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Lake Michigan fishing: no shore thing.

Denny Grinold, a happy man, spends at least half his time outdoors in the fresh air helping people have fun. That's his own description of his career as owner-captain of a 33-foot sport fishing boat that cruises out of Grand Haven, Michigan.

Great Lakes fishing has undergone both highs and lows in recent decades. The '60s were bad for business; the '70s were much better. The '80s have included both good and bad years, but even in the bad ones there are some big fish out there in the chilly depths of Lake Michigan-and smart charter-boat men like Denny know how to catch them. They know when fish are likely to strike a green lure with black spots or a hotpink-with-purple one. They can make a good guess whether the big fish are feeding half a mile out from shore or in mid-lake.

Denny did not learn all this from books or from lectures. He learned from fish. He is 46 now; he started fishing when he was 10. He spent time starting and running an auto repair business and raising a family, but he fished every chance he got. By the '70s, when coho salmon fishing came to Lake Michigan, he entered fishing derbies and won prizes. If you watch any of those weekend fishing shows on cable TV, you're bound to see Denny, sooner or later, pulling in the big ones.

Since 1983 his day-long trips have been giving paying guests the benefit of his expertise. When the fishing is good, anyone can catch fat chinook or coho salmon near the shores of Lake Michigan. But when the fishing is poor, you need someone like Denny.

Sport fishing is big business that pumps some $2 to 4 billion a year into Michigan's economy. Denny's boat is one of about 900 vessels licensed to take fishermen out onto the Great Lakes. About two-thirds of themaround 650-are based along the western coast of lower Michigan; they work out of such pleasant little port cities as Manistee, Ludington, Pentwater, Holland, Saugatuck, and South Haven.

Some say that this number is too many and that the charter boats, with their sophisticated electronic equipment and multiple poles (two for each licensed fisherman aboard), take more than their share of Lake Michigan's fish.

There are other people who want those fish. There are recreational fishermen who fish from rowboats, and ftom piers and breakwaters. There are commercial fishermen who sell their catch. And there are Indians who don't have to abide by the same rules as the others. There aren't always enough fish to go around.

Over the years, the situation has tended to go boom or bust. A Frenchman visiting the Straits of Mackinac in 1687 wrote, "You can scarcely believe what shoals of whitefish are catched about the middle of the channel . . . here the savage catch trout as big as one's thigh." Fishing continued to be very good until around the turn of the last century, when heavy commercial fishing, increasing population, and industrialization of the region began to take their toll.

And in the 1920s, almost unnoticed at the time, alien species began appearing in the Great Lakes because locks and canals had opened channels to the Atlantic Ocean. The first sea lampreys probably came up the Hudson River and followed the Erie Canal. Alewives came later, after the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway made it easy for fish to swim from the Atlantic Ocean to the Lakes.

Sea lampreys, eel-like parasites that fasten their mouths onto larger fish and suck blood until the larger fish die, flourished in Lake Michigan; whitefish and lake trout disappeared.

Alewives, six-inch-long relatives of the shad, were once served in taverns along with ale. In Lake Michigan they found abundant food supplies and no natural enemies. Many died of overpopulation and washed up, reeking, on the beaches.

By the 1960s more than dead alewives was washing up on Lake Michigan's shores. There was raw sewage, and oil, and industrial waste that included mercury and PCBs.

The turnaround began in 1972 when the United States and Canada, embarrassed by the deterioration of the Lakes and the decline in fishing, set up an International Joint Commission with the muscle to enforce strict new rules. Water quality soon improved.

Meanwhile, aquatic biologists were studying the fish problem. The scientists' first success was to poison streams where the lampreys spawned without harming other forms of life. The process was expensive and timeconsuming, but it worked.

An even greater triumph was the 1966 reintroduction of young coho salmon from the Pacific Northwest. The salmon gobbled up the alewives and grew very large (the record catch: 46 pounds, 1 ounce). In the 1970s, "Coho Fever" gripped the Midwest, and fishermen poured into Michigan to try for the big ones. Later, the scientists planted chinook salmon and a new strain of lake trout. All nourished. The Michigan residents who weren't out fishing were busy selling boats and tackle to the tourists.

In the 1980s fishing has been less spectacular, but still much better than in the dismal 1960s.

An experienced charter-boat captain will probably say that there are big fish out there, and that he is the one to help you catch them.
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Title Annotation:sport fishing boat captain Denny Grinold
Author:White, Jean
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Words:872
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