Lake Michigan charter captains always keep an eye on the weather
Waukesha resident and East Troy police officer Ruben Ojeda is making a name for himself as the charter captain running Fish-On Guide Services of Wisconsin out of Port Washington. In the past he ran a 1975 Lund Pro V Limited but after looking for several years he moved to a 30-foot Sport Craft and offered to take me and a group of guys for a trolling session last week. Along for the ride was my son Hunter, Blake, and Ben Foerster and his son Charlie, and Logan Gromacki. The guys had all played baseball together so we had almost a third of the team on the boat.
During last year’s trip with Ojeda in the Lund he didn’t need a first mate, but with his new boat, he now has one. In fact, it’s his wife, Tracy, who is a school psychologist for the East Troy schools.
“That’s why we named the boat Reel Therapy. It’s a perfect mix of Ruben and me,” she said. “Being on the water is therapeutic. I’ve been Ruben’s first mate on and off for about four years now. Having the summers off makes it a great opportunity for us to fish together. Ruben needed my help and I was happy to do it.”
As a first mate, Tracy prepares the rods, works the downriggers, monitors lines, nets the fish, and generally coaches up the passengers to get their fish in.
Ojeda said that in general he’s seeing more and more women book charter trips.
“I would say close to 50% of my bookings are made by women,” he said. “Sometimes it’s corporate outings, sometimes not. Last season I had a mother-daughter trip where the mother booked the trip for her daughter’s graduation. I really like taking women out fishing because many times they haven’t fished on Lake Michigan before, and they are eager to learn. Woman are generally very coachable and we love having them out on the water with us.”
Before we left the dock, Ojeda went through the variety of safety equipment on board and showed us how to operate the marine radio in case we needed to call the U.S. Coast Guard.
“You have to be safe out here and respect the water,” he said. “I don’t mind if a person wants to have a beer, but there is absolutely no getting inebriated out here. It’s just too dangerous.
Lucky for us, the hardest drink we had on our trip was Gatorade, so we were good on that point.
Ben and I decided to let the youngsters reel in all the fish, but not because we don’t like fighting fish.
“I’ve done this a few times,” Foerster said. “Charlie has never been out here, so I want him to reel them in. I have more fun watching the kids catch fish, than me catching them.”
I agreed. We decided that if the kids got tired, or got to their limit, we’d take a turn.
We were using a variety of lures and depths.
“The water is really cold right now,” Ojeda said. “We’re about 4 miles out in 130 feet of water but it can vary from day to day. We’ve been getting them pretty consistently. Yesterday we had four fish on at once and got them all in which was a lot of fun. Today we’ll be using a variety of lures on planer boards, Dipsy Divers, and downriggers,” Ojeda said.
Within 30 seconds of dropping the first lure down we had a king salmon hit and Charlie grabbed for it. Unfortunately, it got off in about a minute.
“These fish are going to do everything they can to get off,” Ojeda said. “If you can land better than 50% of the kings you’re doing pretty well.”
Ojeda said that when a fish bites, the key is to keep steady tension on the line, nice and steady on the reel but make sure to reel faster if the fish makes a run at the boat.
“You don’t want to pump the rod to get the fish in like you see on some TV shows,” he said. “Slow and steady is best. It’s critical to not allow any slack in the line as it can give the fish an opportunity to spit the hook out.”
The next fish was a nice coho, followed by a rainbow trout. Then we repeated the process, putting five fish in the boat. We missed another five.
Things were starting to turn on as we neared the last hour of the day when Ojeda showed me the weather app on his phone.
“I hate to say it, but we better start heading back,” he said. “You just don’t want to get caught in a storm out here. The storms are starting to expand so we need to go.”
I didn’t mind. We had more action than most of the boats that day despite having to leave the last, best hour of fishing. As we rolled in it was like someone on a movie set turned on a fog machine. The last 100 yards we could barely see in front of us.
“Luckily I have radar on my new boat now,” he said. “It comes in really handy for moments like this.”