A 25lb King Salmon hits the deck and takes his last breath off the shores of Ludington, MI. I’ve fished the Big Lakes since I was 17 years old and a 25 pounder had eluded me for over 20 years. Nevermore!
We camped the night before on the outskirts of the Manistee National forest. Kicked back a few too many brews, or at very least, a few too frequently that night and slept through the alarm. We weren’t at the harbor heading for open water until 6:30am. Late, for any respectable Salmon bite. Despite our tardiness we were in 180 foot of water in the 43s and trolling west with twelve (12) lines set in no time. Our line-up consisted of eight (8) boards on 5-color, 7-color, Full-core, and 200 Cu; Two (2) downriggers on meat; and two (2) dipsys with flashers and flies. Everything else was trolling spoons.
The date, July 25th, is also of some importance. It was one week after the Pro/Am Offshore Classic fishing tournament and our Captain had helmed the boat, Pull Hard, that won the Women’s tournament just a few short days before, on the 17th. Fishing with a tournament winning boat Captain means a couple things: 1.) He knows (or knew) where the bite was, 2.) He’s confident in which lures, lure colors, designs, and depths are working, 3.) Any change to an award winning program is just plain bad luck. Enter a futile desire to run our spoons, HangryBrand spoons, for Salmon for the first time since post-production took place. The year was 2020 and little did I know that that year my family would be there with me while successfully taking a four (4) year old Salmon, and a four (4) year old 10-point buck only three months apart and within thirty miles of each other
At this point in our story I should take a step back a moment and explain a few things. Just twenty (20) months prior to this voyage our company - MMEC, LLC (aka HangryBrand.com) - was incorporated. $50 to the state and another $40 to VistaPrint for business cards and banners never felt so invigorating. The weeks that followed were intense, challenging, rewarding, humbling, and inspiring. When you’re already working a fulltime + job that demands attention and results you get only so far with creating a supply chain, finding qualified vendors, purchasing software, designing lure templates, developing a kickass website, etc... in the after hours of ‘normal work’ before you start to run up against roadblocks.
All we really wanted to do at the start was to fish with lures that we could say we designed ourselves. With these lures built from scratch we would then hit the water and catch fish. Simple enough of an idea. As it turns out, fashioning Convex, Nickel-plated Brass and then priming, painting, and sealing is not as simple as placing a hook on a chunk of carved wood (no offense intended towards the wood-carver crew, one love). That goal-ender has remained a constant driving force.
Some days those first objectives looked further away than when we started (like when you’re crafting a die press, or trying to source cartridge brass, or teaching yourself to use an antiquated .DXF CAD program for the first time). Other days, like that day in July of 2020 you feel so close. It can seem unattainable. It can seem as though your goal will wash through your hands as easily as the freshwater that surrounds you careens off the bow of the Cherokee.
Back to our story then. Four (4) hours into what would be a five (5) hour troll and we couldn’t buy a bite. By now it’s late morning with no near misses, not even a snag. A blistering hot day the temperature break was around 45 foot of water and we started our final trolling descent in 120 foot of water towards the harbor and along a contour line hoping for the waning Lake trout bite to pick back up.
We checked a few lines on the Port side and swapped spoons for some kind of new-fangled, cut-bait plastic plug (they were to catch nothing btw). Moving on to the Starboard side I grabbed a pile of recently finished HangryBrand spoons with the intention of changing out as many box store spoons for ours as I could before the Captain caught on. I checked the 200 copper and switched it out for our July-sized T375 in a Hex finish, color = purple and chartreuse (aka Salmon Lantern). The full-core was next. I no sooner unclipped the Yeck double orange crush when I heard ‘don’t change that one.’
The words ‘Damn it’ rolled around in my skull. Well, One (1) out of twelve (12) ain’t bad. In hindsight swapping out a spoon you want to prove your brand on after 4hrs of doing nothing but melting ice in the fish box and the day approaching noon isn’t exactly the best odds. In fact, you would be crazy to think that a single spoon in a vast body of otherwise dead water when it’s nearing 12pm, would produce anything other than wet tackle.
When opportunity knocks however, we need only have the willingness to open the door and take a risk. It’s not like we would get the chance to try out spoons if everything we set out at 6:30am that morning was producing already! So a risk we took with nothing to lose. Like a comet falling out of space and dropping a nugget of gold on your doorstep, wouldn’t you know it, our lure struck the jackpot. With the odds stacked entirely against us the Starboard side 200 Cu and planer board shot back. The Tekota 700 started humming.
I said nothing and swiftly unseated the Talora from the rod holder. All I could do was hang on for the ride. It was a good fish. Nay, it was a great fish. With a taut, taunting line and still trolling eleven (11) other lines at 2.2mph we didn’t gain on the fish until well after the ten minute mark. It was around this time that the Captain said, “Hey, that hit on your lure.” What could I say but, ‘I know.’ What could I do but count my chickens before they even hatched and smile a Cheshire grin from ear to ear. Damn right it was a HangryBrand lure. You’re damn right.
Twenty (20) months we worked on bringing that lure to fruition. 20 months we struggled and persevered. For 20 months we could have resigned defeat at any point. 20 months to get to a day where the fish weren’t biting; to be given the chance to run one lure before we admit defeat on the day. 20 months. 20 months, and within 20 minutes of trolling our spoon we had caught the best King Salmon I had caught in 20 years of Big Lake fishing. In truth I would have been happy with catching anything. But it wasn’t anything, it was a stud, a hog, a toad, a ‘monster fish’ as my boy put it. A monster fish kids, and an even bigger story to tell.
Most fish would have been in the boat after 10 or 15 minutes, or at least close. Not this King. After 20 minutes the planer board was still only within 15 yards of our stern. No longer gaining, it was a stalemate. We decided to pull a trick from the Bill Saiff playbook and intermittently plunged the inboard-outboard into and then out-of neutral.
Sweat beads continually formed on my brow and rolled down my glasses and lips. It was awesome. The sweltering heat, the taste of salt. With the planer board now disengaged there was only 200 foot of copper, leader, and our lure inbetween the fish and the net. It was thirty (30) solid minutes to get that fish within netting distance. The fish was a great catch. A twenty-year feat, a 20 month challenge, and that wasn’t even the best part. The best part was this was my family's first time fishing the Big Lake together. My kids, four and six years old at that time, and my wife, were there to celebrate the victory. They were there to share in the memory of the first day we ever landed a 25lb king on a HangryBrand lure. As it so happened, the first Salmon on a HangryBrand lure was taken the first time our lures ever hit the Big water.
Tight lines and Fond memories,
Mike (Fishmitts) Hiller