Kayak Fishing Weekend in Sleeping Bear Bay for Legendary King Salmon

In short order, Gizel was reading about people taking kayaks out on the Pacific Ocean, busting through the surf to fish on the swells beyond. The image convinced him to do some tournaments on the East Coast, Florida and Virginia. And the sport officially had its hooks in him when, four years ago he began guiding and became a pro staffer for a manufacturer.

His most extreme trip to date was being dropped off with a few other men on the northwest coast of Queen Charlotte Island, on the northern coast of British Columbia. “That was pretty intense, fishing in 15 foot seas with a sit-on-top kayak,” he says. “A couple of the guys got seasick.” A photo of Gizel taken on the trip ran on the cover of Kayak Angler Magazine’s spring 2009 edition.

But seasickness is far from the concern today. The water stays flat under a brilliant blue sky, and the air starts to warm—too much so, 10 to 15 degrees above normal. Gorgeous for kayaking, but not kayak fishing because it means the water will warm too, and the fish will head for the cold of deeper water. Fish finders told the tale. They showed the baitfish schooling up at 40 to 70 feet deep.

You paddle about three miles an hour. So if weather’s moving in and you’re a mile out, that’s 20 minutes to shore; two miles out, 40 minutes to shore. Plan accordingly.

“They were on the bottom,” Dalton says. “And you could see all the salmon running through those bait fi sh, but we were set up for about 20 feet and were having a hard time getting down there.”

Come late morning, Gizel paddles up and drifts to a stop. He reaches into the water and pulls up a stringer with a Chinook looped through the gills. As he does, the radio wakens. “Cameron caught another one,” somebody says. Then Wentzel chimes in over the airwaves. “I got the hot lure, a black and white Hot-n-Tot.”

Lunchtime nears, and the sun still shines brilliantly across the bay. Fishing has gone slack. Everybody paddles to shore, hauls their boats to their campsites and then gathers at one site for the laid-back afternoon festivities. First things first. Dalton and Gizel hang a scale from a camper. Wentzel’s biggest fish weighs in at 11 pounds 15 ounces. Gizel’s fish comes in at 11 pounds 12 ounces. The men clap and cheer for the winner. They rib Gizel for falling three ounces short.

In the campsite dappled now with September’s sleepy afternoon sun, the men settle into creaky lawn chairs, grab seats on the picnic table, and the smell of chili rises from a giant pot on the stove. Gizel lights a cigar. Somebody pops open a Landshark Lager.

“Everybody thought we were crazy when we fi rst did this,” Dalton says. “My wife and friends still all think I’m crazy,” says Ed Fan, a chiropractor from Grand Rapids.

The men laugh and give knowing nods. One guy has fished from kayaks for 18 years. Another guy, it’s his third time out. Most men’s experience falls between those extremes.

But regardless of years in kayaks, the fishermen here agree the kayak is the only way to get the kind of fishing they want. They refer to an intimacy with the water—being so close to it, so in it—and an intimacy with the fish. “It’s like one-on-one combat,” says Vince Valerio. “Like that book, The Old Man and the Sea.”

Okay, sure, maybe … kinda. Just you and that tiny kayak and light tackle and that big salmon that can pull you and your boat around in one of the world’s largest lakes. Not for days, like Hemingway’s marlin did to Santiago the fi sherman, but
for an adrenalin-laced and unforgettable 15-minute contest, in a beautiful place like Sleeping Bear Bay? On a marvelous September weekend? You bet.

Jeff Smith is editor of [email protected]

Do it!

Everybody is welcome at the fifth annual Salmon Fishing Trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes. Even if you just want to show up Saturday afternoon and chat to learn about the sport, that’s fine too. September 17–19, 2010. D.H. Day Campground, Glen Arbor. Just drive through the campground and look for the kayak fishing banner. Say hello. michigankayakfishing.com.

Get tips for buying a fishing kayak: The boat, the gear, the safety.

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Article Comments

  • Anonymous

    This sounds like a whole lot of fun.

    If any one gets some good pix, you might want to submit them to a contest on line sponsored by the Animal and Plant Health Information System (APHIS) of the USDA.

    For more details on the photo contest and some good information on preventing disease in fish, here’s a link to the APHIS site: