When I decided to try my hand at Lake Michigan tournament fishing, I knew there were quite a few tournaments along the Michigan side, but only knew of one tournament on the Wisconsin side, Salmon-A-Rama. After hours and hours of searching, I finally found a couple of tournaments that looked fun in my area, but I had no clue how to go about entering them. Do you need to be a member to the club that hosts it like a lot of walleye and bass tournaments? Or is it an open tournament? After I sent a few emails out to a couple friends, I finally had my answers and I entered in my first single day shootout on Lake Michigan. I hear from time to time, “How do I enter a Lake Michigan tournament?” or, “What tournaments are there and when?” In this article, I will be going over what to expect throughout the tournament process and resources on where you can find upcoming tournaments.
Being a newbie to the tournament scene, just attending the captains meeting can be quite overwhelming. Where do I check in? What’s the “series” about? Where do I get my tournament packet?
Let’s start with registering. There’s only two tournaments that I fish that pre-registering is needed or suggested due to the high turnout of boats, otherwise you will register and pay your entry fee at the captain’s meeting. Typically, there will be a couple of other options you can enter in such as the Southwest Salmon Series and the side bet. If this is your first tournament, I would recommend saving your money unless you’re on a very hot bite with extremely large fish. Once everyone is signed in, the tournament committee will start the meeting and go over the rules. Sit close and pay attention. There are quite a few rules that will get you disqualified if you don’t follow them. The tournament committee will tell you when check-in time is, what channel, run time, what side to place your boat’s number on and when to be back inside the pier head. If you have any questions just ask. The tournament committee typically consists of really nice people who are there to make sure you have a fun time.
Tournament day. As the tournament jitters start to really set in and you see the magnitude of boats, you’ll probably start asking yourself, “What did I just get myself into?” Take a deep breath and stick with your initial game plan. You will hear a lot of chatter on the radio along with radio checks (channel 68 for all of the tournaments I fish). Just keep an ear out for the tournament committee announcing when they will start checking boats in (typically 45mins before the shotgun start.) Once the committee boat calls your number, you’ll respond with “Boat (number) checking in” and you’ll get a response “Got you, boat (number).” Now you get the joys of waiting until all of the boats are checked in and the run-time starts. I will highly suggest if you are fishing out of a smaller boat, 20’ or less, let the big boats go first unless you know you can outrun them or you’re going in a completely different direction. When you hear the committee say you can start running, I promise you, if Lake Michigan is flat, you will see it instantly turn to 3-5’ waves from the wake of the bigger boats.
Fishing time. If you’re using a handheld radio, odds are you will not hear the tournament committee boat say “It’s 5:30, start fishing.” Pay attention to your watch or cell phone, once the fishing time starts, get your lines in the water. You are on the honor program, but there are plenty of boats out there watching each other and it’s not worth getting disqualified for putting lines in the water one minute early.
Once the fishing period starts coming to an end, you’ll make your way back to the designated cooler drop off location. Make sure your cooler is sealed and your log sheet is attached. You will also have to drop one of your crewmembers off and they must stay with the cooler. If the weigh-in goes quick enough, odds are your crewmember will be done weighing in by the time you park or get the boat back on the trailer. Typically, it takes the tournament committee around 30-45mins to get all the scores tallied and the results posted. I’d suggest sticking around even if you know you’re not in the money and just listen how the other boats did. A lot of the guys who fish these tournaments will say how and where they got their fish. This is well worth the price of admission because odds are they did something you’ve never heard of and now you’ll have an extra tool in your toolbox.
Congratulations! You’ve just completed your first Lake Michigan tournament. Welcome to one of the most addicting and frustrating tournaments you can enter.
The following are a few of the Wisconsin and Illinois based clubs that host tournaments: