Sheboygan – Dawn comes early in summer in Wisconsin.
And time goes by so fast. years up.
At 5 a.m. on June 20, a pink light filled the sky over Sheboygan Marina.
“Ready to go?” said Captain Dan Welch, 55, owner of Dumper Dan’s Sportfishing Charters in Sheboygan. “The fish are waiting there.”
Our crew of 12 moved to the pier behind Dumper Dan’s waterfront store.
Three of Welch’s fleet of six 28-foot cruisers had already departed. The others slowed in their docks, waiting for us to load.
Welch led us to the boats and waved goodbye. We split four pieces, and in minutes went for an adventure in the Big Pond.
Herring gulls flutter in the sky, strong boats ride on board, the cool lake air washes our cheeks.
Some things never change.
Others are markedly different.
Yesterday Welch apparently had his first 14-year-old buddy with Captain Gary Schrempf of AAA Charters of Sheboygan and they had a hunting party including outdoor writer, DJ and contestant George Voklich of Madison.
Vocklish did as he was told that day in 1981 and brought a large cooler. There was a need.
The fishermen landed eight fish for their afternoon picnic, including a 15.5-pound Chinook salmon that battled for 30 minutes.
The Vukelich family’s fishing tradition began from Sheboygan and has continued through the development of the local fishing industry. A few years later when Vocklish called to set up a picnic, Schrempf said, “Do you remember my first mate?”
And Vukelich began booking flights with Welsch and Dumper Dan’s, his new company.
In 1985, Welch made 26 fishing trips in the Big Pond.
This year on the strength of the six-boat fleet, Dumper Dan’s will operate over 1,000.
“In the blink of an eye, here we are,” Welch says.
On June 20, “we” implied a familiar link to Welch’s career.
George’s son, Vince Voklich of Greendale, was aboard Dumper Dan VI with Dain Maddox of Wauwatosa, Marcus Stanford of Madison and myself.
Spread across the other boats were Vince’s wife Sue Conwell, their sons Taylor, Tyler Voklich, Sam Austin, son Will, Pete Georgelette, Jeff Krueger and Jay Newman.
They are all Wisconsin residents who are either friends, co-workers, former co-workers, or relatives of Vince Voklich.
Vukelich arranged the picnic to honor the past and introduce family and friends to the fisheries.
George Voklich died in 1995 at the age of 67, carving out what was undoubtedly a life filled with more hunting trips.
“I have fond memories of my father’s travels here and I,” Vince Voklich said as the boat headed southeast of Sheboygan. “And I hope that by bringing others out we can create similar experiences and maybe even start an imitation.”
When Welch was born in Sheboygan in 1967, there was no charter fishing industry to speak of.
Lake Michigan was barely recovering from an attack from invasive species, including sea lamprey that decimated the populations of two of the original predatory fish, trout and burbot.
To help control the excessive number of another invasive, Alewife, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources began stockpiling non-native (hard) rainbow trout in 1963 and the US Fish and Wildlife Service began cultivating lake trout in 1965.
Coho salmon wasn’t part of the mix in Wisconsin until 1968 and Chinook until 1969.
What started as an experiment has proven successful. By the time Welch was a teenager, Lake Michigan was emerging as a recreation area and fishing for trout and salmon.
Welch, described in the 1980s by George Vocklich as looking like a “California surfer” and a “young Robin Yunt”, began working as a senior fellow.
After he lost a fish or two in attempts to net on the side of a boat, a friend called him “Dumper.”
related. After Welch graduated from high school, he knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to be a full-time captain.
He got his Great Lakes captain’s license when he was 18 and his parents helped him get a loan for his first boat.
When it came time to pick a name for his business in 1985, his mom said it could only be one thing: Dumper Dan’s.
And so it was and still is.
Welch has weathered business cycles and environmental changes over the past 37 years.
“I’ve seen a lot of other chartered captains come and go,” Welch said. “It’s definitely not an easy way to make a living, but it’s the one thing I wanted to do so I found a way.”
In the late 1980s, for example, lake chinook salmon suffered from bacterial kidney disease, which caused a sharp decline in one of the most common species.
“The kings are basically gone,” Welch said. “So we moved on to the other genres.”
Welch said he is lucky to be in Sheboygan, where he can catch the top five types of trout and salmon in the lake: brown trout, brown trout, trout, salmon, and coho salmon.
Chinook came back after BKD, but then the zebra mussels and quagga started changing the lagoon. Invasive mussels filter plankton from the water, removing essential food for forage fish and making the water more pure.
Welch said that the fishermen had to adjust their methods to calculate the pure waters of the elves.
But as with other challenges, he has adapted.
Fishermen from outside the country are a big part of his business. Many come from Minnesota.
A group from Japan made sashimi on the boat from fresh salmon.
Recognizing the opportunities, Welch has expanded his business in recent years to include condominium units, which he rents to his clients, and a shop in the marina.
He even has a taxidermy on hand to make fish stands for his clients.
Dumper Dan’s is now one of the largest charter businesses in the Great Lakes region.
Welch still runs a boat most days, but his success required him to sacrifice one day a week to stay in the office and do payroll.
So on our ride, Dumper Dan VI was operated by Captain Dave Nitze and fellow first-timer Cody Long, both of Sheboygan.
We cruised south over 280 to 300 feet of water. The water temperature was 49 degrees at the surface and 44 down about 50 feet.
Nitze and Long made 16 lines, covering a wide range of water depths mostly with flies and spoons.
At 6 a.m., the first fish tune rod bounced. Stanford, on his first fishing expedition in Lake Michigan, took the baton and landed an 8-pound lake trout.
“I think I like this,” Stanford said.
Thirty minutes later, Maddox took the next fish and it turned out to be a 7-pound steelhead.
Both fish have adipose fins, which means they are a naturally breeding wild fish.
This is another change in the lake – more natural breeding is observed today than ever in the modern era of salmon and trout fishing.
And so it went on for the next four hours as we cruised south about 12 miles, then headed north. When we pulled out the lines at 9:30, we had eight fish in the box, including an 18.5-pound trout that had been taken down by Stanford.
Mother Nature was kind to us, with waves no more than 2 feet and 10 mph for the southwest wind. The gorgeous lake helped keep us comfortable too.
When we set off on the slide at 10, the air temperature was already in the 80s and on its way to 95 humid.
The fact that we got the same number of fish as his father did in 1981 on his first voyage with Welch was not lost in Voklich.
“This resource and the Hunters who know it so well are amazing,” Vukelic said. “This (outing) will make my father happy.”
We gathered for group photos on the South Pier, then Long took the fish away to clean and fillet.
The experience was world-class, from an early morning harbor departure which Maddox described as an “Indy 500 race” to hours of trolling outside with views of a Wisconsin beach to reeling with silver torpedoes to bring home delicious fish dinners.
After a break, more fishermen were coming for afternoon charters on all six of Welch’s boats. This is peak season for rental businesses in Lake Michigan.
Nobody is busier than Dumper Dan.
Welch said the lake appears to be doing well, with a large amount of forage available for trout and salmon and a good rate of natural breeding among many species. But he knows that nothing is guaranteed.
“It was a roller coaster ride,” Welch said. “What next, I don’t know. But I still enjoy it and stick with it.”