Door County Stories and Tips

Fishing for Chinook (King) Salmon on Lake Michigan

My Catch Photo, Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin

I will try to keep this "fishing story" factual, because as we all know, most fishing stories do have an element of fiction to them!

Last summer my brother-in-law brought over some smoked salmon he said a friend of his had caught in Lake Michigan. While the fish was delicious, I was surprised to hear such a story so I had to research it for myself as I was only familiar with saltwater based salmon. Since Lake Michigan is nearly a 1,000 miles as the fish swims, from any body of salt water, I didn't understand how salmon would be caught along the Wisconsin coast.

I read that Lake Michigan was stocked many years ago with coho (silver) and chinook (king) salmon. The rationale was to stock the lake with salmon in order to address a growing issue with an invasive species of herring-like fish called alewives. Seems back in the 1960's, the alewives were washing up ashore on the Michigan side of the lake, causing their beaches to be smelly and not suitable for summer activities.

Since the alewives were not indigenous to Lake Michigan having hitched rides on freighters coming into the Great Lakes from waters back east, the Department of Natural Resources in both Michigan and Wisconsin felt the salmon solution was a good one.

Fast forward a few years when a fisherman unknowingly caught a salmon. From that, the charter fishing industry began for lake salmon and Door County has seen the interest in salmon fishing grow every since. When I started making my plans for this trip to Door County, I really wanted to try my hand at fishing so I contacted a few fishing charter companies out of Baileys Harbor and Sturgeon Bay. I ended up selecting Silver Strike Charters with Capt. Andy Isaacson out of Baileys Harbor.

Fortunately, I was able to get an open morning set aside for fishing if the charter company could fill the charter. That would require them finding at least three other people interested in going out on what is referred to as a "mixed" charter (as opposed to a private one, where everyone on the boat is from the same party/group). Two days before my scheduled fishing date, they informed me that they had a group of four to join me . . . so it was on!

We met at the Baileys Harbor Yacht Club Marina at 4:15a for a prompt 4:30a departure. With fishing lines (all 20 of them for 5 fishermen) in the water, we were fishing by 5:00a. Imagine my surprise when I had the first chinook (king) salmon online before sunrise! It took me for what seemed like an eternity to reel it in. He surfaced several times, but thankfully stayed on the hook. Sometimes he would swim toward the boat which was appreciated as it helped to take some of the tension off the line. But when he went away from us, he was clearly fighting for his life. As I was reeling it in and when it surfaced, Andy said he could tell it was a big salmon.

Once to the boat's edge, the first mate Jake was able to scoop the fish from the water and onto the boat. Once aboard the boat, Jake estimated it to be around 15 pounds. I was pleasantly surprised when I picked up my prepared filets the next day to find out it was actually an 18 pounder!

After my catch, I would have to wait for my "next turn" as everyone on the boat took turns in order based on the drawing of cards when we first left the dock. Because I had drawn the ace, that meant the first fish "on" would be mine to reel in. The deuce would go second, the three third . . . etc. to the number five for the fifth in our fishing party. Unfortunately, it was a rather slow day for bites, and I never did get another chance to bring in a fish.

The others in our group did OK although I did feel bad for the #2 fisherman who lost his fish, which would mean he would go to the end of the line and fish after #5 had his chance. There were only the five fish hooked however, so #2 never did get another chance.

Fisherman #3 (the older teenage son of #5) brought on a smallish trout, followed by the youngest in our group #4 reeled in a king salmon estimated to be around 5 pounds. His dad was #5 and finally had the opportunity for his fish just before it was time to wrap up for the morning. His fish was also around 5-6 pounds. So as it turned out, I think I probably had more total weight of fillets with my one fish than what the family got with all three of theirs.

Fishing charters are priced based on individuals when put together in "mixed" groups or as a private group charter. For current information on the fishing seasons and rates with Silver Strike Charters, check them out online.

I cannot say enough about everyone involved at Silver Strike Charters. Brynn handled my initial inquiry and reservation flawlessly and Capt. Andy and Jake were very friendly and helpful aboard the boat. More importantly, they worked tirelessly for the entire five hours to maximize the opportunity to catch fish. They were constantly monitoring their radar, raising and lowering lines and swapping out tackle to give the best chance of luring and catching fish. I was pretty impressed by the whole thing.

Here is the contact information for Capt. Andy and Silver Strike Charters:
Phone: 920-854-6069
Website: www.doorcountycharterfishing.com
Email: info@doorcountycharterfishing.com

Note: They do accept cash, checks and credit cards (and do not forget to tip your crew)

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