Wild Things: Record Participation in the K/D

Nearly 3,800 anglers tried to catch top salmon

by KEVIN NAZE, [email protected], Peninsula Pulse contributor

For the first time since the Kewaunee/Door (K/D) County Salmon Tournament began in 1983, the official winner was not known following the event’s conclusion.

What’s normally a relaxing night of sharing stories at Sonny’s in Sturgeon Bay was instead tense at times as the angler who weighed the heaviest fish and a witness to the catch were interviewed again – this time in front of members of the K/D steering committee – by phone, on speaker. 

Tom Bray of Iron Mountain, Michigan, and Cole Mroczkowski of Florence, Wisconsin, both said during that meeting that they were fishing together on Bray’s boat. 

The weigh-in slip, which is supposed to be signed by all witnesses to the catch, also included the names of Mroczkowski’s girlfriend from Florence, as well as a friend from Marquette, Michigan. 

Both men said that was a mistake; they thought it was for witnesses to the weighing of the fish. Bray said the two others joined them after he and Mroczkowski motored back to Fairport, Michigan, where they had launched in the dark July 16, the third morning of the event. Bray said they kept fishing after catching the trophy salmon and thought the island weigh-in site closed at 9 am. (It was open until 11 am on the day of the catch.)

During the conversation with the steering committee members, Bray admitted to lying about where he caught the fish, but insisted it was still in Wisconsin waters.

Instead of DQing the anglers on technicalities, the committee decided to give them an opportunity via rule #3 on the back of each ticket, which states, “Each contestant who registers a prize-winning fish and all affirming witnesses may be subject to polygraph (lie-detector examination).”

With a record of more than $75,000 in cash and prizes on the line, it’s a dark cloud hanging over an otherwise wildly successful year.

Bray, who won more than $36,000 in cash and prizes in the Salmon-A-Rama – a lakewide event that ran nine of the 10 days of the K/D this year – credited his entry in the K/D with winning big money in the Salmon-A-Rama.

He said he hadn’t planned to fish the K/D, but Mroczkowski was in Door County with his girlfriend and called him, saying he could pick up tickets. Bray said he normally fishes only in Michigan waters, but he fished Wisconsin waters because of his K/D entry. He could fish Michigan waters for Salmon-A-Rama and a tournament in which he was entered at Fairport. 

The 31.9-pound salmon he weighed Sunday, July 16, was a quarter-pound heavier than one landed by 19-year-old Ryan Jorgenson of Washington Island a day earlier.

Meanwhile, a mid-20s fish was disqualified for the angler listing St. Martin – an island in Michigan waters – as the location of the catch. Allegations of others fishing outside the boundaries were also investigated, but they were inconclusive. 

There were 3,759 paid entrants, and 3,796 overall, including tickets donated to a large group of veterans and a small number given as prizes for fundraisers and to sponsors. That smashed the previous high of 3,310, set last year. 

The top 125 salmon in the 2022 tournament all weighed 25 pounds or more; this year, 53 were heavier than 25 pounds. However, fishing was far better for most this year, with some especially heavy coolers. Many of the salmon were younger fish in the five- to 15-pound range, but there were more than 400 20-plus-pound Chinooks reeled in.

Some changes were voted in for the July 12-21, 2024, tournament, including allowing all ages to participate, and eliminating the one-day ticket. All tickets will cost $30, and they will include a chance to be drawn for prizes.

The committee also discussed allowing photos of a ticket on a phone to be used if the angler lost or forgot the copy of the ticket when weighing a fish or witnessing.

Don Ebetsch took this great closeup of a pine (fox) snake in the Baileys Harbor area.

Door’s Fox Snakes 

Paul Kwiatkowski of Fish Creek said Door County is home to a healthy population of snakes, but none more impressive than the fox snake. 

Known locally as pine snakes, these members of the rat snake family are voracious eaters of mice and other rodents, and they occasionally feed on birds. Kwiatkowski said they frequent fields, forest edges, marshland, and structures such as barns, abandoned sheds and garages to search for food. They’re accomplished climbers, though they are most frequently encountered on the ground. 

A full-grown adult can be three to four feet or more, and some locals tell (tall?) tales of some approaching six feet. They lay eggs, and young specimens are often seen in the fall. Fox snakes display a background of khaki, yellow or gray, with chocolate-brown blotches, and their heads frequently sport distinctive orange or rust colors. 

Kwiatkowski said that when alarmed, fox snakes vibrate their tails, producing a buzzing sound. Sadly, he said, this habit often results in observers confusing them with rattlesnakes and killing them. (Door County does not have any native venomous snakes.) When threatened, fox snakes can also emit a foul-smelling musk that many say smells like a fox den. 

Most people cross paths with fox snakes on roads, often with tragic results for these magnificent reptiles.