Communication key when the weather turns bad

ALPENA – Fishers participating in the Michigan Brown Trout Festival experience many different types of weather. On days there can be extreme heat, fog, high winds and on occasion thunderstorms.

Because the weather can change quickly in Northeast Michigan, the boat’s captains, tournament officials and Coast Guard keep a close eye on forecasts and radar to be sure boats can make it back to shore and not be caught in severe weather that could cause safety concerns.

Tournament Director Doug Niergarth said the boats have marine radios that can tune into a weather channel that provides constant updates on the climate and conditions of the lake. He said it is up to the captain to decide when the conditions or forecast are threatening enough to pull up the fishing lines and return to shore. Niergarth said there are many different types and sizes of boats that enter the tournament. Some handle bad weather better than others and some crews handle rough rough conditions better than others.

“By in large it is the captain’s call,” Niergarth said. “Someone could have a 14-foot boat or a pontoon boat fishing out there, or we could have someone with a 40-foot boat. Each handles the weather differently, so we leave it up to the captains to determine when the best time, or not the best time to fish is. It is not my call. It is their call.”

Niergarth said when weather warnings are issued the tournament communicates with the Coast Guard on what the situation is and what the likelihood is for trouble. He said the tournament reservea the right to cancel a day of fishing.

“We do talk to the Coast Guard and if we do have to call it off one day we would. It would be better to do that than to have someone get hurt,” Niergarth said.

There are other troubles boats can experience that aren’t weather related. Niergarth said all of the boats are capable of communicating with the Coast Guard and with one another and can offer each other help, often quickly if a dangerous situation rises.

“If there were to be imminent, life-threatening trouble they can call channel 16 and the Coast Guard will respond and tell them what action to take to keep everyone safe,” Niergarth said. “If it is something like a broken engine or something non-life threatening then they can radio in on channel 68 and it will broadcast to the whole fishing fleet and if anyone’s in the area who can help, many times they will. Of course the boat will be disqualified according to the rules, but once again the boats and captains are looking out for one another and help if they can.”

Fishing in the tournament begins today, but there were some fishers out Friday trying to find the hot lure than could win them some money during the event. Several thunderstorms rolled through the area, making a wet and windy day of pre-fishing. Niergarth said he wasn’t sure how many boats went out and how many came back in because of the rain and wind.

“I have been so busy getting things ready,” he said. “I know there were some boast that went out, but I don’t know if any came back in or if they did come back in if it was because of the weather or for another reason.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at