OUTDOORS: Trout Scout captain Schaefer’s goal ‘is to do this forever’

Gary Schaefer of Manistee said he feels very fortunate to get paid to do something he loves. (John Raffel/Pioneer News Network)

MANISTEE – Gary Schaefer got an early introduction to lake fishing successes in the Manistee area.

But the success Schaefer and others have enjoyed so far in 2012 is something he won’t forget for a long time.

“It’s been one of the best years I can ever remember,” he said. “It’s as good as it ever was in the heyday. The fish aren’t quite as big as they were back in the 1980s, but the numbers are better. My opinion is that it’s because we didn’t have much of a winter and the lake never cooled off. The bait fish never left and the salmon never left.”

Schaefer has had a boat since 1990 and currently operates Trout Scout Charters.

“My father (Julius Schaefer) was a charter boat captain before I was. In 1990, I moved to Manistee and started my own business,” he said.

Schaefer had been in the Kalamazoo area before coming up to Manistee.

“I spent all my summers as a kid up in Manistee and fished on my dad’s boat,” he recalled. “He retired, sold the boat. I have a job but the boat is full-time. I hire someone to fish the boat for me during the week Monday through Friday, then I fish the afternoon charters and trips on the weekend.”

It’s Salmon Splash week for Schaefer and other fishermen.

Schaefer has fished five tournaments on his boat and three others on different boats for the Tournament Trail. He’s cashed a check at every tournament so far and his highest finish has been third. He was also at the Ludington tournament last week.

“When we fish on my boat, we fish with customers,” Schaefer said. “The business has gotten so successful that there’s not time for fun fishing anymore. I try to get the kids out in the spring when we’re not so busy and my son will help me on the afternoon trips.”

Schaefer operates out of the Riverside Marina.

“I was fishing off my dad’s boat since I was 5,” he said. “Back when I was on my dad’s boat, you could put as many downriggers as you wanted on your boat. Some boats had six downriggers. Now some only run two, we run three. That’s the biggest thing. Other techniques of catching fish have blossomed. The water is getting clear.

“Its the best salmon fishing in the word in my opinion. You can keep five salmon per person. There’s not many places you can do that in the world.”

The number of boats “goes up and it goes down,” Schaefer said. “The guys that are serious about it still hang in there. There’s a lot of guys that come up on weekends. When the economy was good, everybody was fishing. Now it’s not so good and people are selling boats, but people are buying boats too. It’s kind of fluid.”

Schaefer put his boat in the water the last weekend of March and will pull it out around the last weekend in October.

“Sometimes, some of the best fishing is in October,” he said. “But you can’t beat the fishing we have right now. The last time I can remember us having a weather pattern like this was 10 years ago. The lake was so flat and hot. It really has helped the fishing if any.”

Schaefer said his son enjoys ice fishing so a new shanty and new auger have been provided to make plans for the upcoming winter.

“We like Portage Lake,” he said. “We’re trying to fix it so we also fish the Big Manistee River. We run a guide service for the Big Manistee all winter. We’ll be doing that too.”

Schaefer won’t soon forget his first win on his first tournament boat. It came during the 1994 Budweiser Pro/Am on his 25-foot boat.

The biggest king salmon ever caught from his boat weighed 35 pounds.

“It’s some of the best fishing in the world,” he said. “When the alarm clock goes off to get up and go fishing, I never hit the snooze button. It still excites you. I feel very fortunate to get paid to do something I love to do.

“The biggest challenge is figuring out the fish, basically. My goal is to do this forever.”

 

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