Sometimes, trolling on Lake Michigan with Uncle Bud is like what an undercover cop told me about being on a stake out: “Long, long periods of boredom, broken up by a few moments of total terror.”
Drop the word “terror” and substitute the word “excitement” in that statement, and you’ve summed up what its like to troll with Uncle Bud. At least it was last Tuesday, when we headed out of New Buffalo in southwest Michigan, seeking big kings.
You should know a few things about Bud Roche. First, he’s not actually my uncle. Uncle Bud is what everyone who knows him calls him, and if you accompany him into any store or restaurant in this small port town, you learn just about everybody knows him. Second, he used to be a Top Fuel drag racer and is highly competitive. He dominates his Michiana Steelheaders club tournaments—in the last six years, he’s been first three times and second the other three times. He finished second in last year’s Ludington Offshore Classic in a field of 75 amateur boats. Retired after a career as an electrician, he takes his 22-foot Grady-White, the Uncle Bud trolling for salmon, or his 20-foot Grady-White, the Uncle Bud II, fishing for perch. One final fact is, in April, he turned 80 years old.
Bud has fairly simple, two-prong secret to success: first, target big fish. Second, have patience until they bite.
He targets big kings with a spread of flashers and flies and bait—cut herring or alewife fillets in baitheads—also behind flashers.
Tuesday morning, we pulled out of the Galien River, and Bud put the hammer down on the twin Suzuki 140 outboards, skimming the light chop at 42 miles per hour. The old drag racer still likes to go fast. Within minutes, we were set up about five miles from port, setting downriggers and Deeper Divers on wire line. Lead core and copper lines went out on boards. Although a couple lines started with spoons, soon all six had flashers and bait. And at 11:30, we had one small steelhead in the cooler. Action was s-l-o-w. A cell phone call came from a young friend of Bud’s.
“They’re pounding cohos in 45 feet of water down towards the state line,” the caller said.
Bud never considered pulling lines, making the six-mile run and targeting these smaller, if tasty cousins to kings.
“Who wants to mess wth cohos?“ Bud exclaimed. “I’m after big fish.”
And so we continued trolling, gradually moving in to depths of 100 feet, meandering out to 130. Finally, nearly five hours into the excursion, one of the diver rods started shaking, its reel screaming out wire line. Just as soon as I grabbed it, a corner downrigger bobbed and released, and, and before Bud could grab it, a silvery king salmon erupted from the water, not 20 feet from the boat.
While the first fish tested my biceps, the second fish sounded, straight behind the boat. Soon, my king was in sight, so Bud put the rod with his fish on it in a side rod holder and got the net ready. And this king did what many big kings do at the moment of truth when you’re trying to dip it, finding one last spurt of energy and wrapping itself in the wire of the diver rod on the port side of the boat. A few tense moments followed as we could see the wire line sawing into the leader between the flasher and the black-mouthed fish. I laid my rod down, grabbed the tangled wire rod from its holder and was able to hand-line the fish into Bud’s waiting net.
With the first king put on ice, I pulled the other rod, king still attached, from its holder and soon realized this fish had managed to tangle itself in the other three rods still in the water. Lead core, copper, and monofilament became a massive bird nest, and I ended up hand-lining this fish in from where it surfaced around 200 feet behind the boat.
This fish, having been dragged for a while and worn out by dragging two sets of weighted line, was a bit more cooperative and Bud netted it easily.
Three fish in the box (the first king tipped the scale at 16 pounds, the second was 12) and a massive bird’s nest to unsnarl, we decided to call it a day and head to lunch ashore.
Big fish don’t always come easy, and the really memorable ones are those that you earn. If it’s big, memorable fish you’re after, it’s Bud you want to take you fishing.
For more information on Michigan fishing go to michigan.org. Click here to purchase a Michigan fishing license online. Michigan’s annual Summer Free Fishing Weekend is this weekend, June 8-9–make sure you make it out on the water.
Images by Dave Mull