By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Anyone who knows Laurie Craft probably knows she loves to fish — and that she’s been fishing since she was a little girl.
Craft, of rural Colfax, is employed as the resident service director and admissions coordinator at Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center, and on July 21, she participated in the 2016 Powder Puff Derby on Lake Michigan presented by “The Wharf” in Sheboygan.
“My good friend Sheila Downing who lives in Sheboygan asked me a few months ago if I would like to join their team for this event. I didn’t hesitate and responded ‘I’m in,’” Craft said.
Craft and her fellow team members took first place in the fishing tournament’s team event.
The fishing derby raised money in memory of Marsha Mulligan, a long-time supporter of fishing tournaments in Sheboygan who lost her battle with cancer in 2012.
The money raised by the tournament went to the Sheboygan County Cancer Care Fund, which offers financial assistance for people dealing with cancer who are in need.
The fishing derby presented Craft not only with the opportunity to fish and but also to connect with a friend she had not seen in a long time.
“Whenever there are opportunities to fish and to do something I haven’t done I jump on it! I didn’t have to think if I wanted to go or not. I just told Sheila yes and to send me details,” she said.
“Sheila and I grew up in Wisconsin Rapids, went to high school together as well as college at UW-Stevens Point. I haven’t seen her in over 30 years,” Craft said.
Calling themselves Wolfpack 1, the team caught the most fish, by weight, of 94.56 pounds.
Tournament categories were king salmon, Coho salmon, rainbow trout, lake trout and brown trout. The tournament paid five places per category, and trophies were presented for the first three places in each category. Super Derby Prizes were given for the most weight per team.
“Our boat caught three king salmon, five rainbow trout, one lake trout and five Coho salmon,” Craft explained.
Sheila Downing caught the largest king salmon (also known as Chinook salmon), and it weighed 20.12 pounds, she said.
“I got to see three of my good friends from college. We played field hockey and fast-pitch softball for UW-Stevens Point in the early 80’s. And I was able to help out a benefit for cancer. I met new friends. We had lots of laughs, and it was just a really positive fun thing to do,” Craft said.
“The way this world is these days, it was nice to celebrate life with this group. We have already booked the same charter for next year’s event,” she said.
The charter company Craft and her fellow teammates used was Wolfpack Adventures out of Sheboygan.
“Their two charter boats came in first and second. We beat the second place team by around three pounds,” Craft said.
“We had two lines hit right at the end. We pulled in a Coho and missed a very large king salmon that was out over 300 feet. It got off at around 35 feet. It was so close. I was actually tag teaming with my friend Laura on that fish. He just must have had a hard head shake and got off. The big one that got away!” she said.
The unique aspect of the fishing tournament is that all of the team members were required to be women.
“You can only have one male in the boat. The man can steer the boat, set lines and net the fish. But once a fish is on, the guy is not allowed to touch the pole. Nine lines can be in the water. We used planer boards, dipsy divers and downriggers. The lines were at different depths and distances,” Craft explained.
“The bag limit per boat was 15 for this derby. We caught 14. We missed that big king salmon at the end, and basically we took turns as the fish hit,” she said.
“For me this experience was one of the best of my life. I was with friends from college, and I also made some new friends. Outdoors, fresh air and happy people,” Craft said.
All together, the contest brought in about 1,100 pounds of fish.
Craft caught a six-pound lake trout and an eight-pound Coho.
When Craft was growing up in Wisconsin Rapids, outdoor activities played an important role in her childhood.
“My family was and remains an outdoor loving family. Fishing and hunting were the normal in our household. I leaned towards the fishing but would tag along on hunting outings just to watch. My father would take us on fishing outings as much as he could. Sometimes we would get one-on-one time, and that was my favorite,” she said.
“We would get a six-pack of Country Time lemonade and head out to lakes in the surrounding area. I think I was maybe eight or nine when he put a fly rod in my hand. I loved it and caught on right away. He taught me a lot. I miss him every day,” Craft said.
Her father, Thomas Craft, died in 2008 at the age of 69.
“I moved back to Wisconsin in 2000 here at Tainter Lake. My brother Jim is my fishing partner and travels here at least each month,” Craft said.
“We are both pretty passionate about it and have done well over the years — always a fun time and a little sibling competition. He is my go-to guy for advice. He is one of my best friends and just a great teacher of fishing,” she said.
“My sister Mary likes to throw a line in when she visits but her passion is hunting and raising her chickens, ducks and geese. And my Mom, well, I would say I am her clone. She loves fishing too but now that she is older, she prefers that I make her a good fish fry. She got my last bag of perch and walleye and is waiting for the next,” Craft said.
Craft enjoys fishing at all times of the year on open water and ice fishing.
Don’t ask her where she catches her walleyes on Tainter Lake, though — because all you’re likely to hear is “in the water.”