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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.

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