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An Outdoorsman’s Journal – 7-24-2013

by Mark Walters

A Workout on Lake Michigan

Hello friends,

In a year’s time, my biggest challenge is to paddle a canoe from 7 at night to 9 the next morning on Lake Michigan and attempt to catch a salmon by paddle trolling.

Danger, fatigue, and the challenge of hooking and landing a salmon or a trout from a canoe while fishing alone in the dark is totally nuts. Because I am nuts, I love this sport.

Wednesday, July 17th
High 94, low 73 
“cooler on the water!”

Here is the scoop. I put my canoe in at Seagull Marina in Two Rivers, which is exactly where I did this last year. Generally I get lucky and catch a salmon about every third attempt. Ten years ago I paddled from Port Washington to Point Beach State Park all in one day and caught 3 kings, that is my best day and it was in very high seas.

As usual, while I was preparing my canoe with rod holders, fish locator, two coolers, one for fish and one to sit on and as a dry box, I had several people tell me not to go out there, the seas are too high.

At 7:30 journey began and as soon as I passed the break wall, I could see that due to high seas, I would have to head north to keep the wind at my back, which in reality means less of a workout and that the canoe moves fast enough to keep some action on the two “glow” spoons that I was trailing behind me.

At 10:30,I reached the lighthouse at Point Beach State Park, which is about 7 miles from Two Rivers. It was at that point in the night that I noticed a dense fog was setting in and that I had failed to bring my compass (I do not own a GPS) I worked the moon and the Big Dipper the rest of the night.

I decided that I would head into the wind and paddle over 70-feet of water towards Manitowoc, which was about 14 miles to my south.

I was sitting on an old Coleman cooler and to take the pressure off my rear end I would try to stand every hour and a half for about 30-seconds. If I used any more time to take a break my rig would be pushed backwards into my two lines.

As much as I would like to say that I was catching salmon and trout, I was having no action, but was living in constant hope. Last year I caught one and it was at five o’clock in the morning.

I reached Manitowoc at 3:30 and that was when the morning shift of salmon fishermen started hitting the Big Pond in large numbers. I had three sets of lights on my canoe (four years ago I was almost demolished by a charter boat, even though I had a Coleman lantern and a spot light, last year The Badger, which is a car ferry that would make the Titanic look like a guppy, just about sunk me). Between Gills Rock and Washington Island, I was sunk in the dark with two dogs on board during a thunderstorm that snuck up on me while I was making the crossing.

My plan was to paddle back to Two Rivers and work water depths of 60 to 150 feet until fatigue sent me to my truck. That plan went to heck in a hand basket when due to a foggy haze I totally screwed up and missed Two Rivers and was not aware of my error.

Thus, one of the top five physical experiences of my life would take place. I actually realized my mess up when I reached the light house at Point Beach State Park, which in reality meant I had overshot Two Rivers by 7-miles and since my truck was in Two Rivers, it is pretty safe to say I had a 14 mile screw up at the end of a 26-mile experience in which I had yet to get out of my canoe.

To add to the challenge, I had a stiff headwind for the final 7-miles and I was in so much pain that the muscles in my legs, arms, and back were actually quivering. I hit a point where I knew if I hooked a salmon, I would be blown further north and I was ok not hooking a salmon.

The last three hours of this experience had me in so much pain that I had to lay backwards in my canoe for 30-second bouts every five minutes, of course, every break would send my canoe away from Two Rivers another couple hundred yards.

I reached the landing at Seagull Marina at exactly 12:00 noon, which meant I had been in the canoe for 16.5 hours and paddled 40-miles.

When I tried walking to my truck nothing on my body worked, but I plugged along and made it home where I immediately sat down and wrote this column.

I have another trip in the morning, and a date with a shower and a bed in just a few minutes.

I hope when I am too old to do live this crazy way of life that I can at least remember it.

Thanks for reading! Sunset