Leland Fishtown – Picture Perfect Dockside Village

A Northern Michigan Road Trip

We went for a Saturday of wine tasting with friends up to Old Mission point in Northwest Michigan. The numerous wine vineyards and scenic countryside are well worth the trip. The next day we took a forty-minute morning drive north of Traverse City to the small scenic slice of the historic Fishtown on the edge of Lake Michigan on the Leland peninsula. Walking the docks at Leland Fishtown is to experience a scene that is over one hundred years in the making.

Fishing History on Lake Michigan

At the end of the Leland River just before it feeds into Lake Michigan, is Leland Michigan’s picturesque Fishtown – one of the last working fishing districts on Lake Michigan. White settlers, followed the lead of Native Americans who fished from the banks of the river, creating the current fishing village in the 1850s. Today, Fishtown has kept the tradition alive in the weathered fishing shanties, smokehouses, and docks lined with commercial fishing boat tugs, and charter fishing boats. For those traveling out to Manitou Island, the Manitou Island Transit ferry embarks from the same docks on a regular schedule.

Smoke Your Catch After a Day of Fishing

If you have spent the day sportfishing out on the big lake smokehouses in Fishtown will smoke your salmon for a uniquely upper Michigan flavor. During the off-season, they keep the smokers busy with orders for deliciously smoked Thanksgiving turkey.

The Story of Carlson’s Fish

For over five generations the Carlson family has operated this fishery in iconic Leland Michigan. They turned their small dockside operation into one of the most favored and photographed destinations in Northwestern Michigan. Keeping with the family tradition of catching fish while evolving in equipment and methods to ensure that the company has a long term livelihood.

Hometown Tourist Carlson's Fishery

The Carlsons worked with the Michigan Fish Producers Association, the Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Sea Grant, to put an education plan in place to educate others within the industry about the importance of structure and planning to enhance stability…“not just for what we can catch today, but for what might be available tomorrow.”

Pretty Coastal Fishtown - Leland, Michigan

In order to stay in business and thrive, Carlson’s sold the Fishtown property and fishing licenses to the not-for-profit Fishtown Preservation Society. This provides them with the ability to continue to operate a unique retail business at the dock. They offer various smoked fish, whitefish sausage and fish pâté. Carlson is looking to create new and innovative products at their Fish Town location.

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