Hop aboard the ultimate Lake Tahoe experience with Captain Chris
Special to the Sun
Meet your merchant
Who: Chris Wichman
What: Captain Chris’ Fishing Charters
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Gazing out at the glassy blue surface of the largest alpine lake in North America, it’s hard for any fisherman — whether an amateur angler or a trained troller — to know where to begin casting a line in Lake Tahoe.
Unless, of course, you’ve been circumnavigating the inky-blue waters for nearly two decades just as Captain Chris Wichman has.
“I’m only as good at fishing as the fish are at biting,” said Wichman, with the sort-of wry wit that comes from years spent trolling the deep, lightless bottom of Lake Tahoe in the cold, pre-dawn hours of the morning.
On any given day, somewhere between 100 and 400 feet below Wichman’s Skipjack sport fishing boat, there are hundreds of Lake Tahoe’s most dominant predator — the mackinaw trout — and Wichman seems to have a sixth sense on just where to find them.
“I never know if we’re going to catch 2 fish or 10 fish because, well, it’s fishing and there are certain things I can’t control,” Wichman said. “But I’m going to do everything I can and use every advantage that I have to get those fish to bite because there are things I can control, like the time of day, where we are, how fast the boat is moving — it’s those little things that I can use to the best of my ability, and usually, it works.”
It’s that combination of knowledge, honesty and practice mixed with a subtle confidence that, over time, has earned Wichman a reputation for hooking impressive numbers of mackinaw as far as fishing guides on Lake Tahoe goes.
“If you have low expectations and high hopes, you’re the right customer for me,” he added with congenial smile.
CATCHING ON TO SPORT FISHING
Wichman’s roots have been anchored in North Lake Tahoe for 40-some years, during which time he dabbled in the typical Tahoe chain of employment before landing a career as a chef at a high-volume, lakefront establishment.
“I was getting really burnt out on cooking – it’s a 24-hour, 365-day a year job – and I guess you could say I saw the writing on the wall,” said Wichman, who’s lived in Tahoe City since age 4. “I needed to find a way to enjoy life more, make more money, have more time on my hands, and work less.”
In the midst of brainstorming his next career move, Wichman began mulling over the logistics of becoming a fishing guide.
But it wasn’t until the hobby fisherman hooked a sizeable 15-pound mackinaw that he decided to take the plunge in getting his captain’s license.
“That sealed the deal for me — that mackinaw — and that’s the day I said, ‘yep, this is what I want to do, I’m going to be a guide,” he said.
After successfully treading through the waters of becoming a boat captain, Wichman landed his first gig as a fishing guide out of the Tahoe City Marina, but the self-driven seaman wanted to cast his net out by becoming his own boss, which meant buying his own rig.
“I really wanted this particular boat because I wanted a safe, sea-worthy boat that wasn’t super big, but had the right design with a big gas tank, a bed, bathroom, stove, refrigerator, and most importantly, a nice flat deck for fishing,” Wichman said of his Skipjack. “They’re really hard to find because they’re handmade and not mass-produced, and that’s what makes them so special.”
Diving into the world of boat ownership also meant taking on a large chunk of debt, but Wichman was determined to see his way through the choppy financial waters, and eventually, his persistence paid off.
“I’m a firm believer in asking for what you want, and being very specific about it because if you don’t manifest exactly what it is you want, and you don’t believe it’s going to happen, then it probably won’t,” Wichman said.
FISHING FOR THE GOOD LIFE
Launched in 2003, Captain Chris’ Fishing Charters exclusively offers private, year-round, guided tours on board Wichman’s handmade Skipjack, where he filets the mackinaw and provides cooking tips for his customers.
Countless catches of mackinaw and the occasional rainbow trout later, and Wichman has built a successful business with repeat clientele traveling from all over the world to spend a few hours waiting for a downrigger to bob in the hopes of hooking a monster mackinaw.
But for Wichman, it’s as much about the bite as it is the backdrop – one he’s known for most of his life, and one that he said will never get old.
“There’s something about getting way out on the water and going way off shore where we’re fishing,” Wichman said. “When you get that far out and you can’t see the buildings anymore, it’s like you’re out in the middle of nowhere, and that’s when you get to really soak it all in.”
Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper.