Salmon Fishing out of Port Washington, WI

From the time I walked in the door from my first and only salmon fishing trip – to Ludington, MI in 2011 – I had hoped that I might some day be going back. We had an incredible time on Lake Michigan, catching 20-25 pound Kings and even a few Cohos pushing 10lbs, while experiencing several different kinds of fishing. Not to mention I ate salmon for months. It truly had all of the makings of one of those bucket list items that might have been intentionally “checked off” in pencil.

Late this spring I got out the eraser and carefully “unchecked” that box… plans to revisit Lake Michigan were hatching, and I was not about to be left out. Months of deliberation and chit-chat about this potential return eventually turned into a solid plan. With spousal approval secured across the board, work schedules successfully manipulated, and all other technical details sorted, we found ourselves anxiously awaiting a date with Nicky Boy Charters out of Port Washington, WI – directly across the lake from our 2011 adventure.

IMG_2778Port Washington, as it turns out, is quite likable. The docks were lined with charter boats front-and-center, framing up a nice little boardwalk area, complete with dining and entertainment close at hand. In fact, we arrived a midst some festival, with areas roped off, bands playing, and vendors abound. Come to find out this is quite the little festival town, with such things happening quite frequently here. This quaint little downtown area had all the romantic trappings of the dreamy angler’s fairy-tale fishing harbor town. And with a strategically located Holiday Inn right on the water, we didn’t have to get back in the truck until we left to come back home.

IMG_2874The icing on that cake came in the form of a well researched, strategically located pub that turned out to be, hands down, the finest establishment I have ever had the honor of patronizing as craft beers are concerned.

IMAG1126I will not turn this story into one about the Sir James Pub, but it is not for a lack of deserving. As someone with at least a mild knowledge of craft beer – having home-brewed for nearly 20 years, attended the Great American Beer Fest several times, utilized my marketing services for several microbreweries, and performed years and years and more years of “market research” to the tune of thousands of beers tasted – I safely – and humbly – consider myself uniquely qualified to say that the owner and cicerone, Jason and his staff are among the most knowledgeable beer folk I have ever met.

IMAG1133Jason seemed to casually pull  hidden treasures in the form of rare, limited edition beers from hidden nooks and crannies, cellar trips, secret closets, and maybe right out of thin air. The place felt magical, so I won’t count anything out. I just know that tiny tasting glasses filled with small batch, never-before-heard-of treats kept finding their way to my place at the bar. Jason, if you ever read this, and recall this Kansas fellow that took all of your attention that very night at the end of August, 2013, I say to you – you are my Willy Wonka.

If you fancy yourself a craft beer enthusiast, a micro brew aficionado of any nature, at any level, then this is absolutely a worthwhile destination. Port Washington is already a neat place to visit, but if you are a beer geek, this little pub is well worth planning a trip around. You’ll need a couple evenings to fully explore what I the Sir James Pub has to offer even the most educated and traveled beer connoisseur.

And that’s an ideal segue into the fishing part of this story. With part of the blame going to my Sir James Pub adventure, (the other firmly planted on someone else’s decision to stop at a bar in Madison on the way up) I was a bit slow going into the first half of our day one on the boat.

IMG_2725The first day would be split with a morning run by Capt. Brad of Harbor City Charters, and then an afternoon with Nicky Boy Charters and Capt. Bob. It was an interesting start to the fishing as charter boats all sort of formed a line and started trolling towards deeper water. Once we hit around 100′ of water we started catching fish. They were nearly always around the thermocline, which stayed in the 50 FOW range, with a few occasionally coming from deeper water – a trend that would stay consistent over the course of our trip.

IMG_2761This morning run would put us at 15 fish; nine being Chinook/kings, with the largest being in the 13-14 lb range. Four lake trout and a pair of rainbows in the 4-5 lb range would round out the morning catch. A little nap break, some lunch, and a few Advil later, we boarded the Nicky Boy III and set out with Capt. Bob for part 2 of day one.

IMG_2882Captain Bob. Where in the world do I begin. If you tasked me with developing a character for a movie, or a novel that included that “fairy-tale”/stereotypical boat captain/fishing guide (and I know, Capt. Bob, using the word “Fairy-tale” in the same sentence with you could get me banned for life) he would likely end up being someone just like Capt. Bob.

A native of Port Washington, Capt. Bob practically grew up in  a boat on the very waters he guides you on. A guide for, I believe he stated 38 years now, Bob was one of the most knowledgeable men I’ve ever been on any body of water with. There’s something very different between some of these younger guys who have the knowledge necessary to do what he does based on daily repetition and a radio frequency and someone who exudes a depth of knowledge and experience that can only come from soaking up nearly four decades of it.

No bones about it, Captain Bob is the Salmon Whisperer.

IMG_2803Never afraid to simply tell it like it is. Straightforward and to the point. Capt. Bob responded to most of our questions with wit, but was also quick to explain the “what” and “why” and “how” along the way.  Capt. Bob was colorful and entertaining, to say the least. The man has one goal. Fish in the boat. If you are out for a gentle cruise, with maybe a Captain Merrill Stubing from The Love Boat… well, this is not your trip. Capt. Bob is both laid back and feisty. Down to earth and unassuming one moment, eccentric and opinionated and keeping you on your toes the next. I can’t imagine doing this again and NOT being on Capt. Bob’s boat. He added an extra dimension to the whole experience, both from his knowledge and ability to get us on fish, and from the entertainment that comes with his unique and charismatic personality.

IMG_2876Our afternoon with Bob saw our limits filled out with 3 more kings, 4 more lake trout, a couple more rainbows and a few cohos. With a long day on the water behind us, these five rather hungry fellows decided to take advantage of a special at a local establishment – Newport Shores – that would cook up your freshly caught fish with a choice of sides. For the price of a mere $9.95 or so, we ate until we could eat no more, taking plenty back with us for breakfast.

IMAG1168The next morning would start a full day on the water with Capt. Bob. The morning started a bit slow, as we made a late audible the evening before to try a different strategy in an effort to chase some big browns that can often be found in shallower water under similar conditions. While this did not pay off this time, it was yet another example of the Capt.’s experience working to create unique opportunities to experience a wider range of fishing. And we felt pretty confident that Bob would eventually put us on the fish, so using the morning for something a little different sounded good to all of us.

IMG_2900Once we headed for deeper water, the action was slow and sporadic for several hours. We picked up our fish here and there, electing to fish right on through lunch – this gave us more actual boat-time, eliminating the long run in and then back out, not to mention bringing in all of the rods and putting them back out. While we had a couple spans where it was hot for a short time, it was mostly a long grind, never seeming like we were tearing them up, but then you look in the cooler and all of a sudden you are counting down the last few fish.

IMG_2898The setup on the Nicky Boy III with Capt. Bob consisted of an array of 15 rods; three out each side on planer boards – these running primarily flies with flashers; two more on each side with dipsy divers, also running flashers and flies; four more on down-riggers (two on each side); then one long (and I mean LONG!) line straight out the back on lead core that was sometimes a spoon, sometimes a fly. Flies were usually green and blue. Like the previous day, our fish were taken at varying depths, and on varying rods. It was hard to pin down a specific combination as best.

IMG_2844We finished day two with 29 fish, with a lot of the day’s catch being cohos, one of which the Capt. noted as the largest he had seen in a number of years, pushing the 13lb mark. While we only kept four kings, three of them were very nice four year old fish that ranged in the 18-20lb range. Four more rainbows and 6 more lake trout rounded out our limits and a few that the Capt. signed over. Then we hit the restaurant, Newport Shores, again to celebrate an awesome day with more fresh fish.

IMG_2998The whole charter experience with Nicky Boy Charters really stood out. While I am no expert, I can say I’ve experienced four different Great Lakes salmon charter, along with a variety of fly fishing and saltwater guides around the country. I am not sure I have ever had a guide work this hard to get us on fish. Never had a guide take our success so personally; get so excited when we missed fish. Capt. Bob’s vast wealth of knowledge and experience, coupled with that character and personality I mentioned previously truly helped to shape our whole experience. Capt. Bob, teh Salmon Whisperer, was one of us by the end of these two days on the water together.

IMG_2995The package we put together with Capt. Chris from Nicky Boy Charters was, in our collective opinions, very reasonable. We were able to “customize” our package to meet our fishing goals, took care of the lodging/accommodations, fishing licenses, cleaning fish, etc. We really just had to show.

Nicky Boy Charters came highly recommended to us – and any of the five of us would gladly recommend and endorse them as well.  They’ll take good care of you and work tirelessly to get you on fish and provide you with the experience you want. Be sure to book in advance if you need specific dates, as they get booked up well ahead of the season.

IMG_2942Pretty sure I’ll be checking this off the old bucket list in pencil. Again. And keep that eraser handy.

Galleries from the trip:

Port Washington I

Port Washington II

And be sure to check out some of the videos from this trip on our YouTube page.

~ benton

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