Go Back in Time at Northern Michigan’s Fishtown

There’s something nostalgic about fishing off the docks in Leland’s Fishtown, with original weathered fishing shacks providing a historic backdrop dating back to the 1800s.

This small village, tucked along Lake Michigan’s shoreline at the mouth of the Leland River, offers the perfect getaway for people who love to fish or for those who enjoy history. The crystal blue waters of the river rolling over the scenic dam and mixing with the pristine waters of Lake Michigan make for an irresistible setting.

A History of Fishing

Fishtown's crystal clear waters flowing over the dam.
Summertime in Fishtown Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson

Native Americans first lived and fished at the Fishtown site, with European settlers establishing the current fishing village around 1850.

While Fishtown functions year-round, it’s the busiest during the summer months. Summertime in northern Michigan is like no other, and a summer in Fishtown is no exception.

Fishtown is one of the few commercial fishing villages still functioning on the Great Lakes. Two of the most iconic fishing tugs to ever work at Fishtown are The Joy (1982) and Janice Sue (1958). These two boats have been in use for decades and can still be seen in action today. Their unique design has made for a recognizable backdrop in many scenic Fishtown photos throughout history.

While commercial fishing is still found in Fishtown, charter fishing has become the main draw. With many charters seeking out popular fish such as salmon, steelhead, lake trout, brown trout and more, Fishtown is a dream location for those who love to fish.

Plenty to Explore

Apart from Fishtown’s rich history of fishing, there are other adventures to be had. While some of the original shanties still function as part of commercial and charter fishing operations, many have been converted into trendy shops, restaurants, art galleries, lodging and more.

Visitors can walk through these authentic shanties that are built into the dockside and come across some unique finds. One thing found throughout most stores in the area is a rock known as Leland blue. The stone has a piercing blue color and is native to the Leland shoreline. It originated from the remains of a failed iron company, but due to its rare color, it has now become an identifiable gem throughout the state. A lot of stores in Fishtown have incorporated this special stone into mesmerizing jewelry, painting, clothing and more.

Nearby Adventures

There’s just as much entertainment off the docks as there is on the docks. If you want a northern Michigan nature experience, consider taking a ferry ride on the Manitou Island Transit to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s North or South Manitou Islands. Both are uninhabited but offer primitive camping options. Passage to these islands is only serviced through Fishtown and they offer fantastic hiking trails and breathtaking views.

Van's beach near Fishtown on a warm summers day.
Van’s beach near Fishtown on a nice day. Photo Credit: John Levanen

If you want to stay in Fishtown and get on the water, consider taking a paddle board tour or renting out a kayak to use on the Leland river. This calm, wide water passage offers a relaxing way to unwind.

Of course, nothing compares to the beauty of nearby Lake Michigan beaches. Van’s beach, located right downtown near Fishtown, is a favorite locals spot. It offers unparalleled views of the Manitou Islands, as well as spectacular sunsets.

From playing in the hot sand to splashing around in Lake Michigan’s cool waters, you’re sure to enjoy a day on the beaches in Fishtown.

Plan Your Trip

Whether you’re walking on the dock along the river looking for fish, catching a breeze on the water, shopping for unique finds or grabbing a bite to eat while listening to the rushing sounds of water pouring over the historic dam, Fishtown has something for everyone to fall in love with.

For information on Fishtown, including places to stay, check out Lelandmi.com.

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Photo Credit: Rachel Kramer

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  1. I took you up on this recommendation and thank you for it! We really enjoyed Leland with it’s small town setting, cute shops, art fair and beautiful beaches. What a relaxing stop on our M22 adventure!

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