A salmon tournament that hooked hundreds of anglers during its first run 40 years ago now lures more than 3,000 entrants – something its early promoters never envisioned.
“It has grown and grown and grown,” said Tom MacMillin, who, along with his brother Jerry, were running Mac’s Sport Shop in Sturgeon Bay in 1983, the first year of the Kewaunee/Door (K/D) County Salmon Tournament.
The MacMillins, the late Will Krueger of Kap’s Marina on Washington Island, and Tom Kleiman Sr. of Tom’s Sport Shop in Kewaunee were key players in establishing the annual event, which draws salmon fishers from across the country.
“Through the years, what amazed me is how people would plan their annual vacations around the tournament,” said Tom MacMillin, who left Door County to run businesses in Las Vegas 25 years ago and is now retired there.
Brother Jerry, still in Sturgeon Bay and president of the K/D, said one of the attractions of the contest is that you don’t need to be a skilled angler to have a shot at the more than $50,000 in cash and prizes.
“Anyone can catch the big salmon and win this thing,” he said. “Some families cash in every year, but it really is a tournament where luck plays a pretty big role.”
Tom Kleiman Sr., now retired in Kewaunee, said many people didn’t realize how big a deal fishing was to the community 40 years ago. Today, many businesses have their busiest weeks during the K/D tournament.
“Time flies when you’re having fun,” Kleiman said. “It’s nice to see that something you were involved with back then is still going strong.”
In recent years, his son, Tom Jr., has been at the Kewaunee weigh-in site at Accurate Marine, Tackle & Storage, which was recently purchased and rebranded as Yacht Works Kewaunee, and is now headquartered at the former Salmon Harbor Marina.
“Tom Jr. is Tom Sr., 50 years later,” said Kleiman’s wife, Linda. “They’re pretty humble, but they both like to get involved and jump right in to get things done.”
Meanwhile, even nearly 1,900 miles away, Tom MacMillin still keeps a keen eye on the K/D leaderboard.
On the day we talked, he had been golfing in 113-degree temperatures.
“The humidity was only 11%, so it wasn’t bad,” said MacMillin, who, at nearly 76 years old, is still active as a cyclist and golfer.
“I enjoy biking in the hot weather because my body feels so good,” he said. “I ride 30-35 miles with a group once a week, and go myself a lot of other mornings.”
As far as fishing, MacMillin still tries his luck during vacations in Wisconsin, the Caribbean and Mexico, but he hasn’t fished yet in Nevada, despite being near Lake Mead.
An acquaintance showed him a picture of a rainbow trout he caught recently – a “big one” of about 16 inches.
“I pulled out my phone and showed him what we catch in Lake Michigan, and he couldn’t believe it,” MacMillin said. “He thought that had to be Photoshopped. We would be embarrassed to come back to the dock with one the size that he caught. I guess you don’t realize what you have until you get out and see other places, and what they think is a great catch.”
Net More Info Online
Tournament tickets – $30 for the entire July 15-24 event, or $20 for a one-day shot – are available at B&K Bait and Tackle at Kap’s Marina on Washington Island; Baileys 57 in Baileys Harbor; JP Express north of Carlsville; Howie’s Tackle & Archery and Greystone Castle, both in Sturgeon Bay; Algoma BP and JP Express in Algoma; and Accurate Marine, Yacht Works and Center Court BP, all in Kewaunee.
First place is worth $15,000, second $8,000 and third $5,000, plus additional sponsor prizes.
Fishing can be done from the shore or in a boat in the Wisconsin waters of Green Bay and the Lake Michigan waters off of Door and Kewaunee counties. You must purchase a ticket before you fish, and everyone in the boat who’s 10 and older must have a ticket.
A winning salmon in excess of 30 pounds has been landed 24 times, including 11 years in a row, 1989-99, and seven straight since 2015. A 40.07-pound giant taken in 1993 holds the tournament record.
The average winning size has been increasing during recent years. In fact, the 36.70-pounder caught in 2019 was the third heaviest on record, and last year’s 35.65-pounder was the sixth largest winner.
Weekly Water Levels
As of July 8, Lake Michigan water levels were down seven inches from last July and 25 inches below the monthly record, set in 2020. Water levels were still nine inches above the 100-year average, and 41 inches above the record monthly low, set in 1964.