article by Jeff Kutcha
Smart Chartering Means More Than
The city of St. Joseph is a long way from central Michigan, but for
adventuresome anglers craving fresh salmon, it�s 1,000 miles closer than
the Pacific coast. In that sense, chartering a Great Lakes captain for a
day of big-water fishing is a value unmatched, and the area just outside
the mouth of the St. Joe�s River produces some of Michigan�s hottest early
As I quickly discovered, Captain John Milbourne (www.michigansportfishing.com)
was the right man for the task. Milbourne called me in late April with a
smattering of options and I booked on May 7 as a tag along with a couple
guys, Lincoln McGhee and Leo Supplee, from the Detroit area. McGhee and
Supplee do a fair amount of big-lake fishing up near Mackinac, which, as I
thought about it, was somewhat baffling. Why would they pay a guy to take
them fishing if they had their own boat and a place on good water? A good
question�one that most people taking charter trips overlook�after all, the
average angler usually hires a fishing guide expecting a full limit of the
target species. But most guides will readily admit that this is a
For McGhee and Supplee, their mission was more complex than simply boating
a few fish. They wanted to enhance their understanding of the entire
process. Sure, they sought fish to take home, but they also wanted
questions answered, rigging techniques explained, and, in general, to
learn from a guy who really knows his stuff. Those objectives fulfilled,
they could take to their own waters a more diverse range of tools and
techniques for cashing in on what the Great Lakes have to offer.
Milbourne did not disappoint. We left the dock by 6am and had lures in
place over 40 feet of water as spring�s great orange sun climbed over the
Lake Michigan dunes. Within twenty minutes the first of the day�s salmon,
a clean and shimmering silver five-pound king, came to the net. In six
hours, from about fifteen good hits, we ended up with nine fish, including
one smallish coho and a respectable 15-pound king. And it was a perfect
morning to fish: the usually temperamental lake produced nothing more than
a gentle rocking action to the boat; at times, the air was cool enough to
see our breath, though the shining sun made the trip quite comfortable;
all questions were answered, and details explained, with the weight of
professionalism; and the fish cooperated.
The fish cooperated, indeed.
Therein lies the major snag for those charter guests looking merely to put
fish in the cooler. For those of us who spend any amount of time on the
water chasing those silly, unforgiving fish, this is something that we all
deal with, from the best charter captain in the world to the worm-dunking,
popsicle-eating kid on shore. When the fish don�t want to eat, they won�t
bite any presentation, regardless of the angler�s name, the kind of boat
he drives, and how many patches he has on his shirt.
Summary: When you contemplate hiring a charter captain or guide, do so
with higher expectations. Expect to catch some fish, but realize that
limiting out is something even the best anglers do only when the stars
align perfectly. Strive to come away with a better understanding of the
process so that you can incorporate specifics into your own style. Best of
all, relish the experience. I think McGhee and Supplee enjoyed the simple
course of being on the water that promising spring day, away from the land
and the crowds and all of life�s triviality, as much as anything.
Would I book with Captain John again? Absolutely. I�ve been on a fair
share of guided trips, and spent some time guiding anglers myself, so I
speak with some authority. The most compelling thing about him is that he
takes a long-term approach to business, that is, he aims to please.
Short-term captains resort to making bad decisions for their guests,
namely, by taking them out when conditions are unfavorable for a pleasant
trip. Wind is the main culprit of ruined charter fishing. Wind and the
ensuing waves hinders control of lure speed, decreases the chances for
good hook-ups on biters, and facilitates early and constant vomiting.
Captain John has no qualms about calling it quits before the boat leaves
the dock. Regardless of whether he�s chasing June walleyes on Lake Erie or
late-summer kings out of Manistee, he�s in it for the long run, which
makes him a valuable asset, on multiple levels, for any angler wishing to
tangle with Michigan�s big-water inhabitants.