Two women’s journey through dense fog, rolling swells, and dangerous maritime shipping lanes; all in the pursuit of the notorious Lake Michigan king salmon.
This story starts five years earlier with one woman's dream, many devoted hours, and an unwavering persistence to overcome the vast unknowns that come with fishing the Great Lakes. The woman is Captain Barb Carey; a friend, mentor, and natural leader.
For 5 years, Barb has researched and patterned the behaviors of Great Lakes salmon and trout, throughout the ebb and flow of the fishing season. Having fished countless hours, at times with nothing but newly accrued knowledge to show for her efforts, Barb continued to persist. Taking her passion to an entirely new level Barb set out and secured her Captain’s license and is now believed to be, the only female captain guiding on Lake Michigan. Barb is not only making waves in this male-dominated industry but encouraging others to do the same.
If there are more female captains fishing on Lake Michigan, we would love to hear from you!
I sat on the sidelines for years, watching Barb’s live-streamed videos of rolling waves, massive fish, and Lake Michigan fishing tips and tricks. I had been on guided fishing trips in the past and decided they were not for me. The guides would drive you to a fishing spot, pick the baits, set up the gear, and handle the rod when a strike occurred- all while you sit idly on the sidelines waiting to be handed a rod with a fish on it to reel in. An amazing time for some, but not for me. I wanted to play a larger part in the process- I wanted to know why we were fishing certain spots, but not others. How to set the lines. How to select the depth to run the lines. How to pattern the fish day-to-day. How to drive a boat while trolling 9 or more lines, etc., I wanted to learn it all! Unfortunately, not all captains are enthusiastic about my “want to learn it all” approach. Understandable in that the boat and fishing gear are their livelihood. After expressing my frustration with charter fishing to a few WI Women Fish members, Barb included, an opportunity presented itself to join Barb on one of her various Lake Michigan trips. Promising me a much different experience, I decided I couldn’t pass it up.
As we started our day we were greeted by a dense wall of fog at the mouth of the harbor. With visibility limited to mere feet from the boat, I thought surely our day was over before it had even begun. With navigational maps in hand, Barb briefed me on the requirements of boating in the fog. I was to help ensure we were using proper sound signals for a powerboat underway- a prolonged horn blast, at not more than 2-minute intervals as well as a continuously scanning for oncoming vessels. We set off at a safe speed, following the coordinates we had mapped out after reviewing the early morning release of the NOAA maps.
When we reached our desired depth, we started preparing the rigs to go out. Click, click, click- one of Barb’s few rules in her boat, NEVER forget the clicker on the reel when setting the rods. After a quick demo, it was my turn. The rods were strung with lead core fishing line of various lengths- 2-color, 3-color, 5-color, 7-color, and 10-color. We also ran wire diver rods, with dipsys. Trolling a smorgasbord of baits- from flashers and streamers to spoons and plugs, we were set up for success.
The eerie fog offered the kind of solace of nothing and everything all at once, almost as if the essence of time did not exist. Six lines cast into the depths, planed out with Off-Shore Tackle’s bright yellow boards. We sat in silence as the engine hummed and the water lapped against the side of the boat. A silence only briefly interrupted by the soft tone of the horn blasts intermittently indicating our location.
This silence was quickly interrupted by what I could only assume was a FREIGHT TRAIN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LAKE! Unable to locate what direction the low grumbling blast had come from I looked to Barb for an explanation. A FREIGHTER! With our visibility still obscured by the fog, we started to piece together our resources to determine the location of the freighter. Still a safe distance away and at a heading that would fall well beyond our path, we once again fell into the relaxing trance-like solace of the fog as the deep grumbling of the freighter grew distant.
Click, click, click, ZZZZZZ- “FISH ON”, Barb yelled from the captain’s chair! I reached for the rod and settled in for the fight, as the wire line screamed off the reel. Feeling each pump of the fish’s tail as it fought against my efforts. Surging to the surface, the iconic coloring of the elusive king glistened as the sun finally burned through the morning fog. Boating the fish, I knew I had won the battle, but the war had just begun, as my passion for fishing the Great Lakes had been ignited! The longing-pull of Lake Michigan grows stronger every day, drawing me back for my next adventure.
What are you waiting for? Get out there make some waves, because you never know who your ripples may affect.