When I run into readers, I am often asked about the Detroit hat I wear in my fishing photos.
The answer is simple: I was born in Michigan and lived there until I was 10. I maintain an emotional connection to The Mitten, but I hadn’t visited in more than a decade — until recently.
Over Christmas, my wife and I took our daughter, Quinn, to Michigan. It was a wonderful trip filled with Detroit sporting events, nostalgic foods and long-overdue visits with family. Quinn even got to meet her great-great grandma Matilde, still going strong at 97!
As usual, I took the opportunity to try an out-of-state fishing excursion. The day after Christmas, Captain Eric of Erie Gold Fishing Adventures welcomed our group of four — my sister-in-law Melissa, her son Emerson, my brother-in-law Steve and me — aboard his boat for a Lake Erie walleye hunt.
It was a picturesque day: sunny, unseasonably warm and barely a hint of wind. I helped Eric rig up eight rods with planer boards designed to keep our large, wobbly crankbaits from tangling. We marked plenty of fish early on, but they weren’t interested in our lures.
“When do you think they’ll start biting?” Emerson asked.
“That’s up to you, my man,” I smirked. “You’ve got to start holding your mouth right!”
The adults burst into laughter at the puzzled look on the 12-year-old’s face. We pressed on.
About two hours in, Eric got a radio call from a friend fishing nearby.
“Hey Eric, we just hit on P10 at 45, Barney in a Clown Suit.”
Like most radio lingo, it required some translation — Corey’s boat had hooked a fish on a Perfect 10 crankbait trolled 45 feet back. The lure had a purple head and tail (Barney) with a white polka dot pattern (clown suit).
About 15 minutes later, Corey was back on our channel.
“Eric, we just came over the waypoint from our last hookup. We have five fish on.”
“Copy that, we are on our way!”
Incredibly, on a lake bigger than Vermont, the bite was confined to an area the size of a football stadium. But thanks to the friendly assist, we were on them. On our first pass, a side planer started swimming out of formation.
“Fish on!” I yelled, grabbing the rod and handing it to Emerson. Within moments, all four anglers were fighting a walleye.
Emerson’s fish came aboard first — a fine 4-pound specimen. Eric scooped up Steve’s in the same net, another 4-pound keeper. Melissa’s came in next, topping the leaderboard at more than 6 pounds.
My fish was the last to come aboard, but I caught a glimpse of it near the surface about 30 yards out.
“Eric, I think we have a thrasher!”
Sure enough, Eric soon netted a 30-inch Lake Erie monster weighing just shy of 10 pounds.
“Was that fun or what, Emerson?” the captain cried. “Let’s do it again!”
The rest of the day followed suit. Every time we came through the sweet spot, multiple rods went off. “Barney in a Clown Suit” was MVP, but other baits including “Fruit Dots” and “Wonderbread” also got in on the action.
By early afternoon, we had limited out. As Emerson reeled in his last and biggest fish of the day, he was grinning from ear to ear.
“There you go, buddy,” I teased. “You’re finally holding your mouth right!”
We thanked Eric for the epic trip and hustled off to catch that night’s Detroit Pistons game. The next day, I taught Emerson — an aspiring sushi artist — how to fillet fish. For dinner, the whole family feasted on fresh fried walleye and ice cold, Michigan-made Vernors ginger ale.
It felt good to be home.