4:00 am, September 6th, 2014 – I woke up from my camper in the parking lot of Manitowoc Marina in Wisconsin on the shoreline of the Great Lake Michigan. Little did I know today would be the day of my most memorable catch of the 2014 season. The sky was clear and packed with stars; the air was calm and crisp. I had hardly slept the night before because this was the morning of the 1st Great Lakes Kayak Fishing Series King Salmon Tournament and I had a lot on my mind.
It was early, and I was the only person at the boat launch. This was because I was the organizer of the fishing tournament and although I wished I could enter the event this time it was more important that everything ran smoothly. The time was now 7:30 am and everyone had pushed off to start the competition an hour and a half ago leaving me on shore looking at an empty tent with a table full of great prizes and awards strewn all about it.
By now the sun was fully up, there was hardly a cloud in the sky and the wind was about 8-10mph from the west. If you only knew one thing about king salmon fishing on the western shore of Lake Michigan it is that a westerly wind is a good thing. This is because the air mass pushes the warm surface waters away from the shore thus creating a convection current that then pulls in cooler water underneath from out deeper in the lake. This attracts bait fish to the mouths of rivers along the lake and thus entices king salmon from the depths in search of an easy meal before they head up river to spawn for the season. The weather conditions seemed perfect for this time of year and it was evident by the sheer number of power boaters and kayak anglers out on the water on this beautiful morning.
So I decided to load my boat up with my fishing gear and head out to take some video and photos of the action. I pedaled around for two hours in my Hobie Pro Angler 14 and got some great action shots, grip-n-grins, and some intense video of tournament competitors fighting king salmon from kayaks. It was at this point that I noticed a huge bait ball on my Lowrance Elite-5DSI sonar screen with a couple of large streaks behind it, lots of king salmon! I hit the man overboard function instantly without thinking creating a temporary waypoint in that location. “I have to fish,” I told myself. I kept my digital camera on and ready, while grabbing my lucky fishing rod. It was given to me by my father while we were on a Boy Scouts trip to Florida; it was cheap, over 15 year’s old, and had been repaired 3-4 times, but still caught fish like a champ. I attached my best producing bait a Luhr Jensen Kwikfish, to my 15 pound P-line fluorocarbon leader attached to 30lb PowerPro line on a Penn Fierce reel. Kwikfish Lures have a super loud internal rattle and very powerful wobble action that creates a ton of turbulence, something King Salmon love. My other rod had a wiggle wart attached to it, a bait that I have heard good things about even though it was still relatively new to me. By the time I had both my rods setup and looked down at my GPS I was about 1,000 feet past the location I had marked all the fish at. I pulled an abrupt 180 degree turn and dropped both of my lines in the water with one about 75ft back and the other 100ft. I secured both rods in a rod holder and locked them in.
I had a clear path ahead of me for a good half mile and I knew no one else had trolled through the area I had just marked. ‘They’re all mine!” I thought to myself. But as I approached and passed through the area I had just marked I noticed it was quiet… There was nothing, the sonar was clean, EMPTY. I grabbed my camera to take a photo of someone and then “whaaaaam, ziiiiiiiiing”. “Fish on, fish on!” I yelled at the top my lungs. The rod on my right (armed with my favorite lure) slammed back, and doubled over the rod bending the tip towards the water. I instinctively gave my kayak a good four or five solid pedal strokes in order to bury the hook into the fishes mouth and about 50-75 feet of line went out in a few seconds.
I instantly knew that this was a decent fish on the line. However, I was in a tight spot now with a lot of power boats and kayaks in my vicinity so I decided not to reel my other line in first but rather gain control of this fish. I tightened the drag and reeled in about 50 feet of line and then there was a huge splash on the surface off to my right at about four o’clock, drag was peeling from my reel again. Next thing I know the fish was coming full speed on a slight angle towards me and I could hardly keep up with it. The fish was now on the left side of the kayak. I had about 50 feet of line out as I could see the silver of the fish just below the surface. I tried to calm down because this is the part where I am most likely to lose this fish.
By now the kayak had done a complete 360 and I was tangled in the line from my other rod as it was wrapped around me and the kayak at least once. Still sitting down, I passed the rod with the fish on it under the line from my other rod, one more pass around the line and it was free. I was now able to stand in my kayak to get the line up and over the mess I had created earlier by not reeling in the other line. The water was choppy, but I was standing and fighting a 20lb plus king salmon, awesome! At this point about 3 minutes had gone by and I finally had the fish untangled and tired out. She took one last small run then turned and came around the bow of the kayak again and on the right side. I rushed to put my landing net into the water and just as I had my arm fully extended the fish slammed into the back of the net and went wild. The salmon used the last of its energy to give my arm a pretty good shake before I was able to gain full control and bring the beast on board. With the fish still in my net I put my legs over it and held it down.
I removed the hooks, placed the salmon on a large stringer and then into my fish cooler bag for added security and headed for the shore. The king salmon measured 35 inches and was a pretty good sized fish for the day. Two 37 inch Salmon where caught during the event with many in the lower to middle 30 inch range. It’s not extremely uncommon to catch a 30lb+ king salmon out of Lake Michigan. Fishing for king salmon is the most challenging and rewarding species an angler can chase here in the Midwest. In the summer months the fish are out deep many miles from shore usually making them inaccessible to kayak anglers, but in the fall when they come in close it is all I can think about for a couple months. They are a fierce and powerfully strong species and have earned the name king salmon for this reason.