One for the Blooper Reel

The phrase was, “It’s on!”

There was a hot salmon and trout bite—one reminiscent of those good-old days, but one that was not seen in years. It was happening along the western coast of The Big Lake in the summer of 2016. After a two-year hiatus my buddy Joe and I dusted off the salmon gear and headed out of the Sheboygan harbor that was stifling in the late July evening.

After a short, but pleasant cooling run on the smooth waters, we shut ‘er down on the north edge of the fleet in 50 feet of water. We slowly deployed our six-rod set. With no great expectations, we had just begun to kick back when we were suddenly and rudely interrupted by a downrigger rod gone wild with what proved to be a crazy 10-pound coho on its line. It was the first of four salmon—another only slightly smaller coho and two nice kings in the low teens—that we boated in the next couple hours.

Then the slightest hint of an easterly breeze began to stir, brushing the 48-degree water close. We were only in shorts and T-shirts, so we went back to the welcoming warmth of the shore. After sliding the boat back on the trailer, we agreed—since we were back in the swing of things—we’d better take another run at them the next morning.

Not usually up for the pre-dawn starts, we were purposely tardy and not surprised to find the parking lot at the ramp nearly full when we arrived, which was well after sunrise. And then we saw an imposing wall of fog that had started just beyond the lighthouse.

We were electronically equipped as well as most anglers. So we knew where we would be in the fog, so the weather was not an issue. However, playing bumper boats in the low visibility is never fun, especially when everyone is packed into the nearshore waters as they were.

So, our start to this day wasn’t a happy one either. And it went downhill from there.

Having felt our way through the soup, we finally began to set our simple rig. First out were a pair of leadcore lines on boards, and next came a couple of Dipsy Divers. But when I stopped the first downrigger at 30 feet, the cable snapped—after 20 years of faithful service a pre-trip inspection wouldn’t have been such a bad idea. So, with our other downrigger still serviceable, we now had only five rods in play.

Then, after conversation in an apparently nearby but invisible boat that was barely audible, I happened to be studying the gloom beyond a trolling board.

That’s when I saw it react to a violent strike.

Joe caught it too. And no sooner than I had the rod in hand, snap—the line broke between the rod tip and the fog-swallowed board. We were new to this leadcore stuff, and we had learned the hard way that the 17-pound-test variety didn’t cut it.

So we were down to only four rods. We now had the nagging feeling in our guts of What’s next? We were not enjoying ourselves very much.

But then the remaining board suddenly took a smashing hit.

Knowing we had to play it as easy as we could, Joe loosened the drag on the screamer as much as he could while I cleared the other lines.

When I was finally able to slide the net under the 24 pounds of gleaming silver, I was totally exhausted. It was a “day-making” king salmon.

The scales of fortune had apparently tipped in our favor. From then on, things only got better.

The fog burned off, and with the “inshore” bite shut down, we happily headed east where we ran into some typically acrobatic, humbling rainbows. Though our hook-up percentage was comically low, we still managed to put a few in the box before we called it a day.

This Lake Michigan trip may have been one for the blooper reel, but Joe and I agreed it was memorable.