For Greg Magee and Wally Laaksonen, their boat’s victory in the pro division of this year’s Offshore Classic fishing tournament was decades in the making.
The two Ludington fishermen unknowingly crossed paths in the ‘80s at tournaments — and even scuba dived together once, Laaksonen said — but began fishing together in 2003.
With Magee’s boat, Blue Fairways, they’ve won every event in the Offshore Classic over the years except the namesake competition itself, Magee said.
That changed Sunday. The Blue Fairways men weighed their maximum of 12 fish both days of the tournament for a total of over 348 pounds.
“This means a lot to us,” Laaksonen, the team’s captain, said.
Besides Magee in the back of the boat and Laaksonen in the front, there were five others who worked to earn Blue Fairways its winning 588.45 points.
“It takes a team effort,” Magee said. “We could not do this, (Laaksonen) or I, without the entire team.”
Runners-up in the pro division were Hour Time and In-U-Endo at 565.25 and 522.15 points, respectively.
The amateur and pro divisions of the Offshore Classic, which are the tournament’s main events, took place on Saturday and Sunday.
After a 6 a.m. shotgun start, anglers had until 2 p.m. to catch up to 20 fish.
In a drive-thru at Waterfront Park, pro teams loaded their heaviest 12 fish onto a scale, amateurs their heaviest 10. Teams earned 10 points per fish weighed and one point per pound.
Teams also competed for the Big Fish title in each division, awarded to the team that caught the heaviest fish.
A line of pick-up trucks, SUVs and all-terrain vehicles snaked around the front of the park, loaded with fish-filled coolers and anglers waiting to drop their catch on the scales.
A crowd of dozens stood at the scales, watching for something worthy of the Big Fish title to emerge from a cooler.
On their way out, teams could donate their catch to the Ludington Boat Club, who will fry the fish at fundraising events throughout the year, said Dean Samuels, vice commodore of the club.
On both the clear, sunny tournament days, fishers told of great water conditions and a smooth supply of fish.
In one case where fish were less than available Sunday, one team, appropriately named Bear With Me, overcame the challenge with patience.
“(We) stuck with the program and stuck with the fishing,” said Barry Howell, the team’s captain. “We lost a lot of fish but … we kept working the same water.”
Bear With Me’s catch weighed in at 175.8 pounds on Sunday, far exceeding their previous day, and seemed poised to win the amateur division. But it wasn’t enough to keep another team, Slimy Hands, from claiming the title.
The biggest fish caught this weekend were a 31.35-pound king salmon caught by Safe Money in the pro division and a 30.1-pound fish caught by Skip’n in the amateur division.
Anglers found varied paths to success.
Mike Hiller, who fished from a boat named Punisher, credited the “unique look and action” of lures by Ludington-based Hangry Brand for some of his team’s first-day catches.
A co-captain of No Limits said winning the first-day total weight and catching the second heaviest fish came down to “good, skilled guys and luck” — and one other factor.
“For the first time ever, we didn’t drink alcohol until we (caught) our limit,” said John Wheeler, co-captain of the boat. “We decided to take it serious today.”
Despite a rained-out Tuesday competition, the Offshore Classic amounted to an “awesome week,” said Brandy Miller, president and CEO of the Ludington and Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce, which runs the event.
“I think everybody was really happy and loved fishing in Ludington,” Miller said. “I think people really appreciated being able to get together and celebrate each other’s big boxes.”
Travis Bouwman, captain of Get Some, said he appreciated “how hard they work at trying to put (the tournament) together.”
“They did a good job,” Bouwman said. “Kept everybody safe.”