Clarkin’ the Big Fish Bash 2007
The second week of July brings the week-long tournament “The Big Fish Bash” to the western shores of Lake Michigan. Formerly known as “Salmon-a-Rama”, the event is hosted by the Wisconsin Salmon Unlimited Club, based out of Racine, Wisconsin. Club President Craig Bender and the members of Wisconsin SU do an absolutely fantastic job with the organization of this event. The eight-day long competition provides anglers the chance at winning not only cash, but also a boat-package, electronics, tackle, and rigging prizes. Anglers must purchase a $30.00 ticket in order to be eligible for any prizes. Many different divisions are open for anglers, including Off-Shore Boat, On-Shore, Kayak, and Youth. Another added bonus for the event is that any fish caught by hook and line methods in Lake Michigan can qualify for the event, providing the angler paid for a ticket prior to catching their fish. There are also two mini-tournaments within the event, the “Two-on-a-Boat” tournament and the “Silver Sweeps”.
I’ve been fishing The Big Fish Bash for the last 6 years. Last season, I fished the entire week with Bird Dog aboard the Playinhooky; except for the Silver Sweeps, which we fished with my good friend Trollinator. Red Rider also made the trip down to fish with us for a few days, and brought some very tasty goodies courtesy of Team Heavy Mom Shirley. Bird Dog landed an 18# 10oz. king in the Two-on-a-Boat tourney that was 5th on the Big Fish board for a day or two, but was subsequently knocked off as time wore on. We finished in the middle of the pack in the Two-on-a-Boat and the Silver Sweeps tourneys. It was an exhausting week, and Bird Dog and I both agreed that we should try to scale things back a bit for 2007.
I met up with Bobby (Bird Dog) on the eve of the 2007 event at Simmons Island Marina in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Bobby slips his boat there each season, as does Trollinator and a few other Educatedangler.com members. The forecast was for very rough seas the next day, so we opted to fish with Bobby’s buddy Mark, aboard his 29’ Carver “Double Trouble.” Bobby had recently met a young gentleman (Jeff) from the area who primarily fishes the piers and shoreline around Kenosha, but who really wanted to get into fishing from a boat. Never one to shy away from taking out a newbie, Bobby called Jeff and told him to meet us at the dock at 4:30am the next morning.
With everyone on board, Mark motored out of the channel at Kenosha to find heavy rollers from the south waiting for us to clear the pier heads. Cold water had been very close to shore as of late, and most of the fishing was taking place straight out in front in less than 50 FOW. We decided that we would limit our spread to 5 rods initially, deploying 3 downriggers, a braid diver, and a wire diver. It didn’t take long and the wire diver started to scream, and I handed the rod to Jeff. Soon he landed a very nice mature king of about 16#. Little did I know, this was Jeff’s first fish from a boat on Lake Michigan. As I reached for the camera, two of the rigger rods popped and the game was on. We fished in the slop for about 5 hours, managing to boat 11 total fish for 17 bites, with two cohos, a brown, and 8 very nice kings. Hot sets for this day were a Blue Bubble Spin Doctor w/ Little Boy Blue fly on the wire diver, Northport Cantaloupe 300 series spoon on the slider, blue/green dolphin Fishlander off the riggers, and also a trash-can Opti-dodger and green crinkle fly off the outdown rigger. Jeff had a great time, and he was grateful for the invite from Bobby and Mark.
Once back at the dock, it was nice to put our feet on solid ground. Battered and bruised from setting lines, netting fish, and basically just trying to stay vertical, which had proved difficult throughout the morning. There was one casualty from the morning trip, as one of Mark’s rigger booms snapped right in front of Bobby as he was lowering the weight into the water. Upon further inspection, it seemed that an error in the manufacturing of the boom section was at fault. Thank goodness Bobby wears his “fishing gloves” as he was able to hand-line the rigger weight back into the boat. More about those “magic gloves” later….
Bobby and I decided to forgo the Two-on-a-Boat on Sunday, and instead once again Clarked the Double Trouble. Mark invited a friend along for the ride, and he made a great first impression by showing up at the dock with a full carafe of coffee. I almost hugged him…but held off. We found the lake to be in a much better mood on that morning, with small leftover fetch from the day before gently rocking the Double Trouble as we left the harbor. We deployed all 4 riggers, two divers, and added a 6 and an 8 color leadcore to the spread. We also ran free-sliders on two of the riggers. Fishing was not fast and furious, but we picked away at the fish and ended up going 14 for 19 for the morning, with the majority of the fish coming on the leadcore. The size of the fish was smaller than the previous morning, but we definitely had a nice mix; landing kings, cohos, a brown, and two rainbows. I lost a very nice lake trout at the back of the boat which would have completed our Great Lakes Grand Slam for the morning. I know…BFG dumps another one.
Sunday evening found us driving up to Racine to hook up with some very good friends while they were attending the Captain’s meeting for the Silver Sweeps tournament which was to be held the next day. My long-time friend Capt. Steve (Trollinator) approached Bobby and I about fishing the tournament with him and two others the next day. Bobby and I just looked at each other and quickly said…”you betcha budro…” Soon after, we noticed Chinookeith cleaning fish at the table, and it was nice to chat with him for awhile. Thanks for the slimey handshake, Keith! We soon parted ways, as we had to be back up in Racine by 4:00am to leave the dock for the tourney, and we were in need of sleep.
My Mom always said nothing good ever happens between 12:00am and 5:00am, and the next morning proved her correct once again. The alarm went off at 2:45am, and Bobby and I somehow managed to make it to the truck on time for the trek up to Racine. Needing coffee badly, I put Bobby in charge of finding an open gas station. This proved to be no easy task at 3:30am in Racine. We traversed the downtown and marina areas for 15 minutes or so, and eventually we saw lights ahead at a Citgo station. When we pulled into the lot, I was a bit surprised to see a whole bunch of folks mingling around. I slid out of the truck, and I heard the door lock behind me. Hmm…. Needless to say, the station was out of coffee, but I did have offers to purchase many other things; but I had to decline for fear of prosecution or possibly hospitalization.
We jumped on board the Trollinator at 4:00am on the dot and were greeted with egg and cheese omelettes, along with some much needed coffee. You would have thought the zoo was feeding the lions. For sure, Captain Steve has as many of the comforts of home as possible aboard his 28’ Sea Sport. “Fishing doesn’t have to be uncomfortable in any way, shape, or form” according to him.
Steve and his buddy Dave had fished the Two-on-a-Boat the day before, and had finished 5th out of 78 boats, weighing 10 nice kings for a total of 121#. The decision was made to start where they had left off the previous day, which was about a mile south of the Root River channel in 40 FOW. We would be weighing 15 fish for the tourney, and with the faces and names that we saw at the Captain’s meeting, we knew the competition would be stiff. At the 5:00am start time, we set 4 downriggers (2 w/ flasher/fly combos, 2 with spoons), a wire (flasher/fly) and braid diver (flasher/fly), and a 4 color leadcore (yellow/orange splatter #5 J-plug) on a board. Half way through the set, the starboard stern rigger fired and I landed a chunky coho. Over the next 90 minutes or so, there were several other cohos that came to the boat, and one small king. A bit frustrated, the discussion was started as to where the larger kings had moved to, and how long we would wait to try and go find them. Warmer water had moved into the area based on what the Fish Hawk was telling us. That discussion lasted about 4 minutes, and we were soon pulling lines and running north towards Milwaukee, to an area that we have fished a few times in the past, and one that seems to always hold fish.
An unsettling sight greeted us as we approached the area; that being the total lack of any other boats in the area. Not that we wanted to fish in traffic, but the idea that none of the other boats were there raised some doubts amongst the crew and captain. Regardless, we had burned 60 minutes of fishing time with our pick up and then run. We got busy setting out everything just as before (with a change in spoon pattern to purples and blacks) as the clouds grew dark and rain started to fall. It was 9:15am, and we had exactly 3 hours to catch 12 fish for our tourney limit. I can’t recall just how many lines we had in the water, but I looked at my watch at 9:20 and suddenly heard the tell-tale yell that we all live for….FISH ON!!!!!!!!! And what a fish…screaming line off the reel of the braid diver out to 500’, and the battle was on. Minutes later we had our first good king of the day, a fish that approached 17# on the Boga-Grip. “Let’s do that again” said Capt. Steve. And again we did…and again, and again…and again…so much that we barely even noticed the rain, and the fact that Dave was basically turning tight circles on the same 500 yard area…and it wasn’t until Bobby said…”Hey guys, we have a problem; ya’ see, the fish box is FULL!!!” Counting fish, we were sitting on 14, but we had 10 mature kings in that mix, along with a chunky Brown trout, and my personal best-ever steelhead of 10.8#, in addition to a couple chunky cohos. The time was now 11:45am, and we knew that we needed to be motoring back towards Racine by 12:25pm at the very latest to make the harbor mouth by the 1:00pm deadline.
We knew our box was good, but not great. We needed 2 or 3 more mature kings to have a chance. I re-set the 2 color w/ the yellow/orange splatterback while Bobby re-set one of the downriggers. The 4 color had also been hot, so Steve broke out the full core and just ran out 4 colors, “Opinions on that be damned” he said. He had just put the rod in the rocket launcher and the drag began to sing, and at the same time the 2 color board was jerked violently under the water and that drag screamed as well. Steve’s fish came to the net first, a very nice mature king, and then it was my turn. Bobby deftly netted the somewhat green slob of a king and attempted to flop the fish out of the net. The trailing hook of the J-plug harness caught in the net, and then the net fouled in the teeth of the fish. Never afraid to grab a fish with a lure in its mouth (remember the Magic Gloves?), Bobby grabbed the big king by the back of the head, which promptly thrashed in response to his actions. Then we heard one of those things you never want to hear on a boat. “AHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOOWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!” Yep, you guessed it; the thrashing king had embedded one of the trebles into the back of Bobby’s finger. The king continued to thrash, and with each flop, the hook went deeper. I then witnessed one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen happen on a boat. Bob did a belly-flop on top of the fish. I don’t know who was more surprised, the crew or the fish.
I’ve removed trebles from hands several times by using a method that I saw on Jimmy Houston Outdoors many years ago. Taking a 3’ piece of Dacron, I doubled it over and wrapped the length of the line on my hand. I then put the loop inside the bend of the hook that was in the finger, applying downward pressure to the shank at the same time. Steve re-assured Bob, telling him…”no worries dude, Clarkie did this for me at Rogers City a few years back.” The idea is to pull quickly and sharply along the exact same line that the hook entered the finger. As I was about to “jerk like you are starting a lawnmower” according to Steve, of all things the braid diver goes off. I dropped the Dacron and grabbed the rod as the drag started to scream. The look on Bobby’s face was priceless. “I’ve got a @%@#%!!! hook in my hand and you are worried about getting to a rod????!!!” Feeling bad (well, not really that bad), I handed the rod off to Nick to fight the fish so that I could tend to my good buddy. Thirty seconds later, the hook was out, the wound cleaned, and Bobby was sitting up in the co-pilot chair with a gauze bandage on his finger. We landed that fish, our largest of the day, at just a tad over 19#.
Our time was up, so we pulled lines and made the run back to Racine. We had entered the Pro Division of the tournament, in which there were 22 boats registered. Our catch weighed #159, good enough for 7th place overall, and cashing a check. Happy with our results, we celebrated at the dock Monday night and chose to sleep in on Tuesday. I limped the 6.5 hours home in the afternoon, with the memories of yet another fantastic salmon fishing adventure fresh in my mind. Thanks to Bird Dog, Trollinator, Double Trouble, and everyone else for a tremendous weekend of fishing out of Kenosha and Racine.
Can’t wait until next year.