This summer, Minnesota angler Brian Sollars was fishing Lake Michigan for just the second time. But he was in the right place at the right time aboard the Wisconsin-based charter boat Midnight, captained by Bill Classon with mate Carter Zimmerman.
At about 6:15 a.m. on July 31, a heavy fish slammed a Moonshine spoon trolled from the Midnight. The spoon was 50-feet deep off a downrigger in about 160 feet of water, according to a Facebook post by Kinns Sport Fishing, a charter boat operation based out of Algoma, Wisconsin.
“It was funny—I didn’t feel anything but weight at first,” Sollars told the Door County Pulse. “I told Bill and Carter it was weeds, but then it took off on a long run.”
Sollars’ arms started aching during the fight, and for a time he thought the fish would take all the line on his reel and escape.
“Just looking at that line disappear, it looked like it was going to be about gone,” Sollars said. “I was hoping the fish would stop running at some point, and it did, and I was able to make some progress.”
It took about 15 minutes of hard work battling the huge Chinook, but Sollars slowly worked the salmon close to the “Midnight” boat and first mate Zimmerman netted the giant Chinook, or king salmon, and brought it into the boat.
The fish is perhaps a “wild” salmon, according to Kinns, because it didn’t have a clipped adipose fin. Such fins commonly are clipped by hatchery workers when stocking salmon to indicate their origin. Since Chinook salmon have been shown to spawn naturally in Lake Michigan, Sollars’ fish may have been a naturally produced salmon, according to USFWS data on Chinnoks in the lake.
Sollars’ huge fish measured 44 inches long, with a 28.5-inch girth. It weighed 40.40 pounds on certified scales, or 40 pounds, 6.4 ounces.
The fish is the heaviest recorded Chinook in the Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan since the state record 44-pound, 15-ounce salmon was caught in July 1994 out of Sturgeon Bay. That fish measured 47.5 inches long.
On certified scales, a true “40-pound” Wisconsin Chinook is rare, according to Kinns Sport Fishing, which has run many thousands of Lake Michigan salmon charters over the decades.