19, 2012


BoatUS Foundation has a new marina "butt pollution"
I gave up smoking 30-some  years ago but I’ll admit that before I did, I often tossed my cigarette butts into the lake when I was fishing. I didn’t consider myself a litterbug and would never have tossed empty bottles or cans overboard, plastic bags or any other “non-biodegradable” refuse. But butts were small, and I thought the remnants of the filtered Marlboros I smoked were made from a biodegradable packing that would “go away” in a short time.

Maybe that was true back in the 1980s, but now most cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate, an early form of plastic still used in eyeglass frames and the textile industry. Cellulose acetate can last for decades in the environment.

The idea to write this blog came from a news release from the BoatUS Foundation announcing a continuation and expansion of their 2011 Cigarette Litter Prevention program which provided permanent and portable ashtrays at participating marinas.  http://www.BoatUS.com/foundationcigarettesurvey
The project proved successful in making it easier for smokers to snub out their smokes properly, rather than pitching the butts overboard or squashing them on the docks.

I think the Cigarette Litter Prevention program is great. I also think that most smokers, if they understood their cellulose acetate filters are more than just a temporary bit of litter, can police themselves.

Smoking on a boat is okay, but be reasonable and
dispose of your butts properly. 
So if you are a smoker and a boater, use an ashtray and dispose of your butts just as you would any other kind of trash. The money from the BoatUS Foundation can then be used to fund solutions to problems you didn’t cause.

Though I don’t smoke and wish everyone would quit smoking, I view the issue as a personal choice. The Brother Nature is an open boat so while on board, smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em. I don’t carry matches and haven’t got a cigarette lighter. And don’t toss the butts overboard.