Lake Michigan Full Moon Salmon
[mks_dropcap style="square" size="50" bg_color="#003300" txt_color="#ffffff"]T[/mks_dropcap]he full moon was rising over the Indiana shoreline, a salmon was already on ice and we could see the three tallest buildings in Chicago across the vast watery miles. I had to conclude that it was a good day to be in my shoes.
Our adventure was a quest for heavy-shouldered salmon out of the port of Michigan City, Indiana. We had arrived late on a September Sunday afternoon and immediately set out onto the lake in search of the schools of fish that were cruising the harbor in preparation for the annual spawning run up Trail Creek.
The weather was a perfect specimen of early autumn in Indiana. The sky was blue from horizon to horizon and the air so dry that we could clearly see the Sears Tower in downtown Chicago, 40 miles across the usually wild blue waters of the Lake.
More importantly, salmon were present in large schools, both heavy Chinook or “king” salmon, along with smaller but more abundant Coho salmon. With the added possibility of hooking a wildly-leaping steelhead or bulldog brown trout, the anticipation factor would keep things interesting even when the fishing is slow.
Launching from the Washington Park Marina, we were on the water by 6 p.m., just in time for the salmon to begin the evening cruise closer to shore in search of baitfish. The lake was relatively calm, with 1-2 foot waves, making trolling outside the protective breakwaters possible in our small (for Lake Michigan) 17-foot center console boat.
We decided to offer the fish a smorgasbord until they showed a preference. Lines were set to port and starboard using Dispy-Diver planers with spoons behind while two other flat lines were let out behind the boat with crankbaits. While four lines running from a small boat is an invitation to disaster, I decided not to worry about it because cutting a thrashing salmon out a tangle of lines is preferable to not catching one in the first place. Thinking back to advice from friends who are charter captains, I always remember “More lines in the water means more fish.”
By the time our fishing began in earnest, the sun was just a few fingers above the horizon and the scene taking on a nice amber glow. We motored west of the harbor into open water, taking care to keep our speed precisely registering at 2.2 miles per hour on the GPS unit. The occasional southbound swell from 700 miles of open water lifted the front of the boat, making the ride thrilling but not frightening.
A few minutes later, the starboard line showed signs of life and my brother picked up the heavy spinning rod. The stout gear made short work of the fight and quickly brought a small Coho beside the boat. It went into the ice-filled cooler that would be its final resting place and we had beaten the skunk.
Resetting the lines, we motored downwind toward the tall mushroom shaped stacks of the power plant, watching the moonrise through the tangle of electrical lines and transformers. The sun had sunk into the inland sea, leaving a sky filled with gold and amber, turquoise and jade, blue and black, all punctuated by wispy white contrails of cross-country jets.
The water sparkled with reflected light, white from the strong moon and orange from the departed sun. As we passed the outer breakwater, hundreds of seagulls roosted shoulder-to-shoulder on the gray rocks. To the north, there were only the lights of the occasional cruiser or deepwater sailboat, cutting circles in the state waters of Michigan.
I snapped a quick photo of the sunset even while knowing the picture couldn’t even begin to communicate the feelings of color, wind, motion and sounds of a solid boat in coastal water. We were so content that I was afraid we might end up deciding to run away from our real lives; not that our existences were bad, but the world of boat, waves, horizons and heavy fish is so superior to the everyday worries ‘back in the world.’
We did work out a plan to buy a fishing boat and operate a charter service. It was one of those half-baked yearning dreams that guys concoct when entirely self-satisfied and standing in the middle of someplace resembling paradise. It wasn’t a bad plan, either.
Eventually we were forced by hunger and darkness to put the boat back on the trailer. As we regretfully pulled out of the marina and headed toward our hotel, we wistfully commented on the wonders of the short day and wished that we had taken more photos to document the experience. I then decided that we had plenty of pictures of our evening, permanently stored and ready for recall anytime life got too tedious.
Now, if they can only figure out how to make digital prints of memories.