8.25.2014

The Ominous Red Glow

Source: en.wikepedia.org
Scattered reports of people catching a king from shore started popping up early last week which means that the annual, and potentially epic, king salmon run on Lake Michigan is almost here.  I have cleared my schedule for most of the next month to make sure I can put as much time out there as possible. Friday night marked the first attempt at the official run for me.

The winds were all wrong most of the week but I decided to go anyways. I launched out of Milwaukee Harbor with the original plan of trolling the breakwall from the north gap to the south gap. If no kings, surely there would be a brown or two hanging around. If I wasn't getting anything along the wall, I was going to head on a straight east troll out to about 80fow then troll back to the north gap.

My partner in crime, Teddy, was of course with me. As we drove and approached Milwaukee, the fog was becoming really thick. By the time we got to the marina, it was extremely bad. Visibility at the ramp was easily less than a quarter mile.

A few boats were coming in as we were getting ready to launch. Most of them opened the conversation with  "How'd you do out there?" The looks on their faces when I responded with, "Just heading out now" was a combination of are you stupid and I am looking at someone who probably wont be alive very much longer. Most were extremely willing to give info on where they were catching fish though, so it helped me adjust my game plan accordingly. Unfortunately, most reports said it was a dead see from about 45fow out to 100fow. To make it worse, the fish that were between 30 and 45fow had a severe case of lock jaw. All the actively feeding fish seemed to be out well past 100fow.

Sadly, I had a feeling this would be the case given the past two days of steady east winds. Still, despite the fog and reports of fish out deep, I was going to stick to the original plan. From the dock, visibility was bad - but manageable - so off we went. As we got closer to the north gap, the fog got worse. By the time I made it to the gap, it was awful. It was so bad that the light from my overhead marker light and gps/finder was practically blinding me. I turned down the lighting on the finder as low as it would go. That helped a little bit but it was still bad. I couldn't see Teddy who was only a hundred feet behind me. I radioed to him that I was dropping lines and was just going to run the outside of the wall and turn around. It was simply too bad out there to make my way out to deep water.

I stayed about fifty feet from the wall which was about as far as I could get and still see the wall for a visual reference. I was marking plenty of fish but couldn't get anything to actually hit despite multiple depths, speeds, colors, or lure types. I made it a little more than half way down the wall when I came across the most eerie lighthouse I think I have ever seen. It marked the north side of a gap and had a red light at the top. The light, when combined with the fog and darkness, cast this ominous red glow and dark outline of the building itself. I tried to capture in on the Gopro but it didnt turn out. Imagine the picture at the top of this post being completely black with only the outline of the building visible as a foggy red glow blinks. It was flat out creepy and I should have turned around then. Instead, I dipped through the gap and back out hoping to pick up a fish in there but didn't get anything. Instead of heading back north, I kept going south along the wall. About a half mile down, things got scary.

I was changing lures on one of my lines and it got caught up in the rudder when I was letting the new lure out. After reeling in my other line to make sure I didn't get tangled in that line, I used the pole that my stern light was on to reach back and free the lure from the rudder. I got both lines redeployed and shut off my headlamp so I could see a bit further. The entire process of changing lures and actually getting them redeployed took about five minutes. Once I shut off my headlamp, I could no longer see the wall. I looked around in all directions thinking I had simply just gotten turned around but I couldn't see it anywhere. I could faintly hear it but I couldn't tell which direction it was coming from. Every time a wave crashed into it, it sounded like the sound came from somewhere else. No big deal, I'll just check my GPS and head straight west until I could see the wall again - right?

Wrong. As a looked at the little arrow on my GPS, it just seemed to be spinning. I thought that maybe I was accidentally steering myself in circles so I really focused on keeping the rudder straight. Still the arrow just kept pointing in various directions which essentially rendered my GPS useless. At this point, I had no visual reference, no reliable GPS signal, and I could no longer hear the waves hitting the break wall. I was officially disoriented and not sure which direction the shore was. A compass would have been really nice but I didn't have one with me. Then I remembered that my iPhone has a compass but I really wasn't sure how accurate it really was.

Ultimately, I had no other choice but to put my faith in it and hope it was accurate. I kept on a straight west track for what seemed like an eternity when I saw a blinking white light. I had no idea what it was but it seemed to be moving so I reached for my whistle which was caught on my rudder deployment cable. I gave it a tug and it broke loose. I kept blowing on it and flashing my headlamp trying to make sure the boat would notice me. I got no response from the boat and it seemed it be moving in all directions. It was in front of me, on my left, on my right, behind me.....

What hell is going on?! Why won't it respond?! I hit the radio and got no response from there either. I thought that maybe Teddy had caught up to me so maybe it was him? Still nothing. Even worse, I could no longer steer. My steering lever seemed really light and unresponsive. I didn't seem to have any control over the direction of the kayak. I instantly remembered the lure that had snagged on it a little while ago and feared that it had frayed the cable and ultimately broke rendering me without steering. I quickly reeled in both lines so they didn't get tangled in my drive, rudder, or the bottom. I then looked down to my right side and noticed that when I had yanked on my whistle, I had pulled the rudder deployment cable out of its cleat. Wheeeeew!! I locked that down and finally had steering again. I finally assumed that the light wasn't a boat but the south end of the gap with that I had past a while ago. Somehow, I had been completely drifted north east. As I made my way towards the light, I was able to finally hear the waves hitting the breakwall and was actually able to see it once again.

Feeling incredibly lucky, I started to make my way back north towards the launch. A minute later, I was able to see that eerie red glow and ominous shadow that was the lighthouse building. This time was different though. Instead of a bad feeling, I had a feeling of pure relief. It was familiar and I knew exactly where I was again. I redeployed both lines and made my way back to the north gap.

I didn't get anything along the way but it felt extremely good to cross through that gap and into the safety of the harbor. I was also finally able to get Teddy on the radio again which was comforting as well. It was the first time since leaving the north gap that I had any communications. We didn't leave the harbor again that night. Instead, we stuck inside and caught a bunch of rock bass. Not quite the salmon or brown trout that we had hoped for but it was fun for a couple of hours.

14 comments:

  1. so you're picking up a compass this week...

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  2. Holy cow Nick. That story gave me the willies.

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  3. Right?! I'll be honest, after that, I almost didn't want to hook a salmon because it is inevitable that it would tow me away from the shore and I'd be in the same situation I had just gotten out of.

    Keyword there...."almost" lol

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  4. Terrifying! Glad you made it back safely. I was out on Saturday morning chasing salmon in dense fog and didn't like it one bit. Even with a GPS, the Navionics app on my phone, the fish finder for depth, and a compass, it still had me spooked (good thing my fishing buddy is calmer than I am).

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    1. Thanks, Rebecca! I've done fog before but super thick fog AND total darkness was enough to have me nervous!

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  5. Nick
    Unbelievable, just goes to show one can never be too careful. Thanks for sharing

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    1. Yep. Always a learning experience out there!

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  6. Crazy Nick!! Glad you kept your wits about you!!

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    1. Not my first time I've had to do that out there...you remember? Lol

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  7. That is a day you will never forget. It's amazing how quickly the fog can surround you and make you lose your bearings. It's not a good feeling, that's for sure.

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    1. The creepiest part is how quite it is! Absolute silence out there

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