Trout, salmon make music on Lake Michigan
The rhythmic notes of Bob Marley wafted across the water nearly in cadence with the swaying of our chartered cabin cruiser as Adam, the first mate, slipped a landing net under a big brown trout and swung it onto the aft deck.
Several pictures later, I placed the colorful fish into a cooler and stepped aside to give one of my three fishing partners a chance to land a Lake Michigan trophy.
Actually, stepping would have been the preferred way to do it. As I moved back to my seat, the 3-foot swells got the best of me and I lost my balance and fell to my knees.
"Guess I need some time to get my sea legs!" I yelled over the music as I regained my footing and looked up to see everyone staring at me in amusement.
So maybe "Grace" isn’t my middle name, but with the constant rocking of the boat, we all struggled a bit to keep our footing, especially when fighting a fish.
Not that we were overly concerned about injury — bites had been slow and we didn’t want to lose one of the many big salmon, steelhead, or trout that we knew were in the depths below.
The cruiser itself made quite a sight. The aft gunwales of the 33-foot craft were adorned with fishing rods. Rod holders stuck out at every angle, making efficient use of the available space and the array of fishing lines sang in the wind, extending a hundred yards or more behind the boat.
To entice the fish, we trolled, mostly with multicolored flashers followed by mylar flies. Some of the rods were equipped with classic trout and salmon spoons, though flies seemed to attract the most strikes.
In order to direct the lures to specific locations and depths, fishing lines were attached to downriggers, dipsy divers, or planer boards, which are standard tools of the trade for fishing the big water.
Along with knowledge, skill, and luck, some charter boat captains insert just a little superstition — especially when it comes to the music they play while fishing. Ours was no exception. Marley had been Adam’s choice, and it seemed to work.
After some classic Lynrd Skynrd failed to produce fish, he switched to reggae — and one by one, the rods began to quiver violently. "The steelhead like Marley" the high school student said with a grin.
Scott Williamson took the first strike, a stout king salmon that had other destinations in mind as he wrestled it to the stern of the boat, where Adam stood ready with the net.
Next came my turn, and not long after I slipped the fat brown trout into the cooler, John Rasmusson horsed a 9-pound steelhead toward the waiting net.
I’m not a superstitious person and generally prefer other music styles, but with a few fish in the cooler, reggae was quickly becoming my new favorite. "You never know what makes the fish bite" our captain, Lee Haasch, said with a mischievous smile.
"But maybe, just maybe, it’s Marley!"
As it often happens, though, the bite slowed down again, causing Adam to search for another tune to attract the capricious fish. I don’t remember what he selected this time — Bob Seger, maybe Neil Young.
But not long afterward, Lee Alaspa, the fourth member of our party, hooked into another good steelhead and we were back in business.
By the end of the weekend, we’d boated more than a dozen big salmon and steelhead — and four newcomers to Lake Michigan fishing were now hooked.
Back at the dock, we watched Captain Lee deftly fillet our catch.
"So, do you want me to put you down for the same time next year?" he asked as he worked.
"Next year?" I thought to myself as we pondered his question. "I’ll be ready to come back next week — and I’d even bring my own music!"
Chris Kolbert is a freelance outdoors writer from St. Charles.