Lake to Plate: The Big Catch

Charter captains like Denny Grinold in Grand Haven work with local waterfront restaurants to offer a fresh fish foodie experience after the boat docks and the fish are cleaned. Catch & Cook encourages charter clients to enjoy fresh fish with friends.
Customers at Old Boys Brewhouse
Captain Denny Grinold and friends enjoy a salmon meal at Old Boys Brewhouse, where a customer’s fresh catch is prepared along with sides

By Marla R. Miller

After a morning of big lake charter boat fishing, talk normally turns to reliving “the big catch” and where to go for lunch. Charter captains like Denny Grinold in Grand Haven have worked with local waterfront restaurants for years to offer clients a fresh fish foodie experience after the boat is docked and the fish are cleaned. 

Now, a growing number of charters and restaurants across the state participate in Catch & Cook, a state-sanctioned program that encourages charter clients to take their catch from Michigan’s Great Lakes to a participating restaurant and savor a fine meal, along with some fishing tales, with the rest of their group, and often the captain.

“We always mention it when the subject of ‘where do we go to eat?’ comes up,” says Grinold, state and federal affairs officer for Michigan Charter Boat Association. “But I have a number of clients who make it part of the agenda, and it completes their day for them. It’s a wonderful way to extend their fishing trip. It’s just-caught, prepared by a professional chef, and once they do it, they love it.”

Colorful Salmon at Old Boys Brewhouse
Colorful Salmon served fresh at Old Boys Brewhouse

Several organizations came together in 2012 to launch Catch & Cook, as a way to market and promote charter fishing tourism, and establish health guidelines for the program. Grinold helped with the effort, saying it grew out of relationships between captains and restaurants in local communities. The program continues to expand on both peninsulas thanks in large part to word of mouth and the website, which lists participating charters and restaurants. It has become popular with corporate clients who have no way to keep the fish, families who make charter fishing part of an annual vacation and repeat charter clients from Michigan and beyond.

Charter captains will often call ahead to participating eateries, and it’s usually the chef who prepares the day’s catch — whether salmon, perch, lake trout or walleye — several different ways and often with a couple of sides.

“It’s a pretty incredible experience,” says Melissa Brolik, owner of Old Boys’ Brewhouse in Spring Lake. “Sometimes people don’t know how to cook the fish, or they say they don’t like salmon until they try it at the restaurant. This kind of makes it a fully rounded experience, especially for corporate outings.”

Old Boys’ Brewhouse has hosted local charter groups for several years. Charters and restaurants must adhere to state and local food safety standards and handling guidelines. It’s labor intensive, so the restaurant charges a fee for the preparation of the fish and additional sides.  

“There’s a strict process you have to go through,” Brolik says. “You want to make sure it’s on ice immediately and stays that way and (is) cleaned in a sanitary spot. They bring the fish in clean, but we continue cleaning it and cutting it. We offer four different ways to have it prepared and normally serve it with coleslaw or fries or other side options like salad or mac and cheese.”

Grinold trolls colorful lures to catch salmon, lake trout and steelhead.
Grinold trolls colorful lures to catch salmon, lake trout and steelhead

The program enhances the visitor experience while marketing creative, safe participation in Michigan Great Lakes sport fishing. Besides being a special dining experience, it gives restaurants a boost in smaller coastal communities. 

Fish illustration“Fishing and boating are a $7-billion business in the Great Lakes, and it helps to support local restaurants,” says Ed Golder, public information officer for Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “It gives charter boat captains one more thing to offer to customers. There’s nothing like going back to the dock and then partaking of the fish you reeled in yourself. 

“I’ve been on Captain Denny’s boat, and I’ll tell you it’s some of the most fun I’ve had fishing,” he says. “It’s fun to be able to go out with friends, catch some fish, tell the story when you get back to the restaurant and just sit there and enjoy a beer and some fresh-caught fish.”

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Marla Miller is an award-winning freelance writer who resides in Muskegon.

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