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Hammond Bay Anglers Award $12,750 in Weekend Tournament

By Amanda Polaski, Staff Writer, Presque Isle County Advance

The Hammond Bay Anglers Association (HBAA) hosted the fist annual Great Lakes Fishing Tournament (GLFT) on Friday, handing out $12,750 in prize money, and promoting the healthy fishing in northern Lake Huron.

“Everything went really well overall,” said co-chairman Dave Saurchek. “We have some fine tuning to do for next year, but it was a real nice tournament. It was well worth the effort, and we accomplished what we wanted—for people from all over to start talking about northern Lake Huron—there really is something up here worth looking at.”

Taking first place in the GLFT was an Ocqucoc team led by captain Dave Hija on the boat, “Emma J.” Hija weighed in three salmon for a total of 36.77 pounds—enough to earn him and his crew the top prize of $8,500.

Hija’s crew included Dave “Gumby” Gumtow of Clarkstone, Brent and Burt Herrinum of Alpena. “We went out right at 5am and had our lines set by 5:30am,” said Brent Herrinum. “We caught all of our fish by 7am—from there on our nerves were wracking.”

A Princess Goes Fishing for Kings

By Tom Carney, News Outdoor Columnist, The Alpena News

Katie Hija loves to go fishing—except for the fish part.

Katie, 2 ½, is the daughter of Dave Hija, full-time fishing guide on northern Lake Huron. As a single parent, Hija wants to spend as much time with Katie as possible, but for a Great Lakes fishing guide in the middle of summer, those times are few and far betweem. He was, however, able to squeeze out a day for himself a couple weeks ago. And Katie came along for the ride.

On July 26, Hija and long time friend Dave “Gumby” Gumtow tested the waters in preparation for the inaugural Hammond Bay Area Geese Lakes Fishing Tournament the next day.

Just as first light, about 10 minutes into the cruise, a SpongeBob SquarePants blanket stirred in the berth below deck. A tiny head, covered with thick, black hair, emerged from beneath the blanket, rose just a little from the pillow, bobbed around for a moment, then momentarily revealed two dark eyes before plopping back down.

“Oh, it’s early for her,” Hija said of Katie. “She’ll be a handful if she doesn’t get some more sleep.”

No problem there. Katie was out like a light, and Hija filled in some of her backstory.

“She just loves to be out here on the boat. She’ll ride for hours without complaining. She loves to go fishing, but the funny thing is she doesn’t like the fish. I think she’s still at the age where they scare her.”

By this time, The Emma J had reached the spot where Hija wanted to start fishing. Gumby began setting out the lines to different depths. “Since we have cool water here, we’re trying to stay in 70 feet or less because that’s where the baitfish are,” said Hija. The strategy paid off, for less than 15 minutes after the two started fishing they had landed a small lake trout and a small king (chinook) salmon.

As a captain’s mate, Gumby is very precise and meticulous with the fishing aspect of the operation while Hija focuses on running the boat. Before the boat had even cleared the dock, Gumby had hosed down the deck where someone had spilled coffee during the boarding process. As soon as those two fish had made it to the cooler, he again rinsed the deck, a process he repeated for each fish. Then he’d patrol the lines, monitoring depths, checking lines, and changing lures.

Not long after Gumby reset the lines, Katie, not really happy to be awake yet, whimpered a little.

“Good morning, Katie,” he cooed. “How are you, sweetheart?”

She was glad to see her “Uncle” Gumby and even happier when he offered her a doughnut. He attended to her as diligently as he did the deck and the lines.

Hija is in his ninth year as a full-time guide. Up until about two years ago, he chartered out of Presque Isle Harbor.  Now, the Hammond Bay Harbor is the home port. Part of the reasons for the move is he lives nearby. “We moved because if the cost of docking at Presque Isle,” he added. “Plus, we found that the bigger fish are from here up to the Straits. We’ve been catching big fish behind Bois Blanc, Round, and Mackine islands.”

Gumby bucked Katie into her life vest, she grabbed a toy dinosaur and some juice and came above deck. Her bliss was momentarily interrupted when Gumby opened the cooler to deposit a couple of 15-pound Chinooks. She yelped then scurried up her father’s arm until she could clutch his neck and be safe.

“They’re just sleeping, Katie,” Gumby cooed again. “They won’t hurt you.”

The fishing action was steady for about an hour. But as the sun burned off the morning’s cloud cover and the temperatures warmed up, it cooled down. Katie went below, and the talk turned to the next day’s competition.

“I’m getting into it because it’s a high stake competition,” Hija said. “Plus, it ‘s in my own backyard.”  The tournament, sponsored by the Hammond Bay Area Anglers Association, was indeed a big money event. Each boat, limited to a four-man crew, paid a $1,000 entry fee. The first place prize was 50 percent of the entry fees. The first ever event drew 17 boats. That means the winning boat took home $8,500. Winners were determined by the greatest total weight of the three Great Lakes Salmon or trout. For this inaugural event, the winning crew brought aboard 11 salmon. Its top weight was 36.77 pounds greater than the second place weight.

Back on the Emma J, with their strategy in place and with hopes the weather would hold up, Gumby said he liked his team’s chances in the tournament, then hedged his bet with “if the fish cooperate.”

By 11am on the Thursday, though, the fish had quit cooperating, so Hija piloted the craft back to the harbor. As Katie napped in the afternoon, he and Gumby cleaned fish and prepared the boat for the following morning.

Their preparation netted them and two other crew members 11 salmon—three of which weighed 36.77 pounds—and $8,500.

Lavender’s Team wins Salmon Tourney

By Rich Adams, Tribune Editor

Cheyboygan—One and three-quarter pounds.

That’s all that separated the winning boat and the runner-up in the Cheboygan Salmon Tournament on Saturday.

The winner was the No. 18 boat, captained by Phil Lavender, with a total catch of 64.58 pounds. The second place trophy and money went to the No. 75 boat, captained by Grant Jones, with a catch of 62.82 pounds.

Rounding off the top five were the No. 25 boat, no captain listed, with 58.78 pounds; the No. 73 boat, with Bob Corbiere as captain, with 56.70 pounds; and the No. 54 boat, captained by David Hija, with 53.78 pounds.

Ninety five boats registered for the tournament this year, with 62 weighing in at the end. A total weigh of 1,769.50 pounds was recorded, and included 187 salmon, 27 lake trout, and six steelhead.

The largest salmon was taken by Brian Coffell and weighed in at 26.44 pounds. Second was Joe Godzik’s fish at 25.32 pounds, Lavender’s 20.48-pounder, Cory Allen with a 33.3-pound fish, and Corbiere with a fish weighing 19.88 pounds.

Joe Dobrolowski and Carl McCready tied for largest lake trout, each reelingin a 6.9-pound trophy. The largest steelhead went to Ed Rozinsky and weiged 9.44 pounds.

Scot Lordson and Kris Arnold tied with the mystery fish, each tipping the scales at 13.4 pound.

Ship captains and the weight taken for prize money in the tournament beyond the top five are:

Kris Arnold, 51.83; Jon Karsten, 49.76; Dan Socha, 46.9; Jim Moyer, 45.3; Bob White, 45.08; McCready, 43.54; Norm Perkins, 43.54; Coffell, 40.62; Chip Drake, 39.14; Todd Curtis, 37.72; John Weber, 37; Bill Clark, 36.67; Phil Hopkins, 36.22; Scott Lordson, 35.54; and Dobrowolski, 35.14.

Rogers City, Michigan: The “Nautical City” has a “Sporting” Fishery

By Tom Carney

The first notions of daylight added just a touch of color to the shirts and caps worn by the shadows scurrying around the parking area and dock at the Hammond Bay State Harbor. Actually, the shadows didn’t scurry; they moved with a combination of efficiency, precision, deliberation and singleness of purpose. Got to get on the water!

If it’s late July on northern Lake Huron, that unity of purpose is focused on one objective: king salmon.

Before full color had entered the scene Dave “Gumby” Gumtow had cast off the lines of the Emma J and Captain Dave Hija had piloted her clear of harbor. About 10 minutes into the cruise, Gumby began setting lines.

“You’ve got cold water right off the bat today,” said Hija. “We’re trying to stay in 70 feet or less. “In fact,” he continued, counter to local conventional wisdom regarding kings, “we haven’t been fishing in 70 to 80 feet of water all summer. Our best fishing has come from 45 to 55 feet.”

That’s because the current situation with Lake Huron’s salmon fishery has caused anglers to toss conventional wisdom to the wind.

Disruptions in the food chain over the past several years have had a drastic effect on the lake’s Chinook salmon population. Simply put, the salmon’s favorite food, alewives, aren’t around anymore. Without alewives, the salmon don’t get big and fat.
As the saying goes, when life hands them a basket of lemons, some folks figure it’s time to make lemonade. That’s how Rick Colonna views the current situation.

Colonna, president of the Hammond Bay Area Anglers Association, says the fishing in 2007 was “great, because of the lack of pressure, actually. I mean we would go out and get fish just about every day. With that lack of pressure, there wasn’t a day we didn’t get fish. You’re not going to get the large fish that you used to get. But there are still fish to be caught.”
Back on the Emma J, Hija observed, “The fishing has slowed down, but we still have good numbers of fish. There have been some excellent days in there for those who did not leave. The size is a little smaller, but they’re getting them anywhere, I’d say, from 8 to 20 pounds consistently.”

Colonna says because of lower alewife numbers, the fish have changed their feeding habits. “You gotta’ find what they’re feeding on.”

Hija had the lines set that 45 to 55 foot range because that’s where he had been finding the Chinooks’ current baitfish of choice, sticklebacks.Gumby had set rigs at several depths because, he said, “Sometimes, they’re up higher in the water column.”
Their strategy paid of; less than 15 minutes after they started fishing, those rigs had produced a small lake trout and a small king.

“The salmon,” Colonna explains, “are foraging for what they can find. They like a temperature lower than 56 degrees, but they will move out of that looking for food. They’re not afraid to come out of their comfort zone to feed.” He sees the fact that fewer anglers have been heading to northern Lake Huron in recent years as a good thing for those who do: “With the lack of pressure you’re able to get on some fish and fish ‘em. You don’t have 20 boats around you picking them off while you’re trying to fish the area.”

Hija agreed. “I like it better,” he said, “There’s not as much traffic. There’s plenty of room now. The fish aren’t spooked as much.”
The fall off in boat traffic, he added, “is noticeable. There were days when it was like the parking lot at a Wal-Mart out there.”
The decreased traffic makes a difference off the water as well, Hija said. “There are no long waits for the fish cleaning station or to launch your boat.”

For traveling anglers looking to escape the crowds even farther off the water, the Rogers City area of Michigan is tough to beat,
Located at the tip of the index finger of Michigan’s mitten, the town is close enough to be within an easy drive from most places in the state, yet remote enough that the causal tourist won’t be able to just stop by on a whim.

The city has plenty to offer the person who wants to get away from it all—especially the crowds. Some of Rogers City’s selling points are a small downtown, two nearby state parks, plenty of trails and local parks, and enough shops and restaurants to satisfy one’s desires, needs, and appetites, but not so many that the town loses its charm and quaintness. A couple indications of the degree to which the town identifies itself as a Great Lakes port: it is nicknamed “the Nautical City,” and the town’s Catholic church was designed to resemble a Great Lakes freighter.

Although lake trout have taken over as the main game fish, on the positive side, Michigan DNR Research Biologist Jim Johnson notes Rogers City’s catch rates for kings have been higher that those further south for several years now, and remained so in 2007. As one who takes lemons and makes lemonade, Hija treats the evolving fishery as a new challenge.
“Now you have to go out and work for the fish,” he said. “It’s more sporting now.”

Gone Fishin’

From Cheboygan Today

The words, “Gone Fishin’” mean more than that the store is closed, or that the occupant of the house is not in. Those words mean: I’m relaxing now. I’m doing what I love. Call if you want to, but I won’t answer. I will not be right back. The rest of the day belongs to me.

That is, unless your name is Dave Hija. For him, Gone Fishin’ means the same as “I’m Workin’”, because Dave owns and operates Emma J’s Sport Fishing Charters. His fishing days begin well before 5 o’clock in the morning. “Our morning charters leave at five or six and return at 11 or noon. The evening trips go out around four in the afternoon.

“I love what I do,” he says. “We ran our charters out of Presque Isle for ten years but found that the water around Cheboygan is less congested with boats, and the fishing itself is phenomenal. This is our third year running from Cheboygan. I like fishing without boats all over. It’s so peaceful.”

Who charters a boat to take them fishing in Lake Huron? “We see a lot of tourists but some local people, too. It’s a nice way to go, since we clean and vacuum pack your catch as part of the package.”

“Cheboygan is a great starting place because there are so many options. The river is beautiful, and full of fish. Or we can go out around any of the islands, where the boat ride is a big part of the experience. I remember one evening last summer when we came around from the east side of Mackinac Island. The sky was bright orange in the sunset, and the Mackinac Bridge was perfectly reflected in the still water. It was breathtaking. Yes, we had a good catch that day, but the sunset was the highlight. Watching the sun crest over the horizon on Lake Huron puts a good feeling on the day, too.”

But seeing the faces of the people on board light up when the “pull in a big one” is Dave’s favorite part. “They get so excited. We have days when we catch a dozen good fish by 7:30 in the morning.”

Each Emma J’s charter boat can take between four and six people, and each person is allowed to catch a total of five fish. A fishing charter trip is not as expensive as may be assumed. “We have a trip that will fit you budget.” For more information, visitwww.emmajsportfishingcharters.com or call Dave at 989-734-3548.

Not everyone is game for going out on the big lake, though. But that should be no hindrance to their fishing enjoyment in Cheboygan. The casual angler who prefers to keep his feet on the ground can catch plenty of fish from shore. Cheboygan fisherman Steve Warren knows that with some basic equipment, some time, a place, and a little bit of knowledge” it is possible to catch a trophy walleye out of the river…right from shore.”

That basic equipment includes “a rod a reel, a few lures, and a fishing license.” The Cheboygan River’s accessibility is one of its great features. “I’ve caught some nice-size smallmouth bass from the access site across from the hospital,” said Warren. “It’s a great place to fish with kids, because with so much public access, even down town, you can go out for a little while pretty often and almost always catch something. No matter what you’re chasing, it’s possible to catch it here.” He noted that all along the pier is good fishing, too.  “You can’t miss.” He lists steelhead, muskie, sturgeon, walleye, and both smallmouth and largemouth bass among the species that are common to area.

Each year, several fishing contests take advantage of Cheboygan’s wide variety of diverse fishing opportunities along with the abundance of easily accessible lakes, rivers and streams. Contact the Cheboygan Area Chamber of Commerce for an upcoming schedule or visit their website at www.cheboygan.com.

One of the more popular tournaments has been the Cheboygan Lions and Lionesses Clubs’ Annual Salmon Tournament on the first weekend in August. Friday evening opens with live entertainment and dinner under the Big Tent. The fishing begins Saturday morning at 6:00 am, and all boats must be back in the harbor by 2:00 pm for weigh –in. Each year, participants consistently reel in salmon over 20 pounds. Over $13,000 in cash prizes will be awarded this year. More information is available from Steve Gall at 231-818-1235. Aloha State Park on Mullett Lake holds a lot of bass and is home to the annual Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League (BFL) tournament that is held early June. As many as 400 anglers and 200 boats converge on the lake every year for what is known as “The Super Bowl of Bass Fishing”, a catch and release event.

Dave Washburn, a spokesman for the organization whose headquarters is in Kentucky said, “There are one million reasons to compete in this (the Forrest Wood Cup) tournament; that’s the one reason for every dollar of prize money awarded.” Nationwide, 230 BFL events take place each year; with the Cheboygan tournament being the first of the season in Michigan. Washburn added, “We love being able to work with the towns that are host to the tournaments and try to return to communities that are good to us, like Cheboygan.”

“We had heard good things about Cheboygan, not only about the great fishing opportunity, but the friendliness of the people. We have found that both are true and really enjoy coming back. We’re going to put Cheboygan on the map as a great place to go fishing.”

Spectators are welcome to watch the lake take-off at 6 am on tournament day. Weigh-in takes place at 2pm. “It’s a neat opportunity to see some great fish before they go back into the lake. Both times are exciting and a lot of fun, and crowd just adds to that.” Learn more about this tournament and other by following the links at www.sloutdoors.com.

If you’re looking for something for the whole family to enjoy together, or just a bit of quiet time alone, it doesn’t have to be expensive. You don’t even need a boat, just a little information and some basic equipment, including a little sign to hand on the door that reads “Gone Fishin’”.

Tight Lines, Tight Lips Fishing on Lake Huron

By Tom Carney, News Outdoor Columnist, The Alpena News

Captain Dave Hija kept one eye on Lake Huron in front of the “Emma J.” With the other, he slipped Sam Sellen a sidelong. “How was that, Sam? Kind of fun?”

“Well… err… yeah, I guess so.”

Sam Sellen, 9, is a man of few words.

But Hija knows kids and knew that Sam’s retinence had nothing to do with a lack of excitement. “This is something he’ll never forget,” Hija said.

Sam might have played his cards lose to his vest then, but in a later phone call to his parents back in Pullman, Wash., he let them know just how excited he was about his first fishing trip ever on Lake Huron, about catching his first salmon and lake trout, about catching the first fish and the most, about how he didn’t lose any and about manning the helm of the Emma J for most of the ride back to Cheboygan.

Hija had asked if Sam wanted to drive the boat. In typical Sam fashion he replied, “No, that’s OK.”

“Come on,” Hija said, “don’t be shy.”

And with that he scooted over in his chair, made room for Sam, and directed him on how to read the GPS, how to take bearings on various lights, and how to read the channel for the way in: “Red, right, return,” he said.

Sam informed his parents, “It’s pretty hard to steer the boat. Yeah. You have to line up the lights in the harbor and follow the route line on the screen and make sure there’s nothing in front of the boat that you can hit.”

As much as anything, those little scenes show both what it takes to create a successful fishing trip for kids and the fact that Hija is all over it when it comes to such successes.

Of course, it always helps when the fish are biting.

The Emma J had left port around 4 pm. By about 7 o’clock, Sam had fought and landed three salmon and a lake trout, one lake trout shy of his limit of five fish, no more than three of any single species.

“You can pull in my fish for me,” said First Mate Dave “Gumby” Gumtow, but Sam was having none of that. He’s got his ethics and even though was required to have a license, he was determined to stay within his legal limit. He then agreed that if another fish hit, he would fight it until the crew could decide if it were a trout or salmon. If a salmon, he would hand off the rod.

So he waited for another hit. And waited. And waited…

As if the lack of action weren’t enough to bore a kid to pieces, the grownups started talking about more serious matters, like getting kids involved on different levels of Great Lakes fishing.

Also on board that night was Ron Ramsey, President of the Cheboygan Area Sportfishing Association. In 2003, the association began working with the Michigan DNR on a salmon-planting project. “The DNR wanted Duncan Bay to become a small-boat fall fishery, and it’s taken off,” says Ramsey. The state brings in about 65,000 salmon fry each year. This year, says Ramsey, the fish came form the Platte River State Fish Hatchery in Beulah, and “they were all beautiful, healthy fish.”

And here’s where the association brings kids into the picture.

The group planned to build fish holding pens that sit right in the river and, when the time is right, allow for nighttime release of the smolts.

This helps curtail if not eliminate the attacks on the fish by gulls and cormorants. Students in the welding class at Cheboygan High School built the frames for the pens. Also, the association augments the DNR’s release with salmon raised in classrooms. This year, about 450 fish were added to the pens, raised by students in the Indian River, Cheboygan and Mackinaw City school districts.

Some students had an additional chance for some up-close and personal action earlier this summer when the association and the Emma I co-sponsored a free sportfishing day. Youngsters ages 12 to 16 enjoyed a day of Great Lakes fishing with Hija and volunteers from the association.

This couldn’t have happened without Hija’s move to a heated storage unit for the boat. “Other years, we wouldn’t be getting out until now,” he said in mid-July. “This year we got out in early May, and I’m telling you, there’s some good fishing then.”
He estimates his clients have already boated 400 fish, surpassing the total for all of 2007.

Sam had just about had his fill of waiting when around 9”30 pm, “Wham!”

“There’s a release!” called Emma J team member Brent Harriman.“You want to fight this one, Sam?”

Sam’s eyes widened as he watched Herriman struggling with the fish. Then, he saw the fish jump from about 100 yards away. “No, that’s OK,” he said, quickly back-pedaling so someone else could endure the ordeal. By the end of the night, Sam and his party had put eight Chinook salmon and three lake trout into the cooler.

“And people say there are no fish in Lake Huron,” said Hija. “Whaddya’ think of that, Sam?”

“Well… err… that’s not right. Because there are.”

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