COPPER?HARBOR?- "If our first ever Fall splake derby proved one thing, it's throw a tournament and they will come," said Don Kauppi, derby organizer.
Larry the Cable Guy's catch phrase "Git 'er done" fits Yoopers like a glove, then we add the winter urgency factor.
"Everybody knows the universal Yooper deadline is 'get 'er done before the snow flies' and we got it in by the skin of our teeth," Kauppi added. Raw 25 mph winds gusting to 40 whipped the harbor into a frothy, white-capped chop with rain, sleet and snow blown sideways, but 33 hearty anglers showed up to fish the event anyway.
The gales of November came calling early with temperatures in the 30s and water temps in the 40s. Just standing out on a dock you had to grabba holda something and hold on tight.
While a few boaters took to the wave-tossed water, more bankers than boaters fished the derby, casting their fate to the wind at the marina, docks and shoreline from Fanny Hooe Creek to Hunter's Point and Porter's Island.
Keith Hendee, Copper Harbor, caught the biggest fish, weighing in and releasing a wide-body 7.45 pound splake. He donated his $300 prize to Omega House. Dan Fosner finished second with a 4.95-pounder, donating his $200 prize to Omega House. Tracey Bonnell, Indiana, caught a 4.5-pound fish good for third place and $110.
A hatchery hybrid between a boy brookie (Salvelinus fontinalis) and girl lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), Splake prowl the harbor year-round, but put on the hottest bite during October. All dolled up in their Fall spawning colors, the males look like big brookies, while the females are silvery-green like their lake trout lineage.
"Some of the fish were the most colorful I've seen all season," said weigh master Jeff Coltas at the Gas Lite General Store, "Seems like they were biting on pretty much anything; quite a few eaters in the 15-18-inch range were caught on crankbaits, minnows, smelt and spawn, and a lot of smaller ones got released."
"It was as cold and wet as I care to get," said Jack Ham, Houghton, perhaps the hardest core of the hardcore anglers, who braved the waves in his Hobie kayak, catching smaller fish casting and trolling the rough water.
Dan Jarve's secret recipe fish was a big hit at the Mariner awards dinner following the derby, and nobody went home hungry. For more information, call Don Kauppi, 289-4637.