A last moment catch propelled Raymond Chi of Chicago to the championship in the 29th annual Skamania Mania fishing contest in Michigan City on Sunday.
"We'd been out there since 2 a.m., hadn't seen that many fish caught and it was now 9 a.m. and we were starting to pack it in," Chi, who regularly fishes the pier, said.
That's when the big one — a 16-pound, 13-ounce steelhead — bit and put on the typical Skamania show - drag-ripping dashes and belly-flopping splashes before tiring enough to be corralled in a net.
"He came on an alewife on bottom," Chi said.
The hefty steelie was good for the $200 first place prize in the free contest organized by the Northwest Indiana Steelheaders with awards sponsored by the LaPorte County Convention & Visitors Bureau. The top 12 places in the two-day event received gift certificates to Chief's Bait, going down to $25 for 12th while the lucky 13th biggest steelhead won the best prize, a $250 rod and reel combo.
Evan Conway claimed the 13th spot with an 11-pound, 10-ounce Skamania. No catch details were available.
Jeff Daby of Valparaiso landed a 15-pound, five-ounce brute in Salt Creek to take down second place.
"Spawn drifted with a bobber and my centerpin (float fishing reel)," Daby, who also landed another smaller steelhead on Sunday, said.
Mostly it was talk of the big one getting away around the Steelheader's weigh-station. Almost every angler had a tale of hooking "one in the high teens." Especially on Trail Creek.
While most guys were able to land gorgeous eight, 10 and 12-pounders on Trail, the really huge ones generally busted free in the cramped, brush-choked confines of the creek.
But, that is what makes Indiana Skamania steelhead so famous and fun. And why anglers from throughout the Midwest come to Michigan City in summer to battle with the biggest steelhead in the Great Lakes.
While Skamania end up in the stocked streams of Trail Creek and Salt Creek (Porter Co.), they also provide plenty of action for pier, harbor and small-boat anglers. Winners in the 2019 Skamania Mania contest were evenly split among stream, pier and small boat.
Rich Jendrzejczyk of Chesterton and partner Dan Metzger of LaPorte claimed seventh (13-10) and 11th place (12-4), respectively, by chucking spoons and dunking live alewives from a boat along the Michigan City breakwall.
"Yes, I lost the winner, too," Jendrzejczyk said, knowing well of the many broken dreams on the streams. "It was 18-pounds, easy, but that what happens with these fish - they're crazy."
Jendrzejczyk mentioned they hooked four steelies, including the lost big one, right around 2 p.m. on Sunday, which goes to show fresh pods of Skamania arrive at all hours of the day and night.
Three dozen steelhead donated by anglers during the contest and were processed by the Steelheaders to be used as part of the Indiana Department of Natural Resource's annual, free Taste of the Wild Cookout at the State Fair on August 4. For complete fair schedule, see; dnr.IN.gov/statefair.
Steelhead Manifesto (Facebook site) proprietor Roger Hinchman donated a $230 Lamiglas rod drawn from among anglers donating fish. Winner of the sparkling Lamiglas rod was Daniel Wilson of Elkhart.