“Fishing is a part of me.”

Those were the days. We'd go down South 17th Street in Sheboygan and I'd go by three of my buddy's houses and we'd pull our four wagons to the pier.

Joe Welsch is holding a very large salmon he caught fishing on a boat in Lake Michigan in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
Photos courtesy of Dan Welsch

Dan Welsch | Sheboygan, WI

 I had a blue wagon with white PVC rod holders, rod sticking up, landing nets, my boombox, my dip net for bait fish, and I got out on the end of the North Pier and just started fishing. I was about 13 years old. The king salmon were hitting and we had some fish just under 25 pounds. I caught my limit; I got my five. I forgot what my buddies caught, but they caught a bunch. We put all the fish in my cart, and I was going up the end of the North Pier lighthouse in Sheboygan when the handle broke on my cart.

So there I was, stuck with 100 pounds of salmon on the pier and my cart tipped over. I couldn’t figure out how to get them to shore, so I put them on a rope stringer and dragged them in the water to the beach. My dad came with our Buick and we dragged the fish up there and threw them in the back of the trunk and took them home. My mom opened the trunk and goes, ‘What are you thinking?’ There were five big salmon in the trunk. Unbelievable. But I brought home supper, and that was a heck of a story. And we fixed the cart and I was off on the pier a couple days later fishing again.

They call me Dumper Dan. I grew up here in Sheboygan, where there’s a world-class fishery in Lake Michigan.

My parents had a boat at the Yacht Club in Sheboygan, so they started me out when I was seven or eight years old. We’d go fishing on a Saturday morning, just fun fishing is what we call it. But I couldn’t get enough of the fishing: that’s when my buddies and I built the carts to pull behind our bicycles when we were 10 years old. And at four in the morning, we would drag those carts behind our bikes to the North and South Piers, and we’d fish salmon on the break walls in Sheboygan.

I got to the point where I wanted to get a first-mate job and get on a charter boat because I love fishing so much, and it was an income for me. After that, I went into the captain’s class in 1985 and got my Coast Guard master’s license. Then I started Dumper Dan’s in ’85. I started young and worked my way through it and always loved fishing on Lake Michigan. 

When I started Dumper Dan’s, my goal was if I ever became large enough to buy more than one boat, I wanted them all to be sport-fishing style, hard-top, thirty-foot fishing boats. I didn’t want them to be a cabin cruiser or a five-inch tall boat. I wanted them just wide and hard-top and easy to fish from and comfortable. And that’s what I have now, I have six of them.

The operation we run is clean and professional and we get compliments all the time on these boats. We work on them all winter and they look showroom perfect when we put them in the water in April.

This Lake Michigan fishery has just always been in my heart. I grew up doing this and I still enjoy doing it. It’s not just a job, and it’s not just a hobby. It’s a part of me and I love what I do.

This is a world-class fishery. It’s unbelievable. You can’t catch fish like this everywhere, and here it is right in our own backyard. And that’s not the case just in Sheboygan, but all the ports up and down the Western Lakeshore here in Wisconsin. It’s a big tourism draw. A lot of people come here to fish. They might have their own boats, they might charter fish, they might fish on the pier like I did when I was eight years old. Nothing beats it. I fish for perch and bluegills, I deer hunt, and I love all that. But catching salmon on Lake Michigan is unique. The salmon get very big and they fight so hard, they are such a fun fish to catch. It’s a special thing for me, and that’s why I’ve stuck around Sheboygan for a long, long time.

A lot of our clients ask me how I got my Dumper Dan's nickname. I got it back in 1982 when I worked as first mate on a charter boat. One of my main jobs was netting the fish. Netting fish like lake salmon and trout isn’t easy to do. They're real aggressive. I was a teenager at the time, and I lost fish in the landing nets, so they called me ‘Dumper Dan the Net Man’ back in the early '80s. It stuck.

A photo of Joe Welsch, known as 'Dumper Dan' holding a fish on his fishing boat. Dan's charter fishing business is in Sheboygan, WI and they fish on Lake Michigan.

When I started my business in 1985 here out of the port of Sheboygan, Wisconsin I was going to call my business a different name. I had a list of names a mile long, then my mom and dad said, ‘Dan, you got to call it Dumper Dan’s because everybody calls you that.’ I’m so glad now, 39 years later, that I did.  It’s really catchy and hard to forget. 

When I am working, very rarely do I reel in any fish because being a guide, it’s my job to have others do that.  With the customers, they’re so nervous. We coach them, we tell them how to reel them in, how to hold a rod, that’s a part of our job. The facial expressions are just priceless, and how nervous they get and how excited they get when the fish hits the deck and their eyeballs are like, ‘Wow, this is the biggest fish I’ve ever seen.’ That’s part of what I enjoy, even more than getting a fish myself.

We’ve had a couple weddings on the boats. We’ve had Packers players out. We’ve had ministers and pastors on the boats. A lot of different TV shows.  We do talk radio shows every week, and I’ve been on Outdoors Wisconsin a ton of times, so I brought a lot of good media to town.

The first year I had John Gillespie of John Gillespie’s Waters & Woods out to do his fishing show, the first fish we caught right outside the Sheboygan Harbor was a 25-pound King Salmon. I held it up and John was right over my shoulder, yelling, ‘Holy cow! Holy cow! What a big fish! It’s a brontosaurus!’ He kept repeating nonstop, ‘What a fish! Oh my god, what do we do, Dan?’ I said, ‘Well, we put him in the cooler on ice.’ I made the commercial for the whole year on Wisconsin Waters and Woods, that photo of John Gillespie and me holding that big 45-inch, 25-pound king salmon. And that’s what started the TV show with him. That was just priceless, just awesome. 

This really is a world-class fishery. But keeping it that way isn’t a guarantee. We work a lot with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and we’re part of the state’s charter fishing association. Back in the ’80s, they were stocking fish like crazy— king salmon, coho salmon, rainbow trout, lake trout, brown trout, and then it kind of faded out for a while in the ’90s. And then we saw there were plenty of bait fish in the lake that we could plant more fish again and increase it. We’ve doubled the king salmon stock. We increased coho stock, rainbow stock, and we still stock brown trout and lake trout are native to the lake and they’re still there. There are plenty of lake trout, and the bait fish are booming and the fish are getting bigger. It’s important to get the charter regulations, bag limits, restocking, and everything right. Under the rules, Dumper Dan’s runs the most trips on Lake Michigan at just over 1,000 trips per season.

The first year I brought Midwest Outdoors here with Greg Jones and Dennis LaPelle, we walked live on TV. We walked up and down our boardwalk, Fisherman’s Boardwalk and he said on TV. ‘Dumper, this reminds me of the Florida Keys. This is like the Florida Keys in the middle of Wisconsin on Lake Michigan, on the lakeshore.’ Sheboygan has just such a great atmosphere. The river system from Eighth Street Bridge all the way up past Juana’s Park to Kohler and way out to the Pier Heads, you walk out on each break wall, see boats, sailboats, kayaks, and it just has a really cool feel to it. It has a fishing village-type atmosphere. It draws people in and they stop in our store and pick up souvenirs and booklets and stuff like that because they really want to see what this all consists of. We point them in the right direction of where to go and what to see.  

Sheboygan is my home. My love for Lake Michigan and Sheboygan goes beyond business. It means a lot to me and it always has from the day I took my little blue wagon out on the pier to catch fish to being a first mate on a charter boat and then starting my own business. It just means the world to me. And I grew up doing this and I’m glad I do it for a living. I really do. I couldn’t be in a better place.

Dan’s story was produced by Scott Schultz. Check out Dumper Dan’s website to sign up to spend a day fishing with him on Lake Michigan.

 

The view of 'Dumper Dan' storefront and his charter fishing boats lined up by the pier.

 

Love Wisconsin’s Sheboygan Story Series features stories of four people from different parts of the Sheboygan community. Check out Tzong Yang, Kate Krause, and Frank Juárez’s stories to read the full series.

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This Love Wisconsin story series features the stories of four people who live in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

Sheboygan is located on the western shore of Lake Michigan, has world-class sailing, premier charter fishing and has been called “The Malibu of the Midwest” for its great surfing. As of the 2020 census Sheboygan has a population of 49,929 and one of the largest Hmong communities in Wisconsin.  

This Sheboygan story series was produced in collaboration with the Wisconsin League of Municipalities.

We partnered with The League of Wisconsin Municipalities for our Sheboygan story series. The LWM advocates for Wisconsin’s cities and villages, large and small, urban and rural, speaking up for local democracy and common-sense citizen-led government. Learn more here.

 

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