Outdoors columnist for The Herald-Palladium

Longtime readers of this column might recall a couple of “this-happened-to-me” articles that described stupid decisions that led to situations that could have been fatal to yours truly.

Like when the 18-foot boat sank 5 miles out of South Haven in Lake Michigan and I hung onto a Coleman cooler for 3 ½ hours until a buddy out trolling just happened to find me.

Or when I turned around in a new kayak to dig through the tackle crate and flipped into cold water on Kentucky Lake.

Or when I took a 12-foot kayak out of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park into waves so big I was afraid to turn around and go back to shore. When I finally did come about and pedaled back in, I rolled that kayak in the surf in front of a bunch of other kayakers who were smart enough to stay on the beach.

Stuff, most often bad stuff, just happens to me.

The other day I was talking to a buddy about not wanting to risk ice fishing around here in this on-again, off-again winter because I didn’t want to write a first-person column about going through the ice.

That got me to thinking about how many times in my earlier years I thought I might meet my maker while fishing. I probably could write a short book. Here’s a quick list of highlights:

August 1986: Mike McKee, a longtime fishing buddy, and I take a 16-foot aluminum Starcraft onto Lake Huron out of Rogers City to fish the annual salmon tournament. We must not have seen the small craft warning flag at the harbor entrance, and once we’re out in the lake, we are committed to keep moving forward.

We have to go right into the waves and then come around and head back towards our fishing destination, the shallows of nearby Swan Bay. Walls of water rise up behind the 25-horse outboard. Waves are so high that I think I might see a salmon at eye level, looking at us. We surf to the beach at Swan Bay and hitch a ride back to town to get the truck and trailer.

July 1992: My friend Ron Barger and his dad “The Commander” (he was a Navy veteran) take our two 16-foot boats out of Portage, Indiana’s Burns Ditch. Some liar at the pay-to-launch ramp had told me on the phone that the protected water inside the Port of Indiana was full of summer steelhead. At the ramp, we ignore the guys in the 26-foot boat with Illinois registration numbers who say the lake is too rough to fish.

Once out of the ditch’s mouth, we realize those guys weren’t cowards. We face towering waves, 10-footers and bigger. For sure, turning the boat around would no doubt let one of those waves roll the new boat. My golden retriever, Coach, my constant fishing companion, starts out in his usual position as bow idol, paws upon the boat’s nose.

As I gun the tiller motor to get over the first giant wave, he scurries back and curls around my feet and looks at me with a mixture of wonder and terror. Finally I turn the boat around a couple miles from shore where the waves are less vertical, and motor into the Port where Ron and Commander Barger are already fishing. None of us get a strike.

July 2004: Again with Ron Barger, plus a gal I worked with at “Great Lakes Angler Magazine” and one of her girlfriends, we fish the Holland tournament out of a 17 1/2-foot, fiberglass center console boat rated for a 90-hp outboard. That rating must have been established with a 2-stroke motor, because the heavier 4-stroke motor on the boat causes water to flow up through the scuppers.The boat also has no splashwell and a low transom, which allows water to cascade onto the deck when waves overtake us. Waves are big that morning. We take a couple over the transom and water rolls around the floor.

A catastrophe seems imminent. I hammer down on the throttle and put the boat on plane with the downriggers still down. We make it back to port, drop out of the tournament and go into town to watch a movie. Ironically, that movie is “The Perfect Storm.”

I’ve had other close calls, a couple of them on Lake Erie in terrible weather and one scary half-hour in a sudden storm on Lake Superior.

I feel like the cat who has used up eight of his nine lives. No, I just don’t think I’ll walk out on this winter’s iffy ice.


If you’re not ice fishing, might as well get some new or used tackle at bargain prices next Saturday at the South Haven Steelheaders’ Tacklepalooza. The sale runs from 8 a.m. until noon at the South Haven Moose Lodge, 1025 Wells, St. Admission is $5. Kids age 12 and under get in free. Got stuff to sell? Tables cost $20 and can be reserved by emailing Rich Chapman at info@southhavensteelheaders.com.

Outdoors columnist Dave Mull lives in Paw Paw. Write to him at dave.sportfish.mull@gmail.com.