Manistee King Salmon Tournament

By: Milton F. Whitmore

It was only a one day affair, but from the 5:30AM meeting in the parking lot at the boat launch to the goodbyes in the early evening, it was one busy, fun filled 12 hours.

lake michigan salmonOnce again, members of the online site MichiganSportsman.com gathered for a day of fishing adventure. Salmon and trout were the target and we planned to fish Lake Michigan out of Manistee, a port well known for its excellent big lake fishery. Each boat anted up $20 of which $10 would be pooled for the winning team and the other tenspot went into a kitty awarded to the largest fish. Species were given points with lake trout being at the low end at five and brown trout sitting atop the list, being worth 25 points. Each team would weigh in six fish. The winners were to be determined by combining weight with points. The first three places would be in the money.

Ten boats, captained and/or crewed by members of the MichiganSportsman online site, set out in the predawn darkness on Saturday, August 31st. We planned to monitor channel 69 on the marine radio to banter back and forth and share information. This was to be a fun tournament, rather than the cutthroat variety of such events, where friendships are forged rather than avoided.

I was a part of Team Danno. Danno, otherwise known as George Munn of Metamora, MI, put together a crew of his son Dan, Toto, and myself, known as Whit on the site. We headed south from the pierheads on a lake scudded with two foot rollers created by a stiffening east wind.

When the sonar unit showed we were crossing the dropoff marking “The Shelf”, I slowed the boat. Danno and Toto began to set lines. We were using a combination of downriggers with spoons, rods set with dipsey divers, hoochie mommas, and green flies, as well as two rods with J-plugs and weighted to go down to about 40 feet. The surface temperature of the lake was 70ºF and we knew there was a significant break at the 40 foot mark.

The four of us waited in quiet anticipation for the morning’s first action. Thirty minutes passed without a strike, and the radio was quiet. The freshening east wind was kicking up rollers of 2-3 feet as well trolled, the shore lights being masked by the lights of a hundred or more boats, moving along in their search for salmon.. A sudden burst of energy over the radio brought us to life again. “I’m having a Caz attack”, blurted Caznik. He and his crew were onto a fish.

This brought other boats in the tourney to thumb their microphones and we learned that other fish, large kings, were being hooked with many already in the coolers. We trolled on. No hits and nothing in the cooler for our efforts

As the first hint of light banded its way in a tiny sliver across the eastern horizon, one of the highlines, fitted with a silver J-plug snapped into action. Danno grabbed the rod with a well rehearsed motion who’s smoothness and fluidity told of his experience. Line “zinged” off the reel signaling a fish of large proportions trying to make his escape westward toward the distant Wisconsin fishing shore. Unfortunately the line soon went slack announcing the success of the fish’s escape attempt. Upon reeling in the line we found it had broken just above the lure.

In quick order we hooked and lost four other fish. In the meantime the radio crackled with cries of, “Can’t talk, got a fish on”….”Another Caz attack”…..”Stien strikes again.”, and other such announcements of fish action. However, our spirits never flagged.

I had been eyeing the box of plastic wrapped muffins Danno had brought along to stave off starvation and any requests to, “Let’s go in, I gotta get something to eat.” They were king sized muffins of assorted variety. I choose a banana/nut specimen and began to nibble away. Just like that a fish hit a downrigger rod next to me. Grabbing the rod, I set the hooks into a fish which we boated in short order. It was a coho of about 6 lbs. The spell had been broken. Was it the muffin?

Finishing off the tasty treat, I sat and we waited. Nothing!

It was suggested that I eat another muffin. I obliged with a blueberry gem. On the third bite a rod shuddered with a fish and I deftly took it in hand and soon a lake trout of about 9 lbs. was flopping in the net. Indeed, it was another “muffin fish”. Since I began to dive into those muffins, we were two for two in hooked and landed fish. With this in mind, Toto handed me another muffin. By this time flavor did not seem to matter. “Here’s another one Whit.”, is all he said.

Radio traffic told us that we had a lot of ground to make up. Trapper, Big Rig, Tgafish, Tkpolsek, DanP and Steelyhead, all were into fish and they boasted of their size.

I was half way through the muffin when a fish struck, and almost immediately, a second rod bounced with the take of a fish, which was just as quickly lost. A king salmon, the first of the morning. The marine radio traffic told us that we really needed to get some weight into the box. The cohos were all under 10 lbs and we were running behind the other boats.

Another muffin was offered and I eyed it balefully. After a mild protest, I began the slow consumption of the baked goodie. Except, by this time, they were not quite so “good”. I was getting “muffined out.” I was entering into a muffin induced daze by this time, but the fish gods smiled and we boated another king salmon. This one was pushing the 20 lb. mark we estimated. Crew Danno, aboard the Munnee II, was making a comeback and so it was announced over the radio.

Within the next few hours I consumed more muffins than I care to think about, none of which were of the bran variety, thank the Lord. When fishing slowed, the three non-eating members of the crew would entice me with another offering. We had netted eight fish, but badly needed another king for its weight. It was now getting close to 1PM. The weigh in at the launch parking lot would take place at 2:00 and we were about four miles from the pierheads. Time was getting short.

Toto and Dan suggested that I eat one more muffin. “It’s for the team Whit.”

I vehemently protested. I could take no more, but they would have none of that. While Danno piloted the boat, his son Dan and Toto tackled me as I tried to escape. They stretched my back over the gunnel of Munnee II so that my head arched downward over the side. With Toto sitting on my chest they force fed me another muffin. I have no idea what kind it was. Danno, our fearless coach went intto his Knute Rockne mode and pleaded with me to “Eat one more for the Flipper.” .

With the muffin gone and crumbs rolling off my chest, the two muffin stuffers let me up. Right on cue, a long inactive rod burst downward with a strike. We landed this fish, our last and it was a king salmon of about 12 lbs.

It was time to head in.

Out of ten teams we ended up in 5th place with 142 pts. The combo of DonP, otherwise known as Don Peterson who fishes out of South Haven, MI and Steelyhead, better known to his friends as Art Bukowski of Grosse Pte, MI. Had an outstanding day of fishing. Art is a student at Michigan State University in East Lansing and had never landed a salmon over 10 lbs. Don and Art won both the total points contest and the prize for the largest fish. Their 207 pts. and a fish of 25 lbs. garnered both prizes. Steelyhead not only landed his first 10+ lbs., but he also landed several that were over the 20 lb. mark.

Trouttracker/Larry Monroe of Hastings, MI and his partner Steinfishski/Tim Stein of Grand Rapids earned 2nd place with 187 pts. Using wire line was their key to success.

Using wire line with dipseys and/or hoochie mommas trollng flies was the secret for the largest fish.

The weigh in was followed by what has become a MichiganSportsman tradition, a potluck feast. Since this was a purely male oriented banque; there was nary a carrot or celery stick in sight. None of that raw broccoli or cauliflower dipped in some flavored white sauce for this crew. Elk steaks, corn on the cob grilled over charcoal, venison BBQ, a great homemade and hot salsa, zesty potato salad, baked, beans, stout venison chili, and so much more made up this well supplied table.

All too soon evening crept on and “goodbyes” were exchanged and comments of, “Let’s do this next year”, were expressed. And indeed we shall. Danno and Toto will bring along a ready supply of muffins you can be sure.

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