Now Playing

The Reel Thing

Head out for an unforgettable day on Chicago’s premier fishing charter, the 53-foot Diazepam.  

The Diazepam is one of, if not the, largest charter boat for salmon fishing on the Great Lakes.

With two 745 horsepower Detroit Diesel engines, the Diazepam can get to the fish quickly. While Lake Michigan was nearly dead in terms of fishing in the ’60s, today it’s loaded with healthy salmon and trout. On board you can expect to “fish light,” or use lighter equipment to make reeling the fish in a bit more challenging.

Far more than just a luxury fishing charter, the success of Captain John Oberman’s boat, the Diazepam, also tells a story of our city and beloved lake.

Forty years ago, a service such as Oberman’s, which takes anglers out from Montrose Harbor for a day of hooking chinook and coho salmon, lake trout, brown trout and steelhead, would have been unthinkable. In terms of fishing, the lake was pretty much dead.
“It was basically unusable from about 1950 to 1967,” says Oberman, who retired from a career in commodities to open up his business, Endorfins Charter in 2009. “When the big ships would come in off the ocean they would empty their ballast… and when they did there were organisms in the ballast water. And one of them was alewives.”

With no natural predators the “oily, herring-like” alewives flourished—to the detriment of everything else. The site of countless dead alewives washed up on the beaches was far from uncommon. “You couldn’t get within 10 blocks of the lake because of the stench of dead fish,” says Oberman.

In the late ’60s, however, the powers that be took a chance that would forever shape fishing in Lake Michigan, introducing coho, then chinook, or “king,” salmon into the lake. Both fish are natural predators of alewives. To say the experiment was a success would be a massive understatement. The alewife population fell drastically; the salmon and trout population exploded. “And the Great Lakes now enjoy a $7 billion sport fishing industry,” says Oberman. The current Illinois record for chinook salmon is 37 pounds; for lake trout, a whopping 38 pounds.

If heading out to enjoy our resurrected lake for the day and hook a few of these beauties sounds like your cup of tea, you couldn’t do better than Endorfins Charter. The 53-foot Diazepam, an Ocean Yacht Sports Fishing Convertible, is one of, if not the, largest charter boat fishing for salmon on Lake Michigan. Aside from being roomy, that means that, even in rocky weather, guests aren’t nearly as likely to get sea sick. Powered by two 745 horsepower Detroit Diesels, she’s also a fast one, which means you spend less time getting to where the fish are and more time fishing.

“It’s the largest boat I know of fishing the Great Lakes for salmon, and there’s a pragmatic reason for that,” says Oberman. “A larger boat has more horsepower and more fuel. There’s a lot of maintenance and big fuel costs. It’s not a practical boat to have on Lake Michigan at the existing price. But,” he adds with a smile, “I knew that going in.”

Finished in leather and hardwood, the Diazepam is also immaculate, with two full bathrooms and a shower, air-conditioning, a satellite TV and on-board freezer. There’s always coffee, while guests are welcome to bring a picnic and a few adult beverages. Kids are more than welcome. If family members prefer to sunbathe, tube or swim, there’s plenty of room for everyone to spread out and do their own thing on this “good ship,” named by Oberman’s psychologist wife in honor of the generic term for Valium­—and blissful relaxation. It’s a far cry, says Oberman, from the stresses of corporate America.

While, at $800 per six-hour charter for one to six passengers, with each additional hour costing $100, a fishing experience on the Diazepam is a bit more expensive than on its competitors, a larger, more luxurious yacht isn’t the only upside to booking with Endorfins. Unlike many of the captains in the biz, Oberman isn’t really doing this to make a living. He just loves it. Thus, instead of jamming groups into slots, he only takes one trip per day. So, if you and your buddies, or co-workers on a corporate outing, want to leave at 5am, that’s fine—but so is 9am or noon. While the vast majority of the charters in Chicagoland leave from Waukegan, Endorfins is only one of about 13 in the city, and docks right in Montrose Harbor. “It’s a little selfish of me,” says Oberman. “I live down the street. I’ve been fishing here for 40 years.”

In terms of equipment, for Oberman, less is more. “I fish light,” he says. “It makes it a bit more of a sport and a lot more fun when you match the equipment to the size of the fish. I’m more interested in people having a good time than taking home 100 pounds of fish.” So get ready to fight a little. If you’re interested, he’ll even troll for fly-fishing.

When you do reel in a whopper, Oberman and his mate will clean and bag them for you. While catch-and-release is an option, in his view, the fish are too tasty to put back.

Spring and summer are clearly the busiest fishing seasons, but the Diazepam sails as late as mid-November. “I’m generally the last guy out of Chicago,” says Oberman. “They have to come down and tell me, ‘Get your boat out of here; we’re closed on the 15th. You gotta leave!’”

Endorfins Charter runs trips on the Diazepam from April 15 to Nov. 15. 773.454.6442, endorfinscharter.com