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2013 Charter Fishing Season Recap – Thoughts on 2014 by Captain Rick Bentley

The 2013 Season, my sixth as a Captain, came to a close for me on Thursday, Oct 10 and I had the boat pulled out of the water a couple days later. At this moment, she’s resting on jackstands and had all the old coats of bottom paint blasted off and is awaiting new barrier sealant and bottom paint. It’s a a large project that I wanted done professionally and therefore carries a healthy price tag as well. I expect it to be completed in a few days.

This time of year, I’m often asked how the season went. The short answer is that it went very well from a business perspective. I ran more business than ever before by a few more trips than in past seasons but I’ve been about maxed-out for three seasons now. However the amount of new, referral business that I put on other boats when I am booked, increased substantially and should continue to do so. At this point I still remain decided against buying another boat and hiring a captain because of the complications/headaches that could arise from that as well as avoiding the heavy capital outlay that would be required me to do so. It was never my intent to make this a large, expanding business anyway so in that regard I’m sticking to my original plan for now. After all, businesses don’t necessarily need to expand as a rule and I’d rather stay focused on making this a worthwhile, overall positive experience for my customers. Another trend that continues to accelerate is the pace and leadtime that I’ve been able to book business. Reservations are being made earlier and faster with each passing season and I am taking business for the 2014 Season already, especially for May. So if you’d like to plan ahead for next year, please do so and email or give me call. What this means is that I can occupy my mind and time even more in the direction of building fishing strategies as well as shift some of the business focus over to the continued new business that is being placed on other boats.

Fishing this past season was ok. Honestly it was just ok as a whole really. With lots of peaks and valleys. Some of you were on some of those peak trips and others unfortunately had to experience some of those really tough ones. Our spring season began a little late with tough weather in early April but when we began to fish consistently in late April, we arrived back to port with double-digit catches of brown trout in the 5-12lb range. It wasn’t until the first weekend in May and onward when we began to catch our normal, big hauls of coho salmon that this season were larger than normal. That trend remained in place until about mid-June when our coho numbers fell off, at times sharply, but we still managed some coho for the most part along with other species too. But the limits of them had concluded. Towards the last two weeks of July and the first week of August, we saw our best fishing for kings of the season. Some trips had really good numbers but other trips were just downright tough but in the place of consistent numbers, what we saw were BIG kings. So whereas last season saw us catch several hundred kings in the 14-17lb range, this season had us catch about 35-45 kings in the 19-25lb range with still some, but less in the 14-17lb class. We had more kings this season above 20lbs than all other previous five seasons combined. Then the last three weeks of August through most of September, while I took a break and didn’t fish for two of those weeks, saw more tough fishing. We slogged through it though and finished out the season with some of the better lake trout fishing I’ve seen in my six years as captain and even back in my deckhand/mate days. I discovered a spot that I have been plotting on my charts and fishing on the past few years in the summer, about 9 miles offshore, which attracted good numbers of very large lake trout this fall. Wind and wave conditions limited us as to how many times we could make it out there but when we did, we hooked into some really big slobs. In fact our very last trip out, we caught the largest fish I’ve ever seen in person in all my combined years fishing as a captain or a deckhand/mate. While I heard of (but didn’t see) a couple purported 30lb kings this season, I think the fish we caught – a 32lb lake trout – could be the largest fish I personally know of caught out of Waukegan in years. Perhaps many years. And to be able to tell all of you in this letter that we caught this enormous, personally record-breaking fish on the very last trip of an overall, pretty tough season, is a really special thing and probably not a better way to end the season. And alongside the 32 that morning, we even had a 24 and 20lb lake trout too!

It’s funny, the past three seasons have taken on some interesting, defining characteristics and themes. The 2011 Season was sort of the year of the coho – limits into mid-August – along with unbelievable fall fishing for kings. The 2012 season continued that previous, fall-trend of really good fishing for kings almost the entire season up to about mid-August. The season just finished was all about big fish. Any way you really slice it. Not including our normal, reliable limits of may coho, we didn’t catch a ton of fish overall in numbers the rest of the season but some of the ones we did catch set personal bests for the Independence as well as for myself in my 13 overall years of fishing these waters as a captain and mate.

What will 2014 hold? I think we can continue to rely on excellent spring coho fishing. If there is anything we can really count on each season, that’s it. For our summer kings, it’s so hard to say as far as consistency goes. However I will go on to say that I think this trend of larger fish – coho and kings as well as our other trout species too – will likely continue into 2014. We are seeing exorbitant quantities of baitfish on our fishfinder screens. Beyond that, the baitfish we are seeing in the stomachs of caught fish are larger as well. While I think the greater numbers of baitfish benefit our coho the most, it’s the size of our baitfish that could benefit our kings more. By this time next year, another season will have passed and we’ll see if I’m right.

Thank you for reading and thank you very much for your support.

As always, if you don’t already, go over the Windycitysalmon facebook page and ‘like’ it for more steady updates from me. Also, if you fish Lake Michigan, take a look at the coho flies that I tie at the ‘Online Store’ tab. I use these flies almost exclusively in the spring to catch limits of fish and shipping is free. I will be tying tons of flies this offseason.

Capt Rick

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