A big man who had a big man’s voice

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Celebrating the life of charter captain Rick LaCourse

In the 1980s the magazine titles Ohio Fisherman and Great Lake Fisherman were a couple of the most sought after monthly soft tops on area newsstands. Of course Ohio Fisherman focused on the Buckeye state, including Lake Erie, while Great Lakes Fisherman looked hard at every fishery in the Great Lakes with a strong presence in salmon, trout, and walleye camps.

Meeting LaCourse

At the time, I was hitting the big water hard and producing monthly features and columns for both titles. That work put me in touch with many of the big names including one which I can never forget; that of Rick LaCourse, an Oregon, Ohio, based charter captain, a popular and always busy guide on Lake Erie and Lake Michigan where the salmon fishery was a fever pitch.

Following the fish?

LaCourse would be first on the water at St. Joseph, Michigan, in early spring when the Coho salmon showed up. After a few weeks of silver fish he would haul his rig back to Ohio for the fast walleye action that still takes place on and around his favorite reefs that dot Lake Erie’s western basin.

By late summer, LaCourse would be back in Michigan, but this time to chase big king salmon in the deep Lake Michigan waters off Ludington, a popular mid-state port. Wherever LaCourse landed, his customers followed, because he was one of the big names, the guides who could always produce action-filled days. I never knew, or at least couldn’t decide, if LaCourse followed the fish or the fish followed him.

Interestingly, LaCourse’s charter successes would earn him an even greater following and a degree of fishing fame, his love for chasing walleyes would lead him in a different direction in coming years.

Our first outing

I still remember our first outing. I was working the winter sport shows for contacts and story leads when LaCourse suggested I meet him as soon as open water brought Lake Michigan’s hard fighting Coho salmon to the lake’s near-shore waters. We made a date and met on a shivering morning on the southern shores of Lake Michigan. The fog was as thick as the heavy curtain that follows a community play, but LaCourse, a determined fellow to say the least, set trolling lines and casted off into the hyper-chilled, pea soup fog.

And of course, the salmon responded, one after another, some two at a time, just the way he had predicted and followed by a couple feature articles.

In the years that followed I shared a salmon guide contest practice day with LaCourse, produced some walleye fishing TV shows together, and well, you get the idea. Then LaCourse answered another calling, that of the growing popularity of professional walleye fishing — a challenging chase of contest after contest by a skilled field of pros who live a Gypsy lifestyle of motels, travel, and competition. And yes, he did make the grade as a winner and as an unforgettable national personality.

Big man big voice

“Bigfoot” Richard LaCourse was a big man with a big voice and a big presence. He reeked of confidence and never let it be said that he could be out talked. If I needed a quote I could count on Rick. If I need a whole story I could get it from him with one call.
He was a character with an opinion, one that he shared with flair and he was a damn good fisherman. LaCourse, 64, passed this spring leaving the fishing world a little poorer.

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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.

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