Johnson’s team repeat winners at Ontonagon Classic

ONTONAGON?- Last year, Jimmy Johnson’s Jolly Roger Fishing Team won its first Ontonagon Lake Trout Classic after eight years of trying. This year they became the first anglers to repeat the performance.

“Must be that clean Black River Harbor living,” Johnson grinned, sipping a celebratory NA and plugging his home port. “Winning it back-to-back is twice as nice,” he added excitedly as he and Denny Forslund, Ron Mahoney and Don Maki weighed in their 44.92 pound catch to capture first place and $1,200 in the 9th Annual Ontonagon Lake Trout Classic, bettering last year’s weight by 4.1 pounds.

The Jolly Roger Fishing Team didn’t keep the cash long enough to roll in it, they did something that felt even better; as in past years, they gave it all to the Ontonagon County Cancer Association.

The Classic kicks off the Yooper fishing tournament season, and a festive weekend of hot fishin’ and cookin’ action in Ontonagon. The tournament has evolved into quite the shindig, a 3-day event with the Women’s Powder Puff Derby and a bonus pre-tournament on Friday, the captain’s meeting fish fry at the Shamrock Friday evening, and the BBQ for Life Cookoff and dinner Saturday. All proceeds go to the Ontonagon County Cancer Association.

Just a few miles west along the coast in Silver City, the mouth of the Iron River was iced in, as was Black River Harbor. The Saxon Harbor Tournament was postponed because of late ice.

A field of 45 boats and 180 fishermen fished the Classic, with 13 teams competing in the women-only Powder Puff Derby, won by the Washdup Fishing Team of Lena Wascher, Liz Bruett and Susie Milly. The girls caught more than 100 fish which they donate to the Captains Meeting fish fry at the Shamrock. Moonshine Lures sponsors the Ladies Powder Puff Derby.

“Ontonagon oughta be proud of the many fishermen, fishing enthusiasts, BBQ aficionados and volunteers who make it happen,” tournament director Larry Greig said, “I get complimentary email and calls on how hot the hospitality, fishing and BBQ action are, and what a fun event it is.”

For photos, information and fishing reports, visit, 884-2770.

“It’s a good time that pulls the community together for a good cause,” said Yooper Michigan NRC commissioner and tournament regular J.R. Richardson. “The event has grown steadily for nine years, thanks to Aspirus, local sponsors and anglers,” he added, “more and more out-of-town anglers come back for the hot fishin’, food and fun.”

I’ve covered the tournament as a media observer and BBQ judge for several years, but this was my first time as a cancer survivor. Since 2003, the event has raised tens of thousands for the Ontonagon County Cancer Association.

Asked about the secret to his success with the Jolly Roger repeat, Jimmy Johnson said “We found a patch of warm 46-47 degree surface water off 14 Mile Point; we caught most of our fish trolling No. 1 gold Finn Spoons at 1-1/2 to 2 mph a fathom or two deep, and staggered at 30-50 feet,” he added, “and if you believe that, I can make you a heckuva good deal on the suspension bridge over Black River Harbor.”

To book a charter aboard the classic 42-foot Chris Craft Jolly Roger, call 932-5196.