A group of six friends from the Topeka area ventured north earlier this summer for “the worst fishing trip ever,” a 23-year running joke that has become an annual tradition.
Each year, one of the friends picks a destination for the fishing trip, and regardless of their actual success or failure on the water, it earns the dubious honor. They even make shirts to commemorate the occasion.
The group consists of Chris Schwerdt, Martin Gray, Keith Kerns, Ardell Rodgers, Kent Schwerdt and Brian Yingling, though this year's trip saw Steve Bissette filling in for Rodgers.
The anglers made a return visit this year to Lake Michigan after last fishing the Great Lake in 2013. During the previous trip, they fished from the Illinois side, while this year they set off from the Wisconsin side, lodging in Kenosha.
“We were actually going for king salmon, but ending up catching a bunch of nice lake trout, with the biggest being 20 pounds,” said Schwerdt, of Topeka. “We caught 20 the first day out and 27 the second day, with 30 being the limit for six of us.”
Schwerdt, who works at Heartland Door and Window, said the group fished approximately 6 to 8 miles from shore off the back of a 41-foot Viking Yacht, leaving the marina about 4:30 a.m. each day and returning at noon.
“We had 13 lines out while trolling, with 10 being long lines and three on down riggers, fishing in 180 feet to 240 feet of water,” Schwerdt said. “Bite was consistent both days, which made for a lot of fun.”
Lake trout is the largest of the freshwater char, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and patrols the deep, cool waters of the northern continental United States, Alaska and Canada. An average lake trout is about 20 inches long, with the longest trout ever recorded at 59 inches. The heaviest laker ever recorded came in at a massive weight of 102 pounds, caught on a gill net in 1961 out of Alaska, but it only measured 49.5 inches long. By comparison, the largest lake trout ever taken on rod and reel weighed 72 pounds, caught in 1995 on Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories of Canada by Lloyd Bull. A would-be world-record lake trout weighing 83 pounds was accidentally snagged and killed in 2017 at Great Bear by members of the Deline First Nation tribe while sustenance fishing with gill nets. Members of the group tried to resuscitate the trout but were unable.
Female lake trout are also known to breed with male brook trout to create splake, a hybrid species.
Lake trout tend to feed on a variety of organisms, including freshwater sponges, crustaceans, insects, ﬁshes and small animals, though some populations subsist entirely on plankton their whole lives.
Schwerdt said none of the anglers ended up eating any lake trout, so they weren’t quite sure what it tasted like, but they’d heard it was a much-less mild flavor than rainbow trout.
“Sure were fun to catch and put up a heck of a fight,” Schwerdt said.
The group’s “U.S. Tour,” as the shirt refers to it, kicked off on a Kansas reservoir in 1996 when the group made the trek to Wilson. The following two years, they fished at Lake Texoma in Texas, followed by two years at McConaughy Lake in Nebraska and again in 2012. They also fished Texoma in 2010.
Other fishing trips included:
• South Dakota’s Lake Oahe in 2001 and 2004; Lake Sharp in 2008
• Arkansas’ Lake Quachita in 2002-03 and ‘09; Bull Shoals in 2007 and Lake Norfork in 2014
• Oklahoma’s Lake Eufaula in 2005
• Minnesota’s Mississippi River headwaters in 2006
• Illinois’ Lake Shelby in 2011
• North Dakota’s Devil’s Lake in 2015
• The Gulf of Mexico from the Florida Keys in 2016
Outdoor Experience contest winding down
Three more weeks remain in the 2019 What’s in Outdoors Kansas Kids Youth Outdoor Experience Contest.
The Kansas Kids 2019 Youth Outdoor Experience Contest gives outdoors enthusiasts ages 17 and under an opportunity to earn one of many great prizes by writing a short story (200 words or less) about their outdoors adventures, whether they be fishing, hunting, hiking, biking, camping or chasing butterflies, fireflies or even "being chased by snakes!" Youths must reside in one of the following counties to be eligible to win: Chase, Dickinson, Geary, Lyon, Marion, Morris, Pottawatomie, Riley, Shawnee or Wabaunsee.
"The goal of this contest is to keep youth involved in outdoor-related activities," said Phil Taunton, event organizer and host of “What’s in Outdoors” on KVOE-AM (1440) in Emporia. "Hopefully, the whole family will have shared in the experience and can help write the story."
Among the prizes being given away are a lifetime Kansas hunting and fishing license, a guided crappie fishing trip with pro angler Joe Bragg, Zebco fishing combos, T-shirts and an assortment of lures and other fishing gear.
Parents and mentors are encouraged to help with writing the story, but only youths are eligible for the prizes.
The event, held in memory of Council Grove's Virgil Swisher, ends Aug. 30, with two winners announced on air weekly during Phil’s Friday-morning show at 8:15. The winners of the lifetime hunting and fishing license and the guided fish trip will be announced separately during Bluestem Farm and Ranch Supply's 17th Annual Wildlife Appreciation and Conservation Days, which runs from Sept. 6-7 at the store's Emporia location, 2611 W. US-50 highway.
Youths should send their stories, along with a photo, T-shirt size and contact information, to Phil by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Entries can also be dropped off at Bluestem Farm and Ranch Supply in Emporia or the Council Grove Marina at Council Grove Reservoir.
To view photographs of some of the winners so far, check out the digital version of this column at CJOnline.com. They will also be posted one at a time each week on the Outdoors page, beginning this week.