There’s no way Michael Lemanski could have known how momentous a day June 9, 2017, would be for him. The 57-year-old Wisconsin native just happened to be fishing in Michigan that day, hitting the water on Lake Ottawa. By sundown he had brought two important things to the boat: a new Michigan angling record and an elderly kayaker who was fighting for his life.
According to Iron Mountain Daily News, Lemanski landed a 21.8-inch, 6.36-pound cisco, or lake herring, on a homemade jig. He had caught four already, but a quick check of his smartphone showed that the latest fish would be close to the standing record of 25 inches, 5.4 pounds. As a result, he did what any red-blooded American angler would do: He headed to shore to measure and weigh the fish at a nearby grocery store.
Along the way he came across the second and far more consequential part of his day. Lemanski was almost to the dock when he noticed something strange floating on the lake surface. He debated heading on to the weigh-in, but ultimately he turned around to investigate. Just in case.
It’s a miracle he did. An elderly kayaker had overturned his ride, the anchor falling out and his life jacket pulling up almost over his head. The kayak couldn’t move from its position, so the kayaker had no chance of drifting to safety. Even with the water temperature at 61 degrees, it was only a matter of time until this man succumbed to his situation.
Lemanski couldn’t get the kayaker into his boat, so he grabbed him by the ankle and towed him in, instead. Lemanski never got the man’s name, but he told Lemanski that it was his first and last day in a kayak.
This story is only coming to light now because of questions as to the record’s legitimacy. Lemanski’s catch is now the official Michigan cisco state record, but officials were at first concerned whether the fish was actually a cisco/lake whitefish hybrid.
“These fish look extremely similar, so we gathered DNA from the fish to test its compatibility with what we know about cisco,” Gary Whelan, Michigan DNR’s fisheries research manager, told the Daily News. “That test, done by Michigan State University, proved to be a match.”
Lemanski is planning to have a replica mount made of his catch. He still has the fish in his freezer, but the cisco is too oily to preserve any other way.
Cover image: Iron Mountain Daily News/ Michigan DNR