By Patrick Sullivan
If the best fish stories are about the one that got away, charter boat
Captain Scott Alpers has a story four times better.
One year during the Salmon Classic, an annual salmon fishing contest on
Grand Traverse Bay, Alpers and his crew wound up with a bunch of fish
hooked all at once early in the tournament.
Things looked good aboard his boat, the Big Kahuna. Until they got too
His crew of four guys had six lines down and five fish on. They had their
They landed two of the fish which they kept in nets as they struggled to
keep the boat out of the way of other traffic, Alpers said.
There was just too much going on at once to keep track of everything.
It was just a mess because the fish were running back and forth across
the boat, Alpers said.
Two fish were lost when their lines were cut by downrigger wires.
Then there was more bad news.
The two that were in the nets -- we didnt even notice it, they jumped
out of the nets, Alpers said.
Out of the five fish that had been hooked, the crew wound up with one fish.
Too much is not always good, he said. Thats one thing about fishing
that you learn -- sometimes you run too many lines.
But for fishermen like Alpers, thats what the Salmon Classic is all
about: one big adrenaline rush.
BACK FROM A CRASH
Alpers is lucky to be fishing at all. A bad car crash in March of 2008
could have taken his life.
Alpers, 52, said he was stopped at a light waiting for oncoming traffic to
pass so he could make a left turn, when a car came from behind at full
speed and slammed into his vehicle.
His life has not been the same since and he has trouble getting out on the
water to fish nowadays.
He says he cant go fishing on Lake Michigan anymore because the pounding
waves irritate his back and neck. Alpers hopes another surgery this winter
will improve his condition. In the meantime, his crew does the charters
That hasnt kept him from his favorite tournaments, though.
He couldnt do the first tournament that spring after the crash, but he
was able to get out that year for the Salmon Classic. In fact, hes never
missed one since 1991, the first year of the tournament.
Even the year of the car accident, I did go out with the guys, but it was
pretty much dead calm that year, Alpers said.
Over the years he has won the pro division five times, including in 2009.
And he plans to be out there again this year on his 10-meter Trojan
The Salmon Classic, hosted by the Grand Traverse Area Sport Fishing
Association, takes place Sept. 2 through 4 and first prize in the main
event is $5,000. There are other prizes, including for the overall
largest fish caught during the tournament.
ONE LAST FISH
Fishing is about a long list of things that you can control and a
shorter list of things you cant, Alpers said. Things under the
fishermans control include the depth where the bait is set, the speed
of the troll, the location where you fish and the number of lines used.
What you cant control is whether the fish will bite.
Its getting them on the hook. Thats what I enjoy, Alpers said.
Alpers said his favorite thing about a tournament is getting that last
fish on the line in the closing seconds before time is called.
I guess its catching that last fish when they call five minutes left,
he said. Weve done that two or three times. I mean, the adrenaline
It can take 40 minutes or more to land a large salmon. In the final
minutes of a tournament, a team might need to bring it into the boat in
five or ten. When a last-minute catch is on, the crew pulls all of the
other lines and throws the boat into reverse to speed things up, things
fishermen wouldnt do in ordinary conditions, Alpers said.
Thats when the time gets really critical, when youve got a 20-pound
fish on and he may not want to come in right away, he said.
Another feature of the Salmon Classic is that so many boats crowd around
the hole in the bay near the mouth of the Boardman River.
Thats where conventional wisdom says people will find the most fish, but
Alpers doesnt believe thats always true.
Weve won the tournament going up along the shore, just staying out of
that mess, Alpers said.
Marty Ross won the amateur division in last years tournament.
For Ross, the tournament was a family affair. He just enjoys being out on
the water with his wife, son, daughter and son-in-law on his 22-foot
Pro-Line, Against the Flow.
We do it for the fun of it, said Ross, who is a construction
superintendent for Grand Traverse Construction. Win or lose, were going
to enjoy this.
Ross has been salmon fishing since the mid 1990s and hes only entered in
a few tournaments. Before last year he entered as a crew member on a
friends charter a couple of times.
During last years Salmon Classic, the fishing time got cut from two days
to one day due to rough seas.
Fishing that Sunday, Ross said he thought he had trouble landing the limit
for the day, six fish, and he wasnt too impressed with his catch as he
drove back to shore.
We had a slow start, we didnt have anything... for two hours or so,
Ross said. It wasnt a pretty box; it wasnt a really heavy one as
Turns out everyone else on the water had trouble that day and when the
score was tallied Ross and his family had the most points. Boats earn
points for the number of fish caught and the weight of the catch.
Ross got into the tournament last year because he and his family had won
the Wednesday night fishing league the year before. Part of that prize was
a free entry into the Salmon Classic.
Everything kind of worked in our favor, he said. We didnt have to pay
to get in it and we ended up taking their money, so it was fun.
Ross said he hadnt decided whether hes going to enter this years
tournament because the rules have changed and now amateurs and pros
compete head-to-head. There is a division for amateurs, but they must
enter with boats shorter than 17 feet.
Salmon fishing is not exclusively a mens sport.
Theres been a womens division in the Salmon Classic for several years.
Thats something that is not uncommon, said Ryan Matuzak, president of
the GTASFA. I would say that its something that is growing in
Women also compete as crew members in the other divisions, including in
the pro division, he said.
Women are also frequently found on charter trips. They have their own
It used to be that wives never went. Well, now all these tournaments, the
tournament trail, they call it, have put in womens tournaments, Alpers
Women have a great time on charters, too. Theyre hesitant to come out
with their husbands, but once they come out, they have a great time.
For more information or to register, go to gtasfa.com.