Winn Wolf figures he spent at least 400 hours over the fall and winter refurbishing a vintage 1975 35-foot Bertram into a boat that looks like it just came out of a yacht dealer’s showroom.
After finishing his day job as a property manager in the St. Joseph area, Winn stopped by his brother Glen’s boat storage facility in Benton Harbor, repairing fiberglass, sanding, rewiring, putting in new engines, and adding a beautiful dark blue gelcoat. He basically rebuilt the old boat from the keel up. Last Thursday, he and his wife Angie took this writer for its maiden fishing trip. And the big classic boat caught lots of fish, which is the most important responsibility for such a watercraft.
I met up with the Wolfs at their slip in St. Joseph’s West Basin Marina just as it was getting light at 6 a.m. Winn and Angie, who is a fashion designer, have fished Lake Michigan salmon tournaments together for more than 15 years, and had entered us in the inaugural Schu’s Shootout, a one-day tournament. The Shootout was the precursor to the Schu’s St. Joseph Summer Challenge, which was slated for Friday and Saturday.
Although the Friday-Saturday tournament faced winds and waves so fierce as to cancel Saturday’s competition after a rough fishing day on Friday, Thursday was as fine a day as any Lake Michigan salmon and trout angler could hope for. The wind was nearly calm, the sun shone brightly and, best of all, the fish were cooperative.
With the three of us, we could set out nine lines, so Winn put down three downriggers, two Dipsy Divers, and four lead core lines out on planer boards. One inside downrigger took a metallic green Spin Doctor flasher towing a tinsel fly down the deepest, just off the bottom in 105 feet of water. A variety of spoons went out on everything else.
Trolling west into progressively deeper water, the deep downrigger with the flasher/fly fired first, producing a chunky lake trout of about six pounds, duly recorded as the first fish caught aboard the Win-n-Angel 2. That downrigger turned out to be a laker magnet, catching three more six-pounders (one of which we released) as well as a 10-pounder and a 14-pounder.
While the deep Spin Doctor worked its magic, the lines on the planer boards carrying segments of lead core from 40 yards to 100 yards consistently caught cohos and steelhead. Angie landed a beaut of a six-pound steelie that counted as her first fish on their new boat. Tournament rules allowed us to keep our 15 fish limit, and weigh our five heaviest fish. With lots of time left before the 2 p.m. weigh-in at Schu’s Grill & Bar in downtown St. Joe, we had the two nice lakers and the big steelhead, but needed to upgrade the smaller cohos and steelhead in the cooler if we were to have a chance to finish high in the tournament.
Winn decided to run back towards shore and set up in 80 feet of water to target king salmon. While the water out deeper had been remarkably clear, here it took a pea-soup cast, which indicated it was loaded with baitfish-attracting organisms, and the boat’s sonar screen showed piles of alewives—and big arches that were likely kings.
While Angie drove, Winn and I reset the spread. All nine rods back out, I was leaning on the port gunwale when a reel behind me started screeching drag and the orange planer board plowed away behind the boat.
“That could be a big king!” Winn exclaimed as I pulled the rod from its holder. “That’s what we need. No pressure, Dave.”
Fighting a big king salmon is one of the reasons we Great Lakes trollers do what we do. They slam lures and make long runs, then, when you get them close to the boat, they veer towards the other lines you have in the water, providing excitement from start to finish.
And that’s what this one did. After splashing on the surface upon hitting the Warrior Fire Frog Glow spoon, the fish bulldogged deep, tearing off on three searing runs. Fortunately for us, the fish had worn itself out by the time it was at the transom, and Winn scooped it into the net. At the weigh-in, it took the scales down to 15.4 pounds.
That was our last fish of the day, and the Win-n-Angel 2 crew placed sixth in the tournament with just over 47 pounds. Three guys from Milwaukee aboard Waverly II had five kings weighing 69.44 pounds to win.
While the boat’s first fishing trip would have been the stuff of minor legends had we won the tournament, it was a truly marvelous day of trolling the big lake.
Images by Dave Mull