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On a Lake Michigan Fishing Trip, Anyone Can Be a Fisherman in May

BY: Greg Kester | Jun 5, 2013
On a Lake Michigan Fishing Trip, Anyone Can Be a Fisherman in MayIt’s a spring Saturday morning in Chicago, and six young men are ambling down Montrose Harbor’s Dock D. Though it isn’t hot, the sun is intense, and the cloudless sky offers proof that Mother Nature has finally relented after six months of winter torment. The group—myself plus an intersection of coworkers and college buddies—is a few minutes behind schedule, keeping a good gait despite our payload of rations: six cases of beer, several bottles of rum, a cigar apiece, a cooler full of ice, and some pretzels. All appearances, from our provisions to our cutoff flannel shirts and flag bandannas, indicate two things: 1) we are going fishing, and 2) we do not go fishing often. Moreover, it's clear—this is not a group that typically hunts for its dinner. “What’s the name of the boat again?” Raf shouts, slowing a bit from the weight of his cooler. Raf—a longtime blogger of Chicago alleyways and a bigtime fan of Game of Thrones—has been a good friend since we started working together more than two years ago. “The Massive Confusion!” says Nate, who stresses the Massive, as there are, apparently, more than one Confusion docked at Montrose Harbor. Nate has been a friend since eighth grade, roommate since college, current coworker, and the organizer of this trip. Also joining us are Jordan, Derek, and Austin, each longtime pals. After passing a dozen or so boats, we find the Massive Confusion, its white deck gleaming brilliantly behind a web of nets, lines, rods, hoses, and rope. We also find the boat’s commander, Captain Bob Poteshman, and his first mate, Eddie. Both men have a stocky build, complete with suspension-cable forearms, made powerful after decades of casting and reeling—an observation confirmed when I shake their hands. “Hoo, you boys picked a good day for fishing,” Captain Bob says. “Stay up on the dock a minute while we finish some stuff around here.” This is all the opportunity we need to rip open our cases and knock back our first beers. Soon after, our captain calls us aboard and into the cabin, where I stow my rations and apply sunscreen to the skin left exposed by the "fishing shirt" I’d picked up at Kmart that morning. We also fill out and sign 24-hour state fishing licenses, which Bob gladly sells for $12 apiece. Officially sanctioned to hunt fish by the state of Illinois, we depart for the open waters of Lake Michigan. As soon as we’re outside the harbor, the Chicago skyline emerges behind us—a gauzy black crown on the horizon. It hovers above the churning waters behind the boat, and slowly fades as we motor north. After about 30 minutes, Captain Bob kills the engine. This is a cue for Eddie, who begins feverishly tying hooks and sinkers, attaching skimmers, and placing rods into the 14 holders. With 7 starboard and 7 port, the rods splay outward from the gunwale at increasing angles so the skimmers cover as large a swath of water as possible. When Eddie secures the last rod, Captain Bob comes down from the bridge for a short demonstration. “When you get a bite," he says, "be sure and hold the rod up high, like this." He anchors the rod on his belly and points it skyward at a 45-degree angle. “If you hold the rod down, you’ll give the fish slack and allow him to unhook himself. And when you hear me yell or see a rod bend, grab it!” With this info in mind, we await the first bite. Typically, Captain Bob’s groups fish Lake Michigan’s king salmon, brown trout, steelhead, and yellow perch, among other species. Given the time of year, we’re hunting coho salmon. As luck would have it, I'm closest when the first rod jerks, so I grab it and begin to reel. As luck would also have it, this fish quickly escapes. The heckles start immediately: “Oh-for-one!” “Aw c’mon, Greg!” I shrug it off, smiling. I am determined, however, to catch the next one. I don’t have to wait long. After a brief dry spell, the coho start to bite in a flurry. According to Confusion Charters’ website, the species, also known as silver salmon, makes up between 50–70 percent of the company’s annual catch. Ironically, coho is not indigenous to the Great Lakes—it’s been imported from the Pacific since 1966. By the end of the day, six hours since we first set off, we’ve hauled aboard 31 coho salmon. It’s the maximum our fishing licenses allow. After pictures and cigars and cheers to our good fortune, Eddie takes on the final, all-important task: filleting our catch. With a sharp knife, he sets up shop at a small platform attached to the end of the boat, and sure-handedly cuts away each salmon’s head, tail, and bones. Without looking up, he tosses the scraps into the boat’s wake, and then seals the edible salmon meat in Ziploc bags, which quickly pile up at his side. The process is oddly mesmerizing. Back at the dock, we say our goodbyes to Eddie and Captain Bob before collecting our supplies and making a beeline for the rooftop of Austin’s high-rise apartment building. It offers the perfect spot for cooking our spoils: just off Lake Shore Drive, with a community grill and a 180-degree view of Lake Michigan sprawling out toward the horizon. We fashion some cookware from aluminum foil and toss the fillets over the low heat of the gas grill. With help from a little lemon juice, the salmon emerges from the flame emitting an intoxicating aroma, its pink flesh falling away from the skin with just the slightest provocation from my fork. Each bite—submerged in the depths of Lake Michigan not six hours earlier—practically dissolves on my tongue. We each nod our approval at one another and gaze wistfully out at the lake sprawling out below us. It is a silent, contented epilogue to the action of the day.