A family tradition

ALPENA – In Northeast Michigan, traditions such as making pasties or carving wooden bears with a chainsaw have been handed down from generation to generation since people arrived here from Britian, Germany, France, Poland and other countries.

Same, too, with the 2013 Brown Trout Festival. Although the event is a mere 39 years old, the desire to go out in 20-foot waves and catch a big fish has been passed from parent to child to grandchild.

The Szatkowski family is no exception. Shawn Szatkowski, 38, learned to fish from his dad and uncle.

“The year the tournament started was the year I was born,” he said Friday, while preparing his boat for the Pepsi/Todd Horn Super Tournament.

“I was dang near running around in a diaper and it was my dream all my life to win it.”

Szatkowski has a fair chance this year. He has been at the top of the leaderboard with a 13.35-pound brown since Monday. But that’s kind of small. In 2005, he hooked an 18.85-pound brown trout to land top honors.

“I started fishing as soon as I could get in my uncle’s boat,” he said. “My uncle George has been fishing the Brown Trout Fesitival since it began. Any more, he’s been retired for the last 12 years.”

Szatkowski’s son, Austin, also has the bug. Bad.

“Austin is hard core into the fishing like I am,” Szatkowski said. “He’s 12. Every minute we’re not on the big lake, he is out somewhere in a little aluminum boat after pan fish.

“He was just born with it. He takes after me. Even ice fishing. He goes wild even in a fishing department store.”

Austin, a seventh-grader at Thunder Bay Junior High, was less talkative, but just as enthusiastic.

“I just love reeling in big fish and feeling the nibble on the rod,” he said.

As for his favorite subject in school – Austin replied, “I’d rather be fishing.” Except for art class, he said. There he likes to draw pictures of fishing boats.

Lessons are learned on the water, Szatkowski said. Sudden storms and lightning require quick thinking and action.

“Austin knows to get everything back in the boat and go back to the harbor,” Szatkowski said.

His son also knows patience.

“I love it,” Szatkowski said. “Both of us had tears in our eyes when we landed that brown Monday. You just get so excited you can’t help it. They are so hard to come by. You fish so hard and so long for them.”

Marty Skiba also is among many in Alpena continuing a family tradition. He learned fishing from his father, Albert Sr., and has turned his own 16-year-old son into a steely enthusiast.

When the Skibas returned after a day on rough water, they were back on the leaderboard with a lake trout that put Marty in fifth place.

It took father and son and a hand truck to move the rest of the catch to the cleaning station. There, they filleted fish, although Marty kept getting shocks from his waterlogged electric fishing knife.

“I like catching fish,” Noah said as he worked non-stop. “I like fighting them.”

Like his father, grandfather, uncles and other relatives who fish, Noah appeared content with hard work.

“I’m learning the ropes so I can take over one day, hopefully,” he said.