Impromptu Fishing Trip in St. Joseph, Michigan

A drop of warm water pelts my left hand. I look over and see Denver, my nervous wreck of a hound, panting heavily as his worried eyes search mine for reassurance. Drool was trickling from his jowls with each panicked exhale. Even after 4 summers of this, he still isn’t quite steady on the boat as we cruise through the open waters of Lake Michigan. Sammy, our other dog, has wedged himself behind the captain’s seat on the starboard side of the boat with no intentions of coming out until the boat has slowed.

My husband, Jay, runs fishing charters on Lake Michigan out of St. Joseph this time of year. When he had a last minute cancellation on a Sunday afternoon, my dad and I jumped at the chance to restock our freezer with spring coho salmon. We load the dogs in the car after church and made the two hour drive to the port. Once we arrive, we hop in the boat, make our way through the channel, and head out for open water to a spot Jay has picked out.


Once we arrive at our destination, the boat breaks from it’s cruising speed and suddenly lurches to a crawl. The wake behind the boat swells and continues it’s forward motion heaving the stern of the boat upward before allowing it to come down with a gentle thud. The motors are still humming as Sammy cautiously works himself out of his haven. Denver drops off the seat and meanders to the back of the boat to check on Sammy, both whiffing the crisp lake air.

I sit on one of the coolers in a comatose state, drowsy from the seasick pills I took earlier. I, too, am not quite used to spending so much time on the big lakes after being with my charter captain husband for 4 years. He and my dad get to work carefully setting fishing lines, plunging an array of spoons into the water. They twirl wildly, flashing a rainbow of colors, before disappearing behind the boat into the dark blue of the lake.

Once the lines are set, we sit back and take in the vastness of the lake. It’s still pretty early in the season and only one boat can be seen way out by the horizon. It doesn’t take long before the distinct sound of line whizzing from a reel is heard and my husband, Jay, jumps out of the seat to remove the rod from it’s holder.


I instinctively stand up as he passes me the rod. I know instantly I’m up against a coho salmon. They don’t fight nearly as hard as their larger king salmon cousins and this is the time of year that’s best for catching them. Jay nets the fish and my dad removes the hook from it’s mouth.  The ice was broken.


The fishing follows this pattern for the next couple hours. Every 15-45 minutes we’d get a hit, my dad would set the hook and I’d reel in the fish sans the time we had a double on and my dad and I reeled our prizes in together.

st-joseph-coho-fishing-2 st-joseph-coho-fishing-6

According to Jay, the fishing isn’t as great as it has been but we don’t complain at all. The weather is beautiful and we spend our time on the back of the boat swapping out lures, changing the boat speed, and trying different directions in an attempt to entice the coho.


As the afternoon turned into evening, we start to pull lines. We end up with one more surprise fish on the end of one of our lines bringing our total up to 6. Once the lines were in, we hightail it back to the marina to clean fish.


I love watching Jay clean fish. It’s weird and maybe a little gross when you think about it, but the finesse he demonstrates on each fish is truly impressive. While he cuts, I place our filets in bags and get them ready to go home with us.


We end the day with a quick stop for pizza. The Silver Beach Pizza Company is half pizza parlor and half fully operating train station. It sits right on the beach, too, so our view from our picnic bench is perfect. Once our plates are cleared, we hit the road.

This is what I love about living in Michigan. We are never more than a couple hours away from any of the lakes which for my family has always meant the opportunity for fishing trips like this. I grew up learning to love to fish and when I met my charter captain husband with a passion for the outdoors and fishing, I knew he was a keeper. I’m so grateful for the time we had and so lucky to have this tradition.