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Big salmon, big win: Palmer native wins Lake Michigan tournament

Mike Laituri, a 1985 graduate of Negaunee High School, shows off his winning chinook salmon. Laituri caught the fish in the recent Salmon-A-Rama tournament on Lake Michigan. (Photo courtesy of Mike Laituri)

MARQUETTE — Sometimes it pays to get up in the wee hours of the morning to enjoy a pastime.

For Mike Laituri — who lives in Whitewater, Wisconsin but hails from Palmer and is a 1985 Negaunee High School graduate — getting up early on July 17 resulted in netting, literally, a 33.62-pound chinook salmon and first place in the Salmon-A-Rama fishing tournament based in Racine, Wisconsin.

The tourney for individual anglers took place July 11-19 on Lake Michigan.

Laituri used a Magnum Glow Spoon to catch the big fish, which, as its name indicates, is helpful for fishing in low-light conditions.

And low-light conditions were present when he caught the salmon at 4:30 in the morning.

Daybreak, he believes, can be fortuitous in catching sizable fish like this.

“That’s the only time you can catch the big chinooks,” he said.

Laituri said there were weigh-in stations throughout Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

“You weigh in at your nearest port,” said Laituri, who fished out of Racine.

Laituri received help netting the fish from his “regular fishing buddy,” Scott Pellinen, who also graduated from Negaunee High School in 1985.

It took them 30 minutes to haul in the chinook.

What was going through his mind when he landed the salmon?

“It was big, but I didn’t realize it was going to be a tournament winner,” Laituri said. “We didn’t weigh it on the boat.”

Pellinen told The Journal Times, which covers Racine County, that there was some wind, and since his boat didn’t have an autopilot, somebody had to steer it.

“We knew it was big, so we had to pull lines and it was my job to pull all the lines and I had to turn the boat so we could go downwind a little bit and have a little bit better boat control,” Pellinen said.

He said they had pulled all the lines except one board line, which was the line on which the fish got stuck when it neared the boat.

“So that adds to the weight of pulling it in, but we didn’t notice that until it was fairly close to the boat,” Pellinen said.

Laituri didn’t realize he won the tournament until the event concluded on Sunday.

Laituri’s salmon earned him a prize package valued at $25,000, including a Yamaha outboard motor and the balance — about $21,000 — in cash.

Don’t expect him to spend the entire amount, though. He plans to share the bounty with his fishing partner.

“He gets half,” Laituri said. “That’s our deal.”

Of course, a big chinook typically doesn’t jump into a boat on its own, so obviously, Laituri was no rookie salmon fisherman. In fact, he said he started fishing for salmon about nine or 10 years ago.

He enjoys going after the “big fish” and, maybe unlike other anglers, getting up early in the morning.

“I grew up fishing on Lake Superior, so I fished for lake trout all the time,” Laituri said. “Still do that once in a while. Fish out of Marquette, actually.”

He put the winning salmon in his freezer, but don’t expect him to include it in a huge seafood buffet.

Instead, Laituri was searching for taxidermists.

“I’ve never had one mounted before, but I’ve never caught anything this big before either,” he said.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net

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