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Snapshot of Lake Michigan: Riding Massive Confusion in the Gary Zilian Memorial

The action as a fish is boated far off Chicago on Lake Michigan on the Massive Confusion during the Gary Zilian Memorial Tournament.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

We were six grown men singing along to ‘‘Sweet Caroline’’ — on an alcohol-free boat, mind you — on southern Lake Michigan.

Does that capture the Chicago Sportfishing Association’s Gary Zilian Memorial Tournament on Monday?

Or Montrose Harbor at dawn, when Capt. Tim Frey — in island wear that would have made Steve Dahl proud — grilled 15 half-pound cheeseburgers, 18 sausages and dozens of ears of corn for six of us. The cheeseburgers were gone by day’s end, and only a few sausages and some corn remained.

Capt. Tim Frey grilling an absurd amount of food before the start of the Gary Zilian Memorial Tournament.<br>Dale Bowman/Sun-Times
Capt. Tim Frey grilling an absurd amount of food before the start of the Gary Zilian Memorial Tournament.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

I like the Zilian, named for late Capt. Gary Zilian, who ran the Lamprey. This year I rode on the Massive Confusion, a 38-foot Delta, with Capt. Bob Poteshman of Confusion Charters and most of his captains and first mates: Frey, Gregg Peters, Capt. Jeff Grapenthien and Capt. Frank Novelli.

The Zilian provides an annual snapshot of Chicago charter fishing.

‘‘We are going to try some waters we haven’t been trying,’’ Poteshman said.

Novelli piloted the boat on a 105-degree heading. An hour and a half later, we were in 140 feet, 17 miles east of Burnham Harbor. When we arrived at 8:45 a.m., Peters and Frey raced to see who could set lines fastest. Novelli drove, and Grapenthien watched lines from above.

‘‘Every fish that comes in gets the big net,’’ Poteshman said.

Frey and Peters had net duty.

Fishing started slowly. I wondered whether Poteshman had made a tactical error. Then they began gambits to raise fish: chugging pop, Novelli spitting on quarters and tossing them into the lake, switching channels on the radio. What worked was Grapenthien dancing a jig in the back.

At 9:13 a.m., we missed our first fish. At 9:42, the first lake trout was in the boat. A second came three minutes later. The second species, a steelhead, came at 10:24. Three minutes later, we landed our third species, a coho. We boated 10 of the 15 fish battled.

That far out, lines were pulled at 12:45 p.m. We had six coho, three lakers and one steelhead. We had no Chinook (kings) or brown trout.

One reason I love the Zilian is that it favors those versatile enough to fish all five species of salmon and trout on southern Lake Michigan: Chinook, coho, lakers, steelhead and browns.

Scoring is one point for each ounce, plus 10 bonus points for one species, 25 for two, 75 for three, 150 for four and 250 for five. The weigh-in was at the Diversey Harbor Yacht Club, with a portable scale hung outside and a sit-down dinner afterward inside.

Chicago Sportfishing Association’s Capt. Randy Schmidt noted no browns (not surprising) or kings (very surprising) were caught during the contest.

Capt. Ian Stewart on the King Saluki (charter) and Dave Dermenjian on the Honeymoon (non-charter) tied for first at 424.5.

The big fish was a laker (19 pounds, 1 ounce) caught by Bob Caron on Capt. Dale Johnson’s Getaway (non-charter). The Getaway also had the big coho (5-6.5). The big steelhead (11-3) came from Dave Fournier’s Zamboti (non-charter).

‘‘This is a cool tournament,’’ Stewart said. ‘‘We retooled our entire setup twice.’’

That’s so they could try for an elusive king and/or brown.

‘‘We’ve gotten one king in the last three weeks,’’ Stewart said. ‘‘In the last four days, I have changed 600 baits.’’

A snapshot of the year so far.

For CSA, go to great-lakes.org/il/fish-chicago.

Motoring away from Chicago at the start of the Gary Zilian Memorial Tournament.<br>Dale Bowman/Sun-Times
Motoring away from Chicago at the start of the Gary Zilian Memorial Tournament.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times