More Than Just a Fight for Kings...

As the king season is well underway here in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan - Dan Sims and I decided to head out to some of the hottest action around this year....Milwaukee Harbor.

Rather than battling scores of other shore bound anglers, we decided to get an edge and grab my boat. I had purchased the boat a few months before for a small sum. It was an old bass boat that came in around 14' and was well equipped with a 40hp Mariner outboard that ran like a top.

We launched around 18:00 on Saturday, the 17th of September, for what would turn out to be a more than just a fight for kings....

The night was cool, with a pretty stiff wind coming out of the East/South East, and boat control was a challenge. With two anchors out, the boat was still getting blown around and we struggled to maintain our position.
17lbs - 11oz Male King Salmon

The wind didn't seem to affect fishing too
much though, as Dan hooked up with the first fish. It was already dark out there, so the head lamp went on as I grabbed the net. I followed Dan's line with the light for the entire duration of an epic fifteen minute battle with a beast of a king. With one quick swoop of the net, the battle was over and a new boat record was on board! (I should note that this was the first fish that was caught on this boat since I owned it, so any fish would have been a new boat record.)

Dan has written another account of the night and there are bound to be some details that you, the reader, may find over there that you won't find here or vice versa.  When you are done reading this account, head over to his blog or you can read his side of the story over at the Fishing-Headquarters Forums

One thing that I am sure Dan "forgot to mention" was the fact that I was actually the first to hook up with a fish that night. It was also a fish that was landed...just not by us. One of the shore bound anglers had a fish on, so we watched the battle for a few minutes and it appeared that the angler had it under control. It seemed to me that the fish was just feet from shore so I resumed casting. On my very first cast, I cranked the handle down a few times and felt the obvious "bite". With that, I set the hook like I was fishing for sharks and said, "Fish!" Almost as soon as I set the hook, the fish leapt out of the water and it all became so clear....I hooked the same fish that the shore bound angler was battling. I felt like an idiot and apologized profusely. I set my reel on free spool and let the gentlemen battle his fish until the end. He was gracious enough to unhook my lure from the fish and send it on its way with no hard feelings.

One more pic of Dan's king for good measure
Anyways, back to the night...After we got Dan's fish landed, snapped a few photos, and gave the fish to a guy on the shore, we were back to casting again.

For the next hour or so, we both had a few bites and fish on for brief moments, but it was clear that bass tackle was not the right stuff to be battling these things with. The rods, especially mine, were too stiff and ended up pulling the crank baits away from the fish too soon. It didn't stop us though; we knew it was possible. Dan's version of the story is that I "was up" next. What he failed to mention is that he is one hell of a buddy and knew I had never caught one of these things, so he handed his rod over to me as he set the hooks on another king. I battled the fish for a few reel smoking runs before the fish turned and got the line in its mouth which resulted in the feeling that we all dread....snap. I have to say I was mad, but it also convinced me that I am addicted to kings!

By this point in time, we had decided to use the wind to our advantage and do some controlled drifts from one side of the harbor to the other. I think it was around the end of the fourth drift, maybe 12:30 at night, when all hell broke loose.

We had reached the end of our drift pattern, so I jumped in the captain's seat and fired up the outboard while Dan pulled the back anchor. As I looked over my right shoulder, I saw water pouring over the back of the boat! "DAN! WATER!!!" I exclaimed. Dan looked down as his feet were instantly soaked. Dan was familiar with the harbor so he said, "head to the dock over there!" That was the last thing we needed to say to each other. With water pouring over the back of the boat, I slammed it in gear and gave it all she had. Dan was grabbing as much gear as he could while yelling some verbal maydays to the folks on shore. We had just made it to the dock as the boat was more than half way under. We reached for the dock as a slough of people arrived to help us. No sooner than our feet hit the dock, the boat was gone. We grabbed whatever was floating and collected ourselves for a minute. I think one of us asked the other..."what the hell was that?!" As it turns out, one of those people that was first on the scene to help us, was a former FHQ member named Keith. It was nice to have a familiar face there helping us out when we needed it most.

As we stood on the dock waiting for authorities to arrive, and collecting our thoughts, we noticed that the stern light was still shining bright in more than ten feet of water. It took another three to four hours, an awesome Sheriff's Deputy, and some good sense of humors before we were on our way back to Chicago for some much needed sleep.

The next day, I found a company to remove the boat for me. Truth be told, I couldn't care less about the boat. There was one thing that I really cared about and that was the camera that was still on board. In that camera was a chip that contains pictures of the most important things in my life, my wife and son.

And the light is still on!
Around 3:00pm on Sunday, I got a call from the salvage company saying the boat was out of the water and sitting on the launch ramp. Before the gentleman hung up the phone, he said, "Oh yeah,Nick...one more thing." "What's that?" I replied. "Your light is still on".  I  chuckled and said I'll be up as soon as I can to grab it. I had to call Dan and let him know about that light. It was too significant not to.

When I called Dan to tell him about the light, he was at a bowling party with his wife and kids. I had no intentions of asking him for help that day. I was more than surprised when Dan told me to hold on. "Sure" I said. I overheard him talking to his wife, "Can I go to Wisconsin to help Nick?" "Now?" she replied. "Well yeah, I was on the boat when it went down." was his reply. He quickly came back to the phone, "Hey Nick, I'll be over in few." It's that kind of thing that separates a fishing buddy from a friend.

We headed up there and put a plan in place to get the boat on the trailer. Finally after getting soaked in the rain, covered in gasoline, and a few expletives later, the boat was back on the trailer. Water was coming out of every hole possible.

The DNR officer in the above photo had good news as soon as I arrived. He walked up to shake my hand and hand me that camera that I cared most about. Getting that thing back was well worth the price of the boat salvage.

So what happened?? How did the boat sink so fast? Let me first get a few theories out of the way...

1. Yes, the drain plug was in
2. No, the boat was not over loaded
3. Yes, there was a bilge pump on board and yes it did work.
4. No, we didn't hit anything

So here is my best guess. The entire night,we would turn on the bilge pump every hour or so, and water would spit out for a few seconds and be finished. So the boat wasn't taking on water throughout the night. Instead, enough water had to come on board within a short amount of time. Last night, my father discovered a small hole, perhaps the size of a dime, in the rear of the boat. It looks like a previous owner had done a shitty patch job and that spot failed. If I had an automatic bilge instead of one that required a switch to be activated, this may have never happened. That is the absolute best guess that I can come up with.

There are a thousand lessons to be learned here, so take away from this what you will. For me, I am happy to be alive, happy that a friend didn't get hurt (or worse) on my boat, happy that we got most of our fishing gear back, and happy that I have the pictures that were on that camera.

Taken after we got the boat out of the water...two guys that are now better friends
*Note - The first two pictures were taken from the chip that was important to me


  1. Wow....

    Glad you guys are ok, but wow.

  2. You guys are lucky. Now you know why I won't go out in a boat. That stuff don't happen while wading.

  3. @FSA - Thanks. We are both feeling a bit lucky as well...

    @Ken - I thought about never getting in a boat as well. Thoughts of horror filled my head as I wondered what if if my wife and son were on board. I can't say where my head is at right now with this, but I am definitely reconsidering my love for boating

  4. That's a killer story. Something to tell your kid someday. :) Glad it worked out for you...sort of.

  5. Glad to see ya'll are alright. Fastest I've ever driven a boat onto a trailer was when it was sinking from a 'forgotten' plug.

    Did that other guy's salmon actually take your lure? Or did you snatch it?

  6. @Clif...yes, this is definitely something I'll always remember.

    @Alex...I wish the trailer was available instead of having to ditch it under water! I am not sure if the salmon bit it or not...I was too far from the guy to see where the lure came out of. If I had to guess...I would say I snagged it

  7. Heard about your adventure from my son, Andrew, and his site. Glad to hear that you guys are OK. It's unfortunate that someones crappy patch job put you in this situation. Good thing is that it ended well. You guys had three important things going for you that evening:

    1. You were NOT out in the middle of a 2,000 acre lake.
    2. You were close to a dock and helpful bystanders, and most importantly,
    3. You and Dan kept cool and calm under the circumstances.

    Whether fishing from shore, wading, or sitting in a boat, a person needs to have a healthy respect for the water and the danger it can lead to. It helps to figure out a plan quickly and remain calm. I've been around boats just about my whole life and have never experienced anything like you guys went though . . . I hope I never do. Not so sure that wading is any safer as Ken G mentioned . . . especially when you (OK I) step in a deep hole and have your (my) waders quickly fill up with water. Oh well . . . that's another story. Glad you guys are OK. Out of curiosity . . . is the motor salvageable after spending the night in the lake?

  8. @Paul - Yeah, just about everything we do in the water involves some risk. Everything seemed to be on our side that night - minus the boat sinking

    I am not sure about the motor yet. I plan on having a look at it this weekend. I want to yank the lower unit and plugs. If the plugs are dry, I think we are OK.

  9. wow that sounds like a crazy night.

    glad to hear you both are ok, where else would i get my simms spinners?

  10. Just another thought . . . as soon as you can you should spray fogging oil into the carb intakes and the cylinders to prevent rust. Rotate the flywheel a few turns to spread the oil on the cylinder walls.

  11. Wow, what a night! Glad you guys are okay.

    I had never spent time in a boat before I went out in one last year. Now I love being out in boats. The important thing is to know what you are doing and how to react when circumstances change. I'm fortunate to have a boat driver I have absolute faith in. I like wading an awful lot less...I'm just not steady on my feet!

    Aside from the sinking though (and it's great you got that chip back), sounds like the first part of your night was awesome. Kings are addicting and there's nothing better than that angler who gets you addicted to them by handing you the rod :)

  12. That is a pretty crazy story. Glad you guys are ok.

  13. Thanks,Kev!

    Thanks, Argos! I'm sorry I just saw your comment, too - only a 2 months later. The first part of the night WAS awesome! I still haven't lived down the lost fish from the guy that handed me the rod.

  14. Haha! Great story.


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