Salmon slam

Big salmon being caught out of Grand Haven
Matt DeYoung
Aug 2, 2013

High diver. Low diver. Paddles. Lead. Riggers. Spoons. Paddles. Flies.

It’s a confusing jumble of terms that get tossed around during a salmon fishing trip.

Fortunately, Ken and Cory Melvin, who captain Tammy Too charters out of Grand Haven, know exactly what the other is talking about at all times.

Their chatter may sound like gibberish to the uninformed, but the results put fish in the boat.

On Thursday, the Melvins didn’t have a charter scheduled, so they decided to take a quick morning trip out to “fill the freezer.”

They invited me a long, and I was thrilled to take them up on it.

We left the docks before 6 a.m. and hurried through the channel, noticing some significant swells that sent Tammy Too, a 37-foot Silverton, rolling up and down.

After exiting the pier heads, we raced out about a mile and a half offshore, then Cory began to set lines with startling quickness and efficiency while Ken sat up top and piloted the boat.

The first three lines down were spoons on downriggers — weights that hold your line down to a specific depth in the water column.

After that, a few rods were sent out with dipsey divers — small round plastic contraptions that dig into the water and can pull your baits down up to 50 feet below the surface. The baits — spoons and flies — are then trolled behind these divers.

More rods are set up using planer boards to keep the lines spread out. Planer boards dig into the water and pull the lines out away from the back of the boat.

Other lines, made of lead or copper, sink simply due to the weight of the line and are fished right off the back of the boat.

All of this makes for a heck a confusing set-up to someone unfamiliar with the process, but Cory handles all the rods with ease.

His hard work pays off a few minutes later as one of the rods begins slamming forward in its holder.

I’m first up, and after a short fight, I pull in a healthy king salmon, its greenish back speckled with dark spots, its dark jaw working back and forth as Cory pulls the hook out of its mouth.

Before we can even reset the rod, another pole pops, and Alysha VanderWall grabs the rod and puts another nice king on ice.

We just have time to get everything squared away when another fish hits. It’s my turn again, and as I pull the rod out, the drag screams at me as the fish on the other end expresses its unhappiness at being fooled by our baits.

The big king salmon pulls plenty of line off before we tighten down the drag and manage to turn it back toward the boat. From there, the battle is on.

I pump the rod and crank the reel, trying to make some progress, while the fish on the other end sends the rod tip plunging with its savage head shakes.

Finally, after a forearm-burning 10 minutes or so, the fish shows itself. Cory slides the net under the thrashing fish and hauls it into the cooler. You know it’s a good-sized fish when the nose and the tail are touching the ends of the cooler at the same time.

I clamp a Boga Grip onto the fish’s black jaw and heft it up, and am rewarded with a weight of 19 pounds.

It doesn’t take long and another rod goes, and this time, VanderWall is in for a battle with a big king. This one hit one of the downriggers, so it was much closer to the boat to start off with, but it still put up quite a battle before surrendering into the cooler.

This salmon tipped the scales at a whopping 22 pounds.

According to both Ken and Cory Melvin, fishing out of Grand Haven has been fantastic the past few weeks, and should continue to be good up until early September, when most of the big salmon make their annual spawning run up the Grand River.

“The fish we’re catching this year is bigger than in the last several years,” Ken said. “There’s a ton of bait out here right now.”

Bait is a charter captain’s term for schools of alewives, which are the primary food of Lake Michigan salmon.

Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologists fear that the bait in Lake Michigan is drying up, and in response, they’ve drastically cut back the number of salmon being stocked in Michigan rivers.

Some charter captains are skeptical of the predicted bait shortage, since they’re seeing so much of it right now.

It’s obvious the fish they’re catching are eating well.

On our short trip (we pulled our lines by 10 a.m.), we landed nine salmon. We had one lake trout on the line, but as it got up to the boat, it pulled a typical lake trout trick and began thrashing around, pulling the hook free from its maw before we could slip a net under it.

Once we got back to the dock, Ken Melvin expertly cleaned the salmon, turning the hulking fish into beautiful pink fillets in a matter of minutes.

If you’re interested in gathering more information about salmon fishing out of Grand Haven, visit chartergrandhaven.com.

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