Anglers tackle Salmon-a-Rama tournament

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By Ted Peck
Special to The Gazette
Sunday, July 13, 2014

What may be America’s largest freshwater fishing tournament will be held in Racine July 12-20, based out of Reef Point marina. Salmon-a-Rama has been based out of this Lake Michigan port since 1975, with a top prize of $15,000 offered for this year’s biggest fish.

Reef Point marina is a new venue for this multi-faceted event. Since 1996, tournament headquarters have been a 42-by-40-foot pavilion on the Racine lakeshore, which was built and donated to the city at a cost of over $17,000 by Salmon Unlimited.

Salmon-a-Rama brings millions of dollars into this struggling city every year, driven by the great folks of Salmon Unlimited. To show appreciation for the incalculable benefit SU has brought to the city over the years, greedy city fathers wanted to charge SU to rent the pavilion they built and paid for this year!

This forced tourney organizers to look closely at other ports for this year’s event. Fortunately, Reef Point marina stepped up to keep Salmon-a-Rama in Racine.

Catching the biggest salmon is not the only way to walk away with prize money in this tourney. There are a number of divisions and categories in which participants can take home a healthy check for the investment of a $33 ticket.

Savvy anglers know sportfishing on Lake Michigan isn’t cheap recreation. Seaworthy boats are a substantial investment. Fuel can cost over $100 per day on the water—or more.

The “big pond” is also hard on gear. Lost rods, broken downriggers and a king’s ransom in fishing tackle gone forever are all part of a typical day fishing this inland sea. But with the risk comes potential for great reward.

During the 2010 contest, Roger Hellen was having a rough time. Hydraulics supporting his motor failed on the way to the lake, shearing the skeg off his motor on the way to Racine. On Day 2 of the tourney, a $400 downrigger broke off Hellen’s boat and sank quickly to the bottom.

Hellen fished on, boating a 41.8-pound brown trout.  Not only did he capture top prize, but this fish now holds the world record for brown trout.

The dozen times I’ve fished Salmon-a-Rama over the years have been with Capn. Rich Gorske out of his boat Fishmeister II. Every trip has been a memorable adventure.

One year I almost won the daily “featured fish” prize. But the double-digit rainbow trout broke the line on about the eighth water-clearing cartwheel behind the Fishmeister II.

Another year Gorske won this event on brown trout day, catching a 23-pound brownie. We were the only two aboard that day, taking turns driving the boat and working the back deck. 

He almost broke even that year. I got a steak dinner and didn’t have to chip in for boat gas.

A dozen years ago, a frantic call from Gorske had me speeding to Racine to take over first mate chores from Gorske’s son, Alex, who had a large treble hook impaled in his hand.

As the captain helped his son debark from Fishmeister II, an expensive digital camera fell out of his pocket and went right in the drink.  Just another day on Lake Michigan.

Capn. Rich swears he won’t compete as hard this year as he has in past Salmon-a-Rama events. Time will tell.

This legendary captain is no longer capable of jumping from the flybridge down to the deck and grabbing a rod in a single bound, although his mind still works faster than a speeding bullet.

When we were out “training” for Salmon-a-Rama a couple weeks ago, Capn. Rich would only sit in the wheelhouse like an old dog on a porch barking, “Fish On! Fish On!” as Alex scrambled to grab another pulsing rod and screaming reel.

Game day is here. Betting against the Fishmeister is not a good idea.

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