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The Biggest Pink Salmon that Never Was

by Bill Cari

Back when pink salmon were relative newcomers to the Great Lakes, my friends and I went on a charter out of Frankfort, Michigan on the Sea Joy.

We left Betsie Harbor at about 6:30 on a very sunny, comfortable morning. This being our first trip of the year, we were all looking forward to six hours of what we hoped would be some real salmon action. As we cruised to our first destination, we drew cards to determine the order in which we would take strikes.

The mate had just set out all the lines when one of the rods popped up. Someone yelled "Fish on!" My friend Mike, having drawn the high card, jumped up and grabbed the rod. After several minutes of furious fighting, he pulled in the first fish.

It was a salmon, but it was unlike any salmon we had ever caught. For one thing, it had this huge hump on its back. The color was also a bit unusual.

"That's a pink salmon," said the captain. He looked at it a moment, then looked at his mate, who nodded. Then he looked at Mike.

"You know," he offered, "that's pretty big for a pink. You boys might want to consider turning around right now and weighing it in. You could have a real catch here."

We all looked at the fish, which didn't seem all that big to us. It was only about 7:00 in the morning, and everyone wanted to catch fish. Especially Mike, who thought this dainty pink unworthy of a trip back to the marina.

"No way," he decided. "Let's keep fishing!"

So, we threw the salmon into the box and kept fishing. Eventually, we picked up several kings, a couple of steelhead, some lakers, and one brown that looked to be about 13 or 14 pounds. Each fish we added to the box further dwarfed the pink salmon.

Now it was time to return to the marina. We pulled in all the lines and headed back.

After docking the boat, we hauled all the fish up to the cleaning station. Word of our pink salmon got around, so we had a small crowd on hand when we put it on the scale.

"Six pounds, two ounces," said the captain. "The state record is currently six pounds, four ounces. You missed it by just two ounces."

The captain explained that because pink salmon were so new to Lake Michigan, they hadn't had time to grow very big. Then came the heartbreaker that we already suspected.

"That pink sat in the box all morning, drying out," the captain lamented. "He probably lost several ounces in water alone. If we'd have brought him in right away, you'd have beat the state record with no problem."

To describeMike as being angry would be an understatement. I won't repeat the rather colorful language that was heard around the marina that afternoon. Suffice it to say that EVERYONE within a large radius of the cleaning station discovered just how creative a man's language can become when he has thrown away the chance to become a record-holder.

Personally, if it was my fish, I would have at least sent it to the taxidermist. But, not Mike.

That night, we grilled a potential record pink salmon over a bed of charcoal. Served it with potatoes. A lot of people say that pink salmon aren't very tasty.

Don't believe 'em.


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