Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Boy with catch © Tyler Zacho

Catching the "King".
© Tyler Zacho

June 2013

Making memories on Lake Michigan

A father and son salmon excursion that stands out.

Tyler Zacho

I see myself as one of the luckiest people around. I can travel 80 miles from home and find one of the best salmon fisheries in the world, the Sheboygan Harbor on Lake Michigan.

Few people who live in my small town of Cambria – or in other towns in my area – take advantage of this awesome nearby opportunity to catch Chinook, also known as “King” salmon.

I have my dad to thank for my good fortune. About two years ago, my dad decided that we should start salmon fishing. He had fished Lake Michigan a lot in the 1980s and enjoyed it. But then he got too busy for it.

More recently though, he decided we should buy a boat and get back into it.

I had fished a lot for walleye and other freshwater fish but had never fished on Lake Michigan or fished for salmon. I couldn’t wait to get out and start trolling! My Dad found a used boat in Minnesota that looked like a winner so with my mom he went to check it out. They returned with a 26 – foot Sea Ray ™.

“It’s going to be expensive but it’ll be worth it in a year when we’re reeling in 20 – pounders one after another on the big pond,” my father said. That got me amped to start working on the board and make it the best salmon fishing machine that it could be.

And that’s when the real work began. We had a lot of work to do and a year to do it in. We also had a lot to buy if we were going to take salmon fishing seriously: downriggers, downrigger balls, poles, reels, line, spoons, J-Plugs ™, files flashers and more. But it was an investment we were willing to make to catch fish and have a lot of fun.

Boy with two salmon © Tyler Zacho
The best salmon fishery in the world, Sheboygan Harbor on Lake Michigan.
© Tyler Zacho

About a year later we had our Great Lakes fishing boat perfected and we couldn’t wait to get out on the water and be rewarded for all of our hard work. The boat was set up with four new cannon downriggers and poles with Daiwa reels.

The boat would be housed in the Sheboygan harbor for the summer and we spent the first night on the boat so that we could wake up early the next morning and get fishing. I remember my dad tapping me on the shoulder and waking me up at 4:40 a.m. asking, “You ready to catch some fish?”

“Definitely,” I said jumping out of bed. As I climbed the stairs to the deck I could smell gas from the engine that was already fired up and running even though we were still tied to the dock. Ready to get the show on the road, I hopped over the edge onto the dock and untied the boat so that we could start putting around the breakwall on our way onto the lake.

Once we got passed the breakwall we let it rip and headed to deeper and colder water in search of salmon.

It was a little bit before sunset but we could barely see the breakwall or any other boats because of thick fog. It was eerie. All we could hear was the boat motor running and the waves crashing against the side.

We made our way out to colder water but traveled much slower than usual because of the fog. I had a good feeling even before we started fishing.

Right of the bat my dad was letting the first line – a spoon on a downrigger – when he thought the release let loose, but it was a fish! We couldn’t believe it. We’d only had one line in the water for about 20 seconds and we had already hooked a fish. My dad reeled the fish up to the boat and I landed it with the net. It was a nice salmon – and it was only the beginning. After we secured our catch in the cooler we let three lines out. Suddenly, we heard a reel start screaming as line was being ripped out.

“This is the big one we’ve been waiting for!” my dad yelled.

I grabbed the rod out of the rod holder and could feel a fish tugging. I knew it was a nice one. As I was reeling in the beast another rod went off screaming. And then the third one! My dad and I didn’t know what to do. He grabbed one of the rods and left the other one in the rod holder. Finally, I brought my fish up to the boat and it looked like a shark in the water.

“Hold on and let me grab the net”, my dad said as he set his pole with the fish on it into the rod holder so he could met mine. I helped him yank the beast into the boat. It was the biggest fish I’d ever caught and definitely the best fight I’d ever had with a fish. I ran to the lower deck to grab the scale and weigh my fish. It was18 pounds and the biggest fish we had caught that year.

My dad ended up landing his fish, too, but we lost the one on the third line. No matter. It was an awesome experience as we ended the day with a cooler full of fish.

Salmon fishing not only grants me the chance to catch a lot of fish, more importantly, it also gives me the opportunity to hang out with my dad out on the big lake and create some memories.

Tyler Zacho 13, lives in Cambria. He has a strong connection to the outdoors and enjoys nothing more than spending quality time with his father, William, or his brother, Brian, going after wildlife, whether hunting for white-tailed deer or on Lake Michigan fishing for king salmon.