That’s great news for an industry that faced plenty of uncertainty over the past several years as fishery experts predicted a vast decrease in Lake Michigan’s salmon population.
Adding to the excitement was a recent post on the fishingbooker.com blog, which ranked Grand Haven the top spot in Michigan for a family fishing outing. The recognition was given for “excellent, family-friendly fishing for salmon, trout and perch on Lake Michigan.”
Fishingbooker.com claims to be “the world’s largest online travel company that enables you to find and book fishing trips.”
The recognition isn’t a surprise to Tony Salerno, a tournament fisherman and captain of Livin’ the Dream who competes out of ports across the Great Lakes. Grand Haven is among his favorite spots to fish, he said.
“It has for years been one of the better ports to fish out of, one of the best structured docks as far as docks to choose from,” he said. “Charter boats in Grand Haven are all top-notch, extremely good fishermen because of the level of competition.”
Charter fishing contributes nearly $20 million a year to Michigan’s coastal communities, according to Michigan Sea Grant. From 1990 to 2009, charter fishing generated $147.6 million in gross sales and 3.2 million employment hours for Michigan’s economy.
Captain Willis Kerridge, who has chartered out of Grand Haven for almost 50 years, said 2018 has been one of his best years in the business. Following a downward trend around the economic recession of 2008, business has improved with a more vibrant economy, he explained.
Good weather has also helped keep local salmon charter captains busy.
This past week, Kerridge’s Thunderduck Sporting Charters saw clients haul in a pair of salmon that tipped the scales at more than 30 pounds, he said. August is on track to join May, June and July as months with improved catches over 2017, he noted.
Kerridge said charter boats in Grand Haven help generate millions of dollars each year, with the average cost of a trip totaling about $600. The peak of tourist season in July boosts business for many fishermen, he added.
“The industry as a whole does get a boost,” Kerridge said. “New guys pick up a lot when school gets out, especially.”
Charters aren’t the only ones making a profit, Kerridge said.
“When they get off the boat here, they go up to the ice cream shops and surf shops,” he said.
Joy Gaasch, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Grand Haven-Spring Lake-Ferrysburg, said charter fishing is a strong asset for tourism and the local economy.
“It’s a really important way for our community to be recognized for its strengths,” she said. “Charter fishing here is very, very important for our economy. Typically, people will come back again and again.”
Grand Haven employers will also treat employees or clients to a fishing trip, she added.
Several area restaurants, including The Kirby House and Old Boys’ Brewhouse, participate in the Michigan Catch and Cook program, serving up charter clients’ fresh catches.
While Chinook (king) salmon are the main attraction, Kerridge expects other species, such as coho salmon, to become more prevalent as the weather eventually cools.
Charters tend to wrap up the season around mid-September. That’s about the same time as the annual Grand Haven Salmon Festival, which this year is Sept. 14-15.