It’s his job... and he loves it!

Longtime charter fishing boat captain Dan Fox posed with some clients and their catch last Friday. From left were Shelia Burfield of Chatfield, Minn., 9-year-old Jose Segura of Miami, and Cathy Armstrong of Rochester, Minn. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

His engineering degree comes in handy when solving problems on his boats, but it’s that summer job during college that stuck with Dan Fox.
For 44 years and counting, to be exact.
The oldest of nine children, the Milwaukee native started working for his father John as a charter boat captain in Port Washington during summers while attending Marquette University in the early 1970s, not realizing he was getting started in what would be his career.
John Fox ran his charter fishing boat as a hobby business and sold his vessel to his son and went on to start a printing business with one of Dan’s brothers.
“After I finished school I didn’t know it would be a business,” Dan said. “One year kind of led to the next.”
Spending nearly half a century on Lake Michigan is still fun, he said.
“I do enjoy the challenge of the daily change of the weather and the lake,” he said. “You have to enjoy fishing. If you don’t like fishing, it does become a lot of work.”
Fox has seen many changes and trends over the decades, including the construction of the Port Washington marina, which helped spark the charter fishing industry.
Before the marina, Fox said, he remembers loading people on his boat among surges and swells in the poorly protected harbor.
Fox has had as many as five boats in his Fox Brothers fleet, all named Foxy Lady. Today, he has three.
His fishing season runs from April to October. He goes out two to three times a day, usually from 7 a.m. to noon, 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. and then an evening trip until it’s dark.
Fox said the best fishing is either early in the morning — around 5 a.m. — or right as the sun goes down. He said he prefers what he calls “the evening bite.”
Regardless of the time of day, water temperature is a big factor in fish biting, he said.
The ideal water temperature for fishing in Lake Michigan, he said, is 47 to 52 degrees.
Northeast winds two weeks ago brought in warm water, which can reach temperatures in the 60s.
“It forces you to go deep to find colder water,” he said.
Fox said he stays within six miles of Port’s lighthouse — going out 30 miles would be better for fishing but would take more time and cost more in fuel.
The biggest fish Fox has ever caught was a 36-pound king salmon in August 2016.
Technology has made offshore fishing a lot easier. Years ago, Fox would have to listen to the lighthouse fog horn to find the harbor when returning from fishing in foggy weather.
“Now, GPS tells you where it is,” he said.
A down rigger with a probe tells him the water temperature at various depths.
Just having a cell phone has altered Fox’s scheduling procedure. His aunt used to book fishing trips, but now he does it himself, sometimes right from the boat.
“It’s a good selling feature when you say ‘I’m netting a fish, I’ll call you back,’” he said.
Environmental changes have impacted the industry as well. Today, spiny and fishhook waterfleas compete with native fish for food and can get caught on fishing lines, damaging equipment and preventing fish from being landed.
Fox said the lake had more alewives for fish to eat when he started than today.
“However,” he said, “the lake still provides a good fishery.”
Fox said he goes out in most any weather. On July 20, he said he was the only fisherman braving the 5 to 8-foot waves.
Fox has had one serious weather issue in his career. A lightning strike once took out his boat’s ignition system and he needed assistance to get back in. Fox said he was netting a fish during the strike. He felt a little tingling in his hand and had to drop everything.
He suggests people take motion sickness medicine if they think they may need it. Seasickness can afflict anyone, he said, noting that burly men have been laid low in rough weather while their 90-pound wives felt fine.
Regardless, “most everybody has a good time out there, whether you get three or 30 (fish).”
While work slows in the offseason, it doesn’t go away. Fox spends time maintaining his boats and marketing his business at sport shows. The boats, he said, have to keep going out on the lake or the business turns into a hobby.
Fox uses knowledge acquired from his engineering studies to tackle boat problems.
“It makes you think a certain way. It teaches you how to approach mechanical problems,” he said.
Regardless of the season, fishing is Dan Fox’s life’s work. And he loves it.
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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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