Memorable catches: Record fish … and a rescue at Lake Ottawa

MICHAEL LEMANSKI OF Florence, Wis., holds the new Michigan-record cisco, formerly known as lake herring, he caught June 9 in Lake Ottawa in Iron County. The Department of Natural Resources recently verified the record catch.

Michael Lemanski now has a Michigan state record fish in his name.

But it might not have been the most important catch he made that day on Lake Ottawa, the 57-year-old angler from Florence, Wis., said.

The co-owner of Lemanski & Son construction company hadn’t planned to go fishing June 9, and then wasn’t targeting cisco, also known as lake herring, but whitefish in the Iron County lake.

But cisco seemed to be biting on his homemade jig. He caught four of them before hauling in the one he said he knew was worth keeping. A quick cell phone check online confirmed his fish could be a new state record.

“I knew it was close,” Lemanski said

As he headed back to the dock to get the fish where it could be officially weighed, something floating on the lake caught his eye. He considered continuing, then turned the boat around.

It turned out to be a kayak that had flipped, spilling an older man into the water and dropping the anchor so he had no way to kick or drift to shore, Lemanski said. When he reached the overturned craft, the man was hanging on, with his life jacket almost over his head, Lemanski said.

He could not get the man into his boat, Lemanski said, so instead grabbed him by the ankle and slowly towed him to shore.

The man — Lemanski never did get his name — told him it was his first day in a kayak “and my last day.”

The weigh-in at an Iron Mountain grocery store put the 21.8-inch fish at 6.36 pounds. The record was verified by Jennifer Johnson, a Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist in Crystal Falls.

“Although this fish was caught in June, we only recently verified it as a state record,” said Gary Whelan, the DNR’s fisheries research manager. “The reason for the delay stemmed from the fact we wanted to ensure this fish was not a hybrid between a cisco and a lake whitefish. These fish look extremely similar, so we gathered DNA from the fish to test its compatibility with what we know about cisco. That test, done by Michigan State University, proved to be a match.”

The previous state-record cisco was caught by Robert Rogers of Hartford, Wis., in 1992 while trolling the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay. That fish weighed 5.4 pounds and measured 25 inches, according to the DNR.

State records are recognized by weight only and identification must be verified by a DNR fisheries biologist. This is the second state-record fish caught in 2017.

To view a current list of record fish in Michigan, go to michigan.gov/staterecordfish.

Lemanski still has his record cisco in the freezer. He wants to get a replica mount, as the fish is too oily to otherwise preserve.

The cisco on the wall will remind him of that memorable day on Lake Ottawa.

“I got a new state record,” Lemanski said, “and I may have saved a life, I think.”

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 40, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.


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