Fishtown sounds smelly, right? Well it's not! Fishtown is beautiful, laid back and full of historic beauty. Stroll along the docks, shop a little, charter a fishing trip, take a ferry to the Manitou Islands, fill your belly, and beach it...all in one small town on Lake Michigan. Fishtown is up in Leland MI near the Glen Arbor and Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, you'll find this small, quaint town full of boutiques, restaurants, art galleries and recreational heaven! We cruised into town early Saturday for some adventure without any plans and met a local Dylan knew from Colorado who gave us the low down on Fishtown!
If you missed last week in Glen Arbor, check it out now!
With a sign over the door that simply reads "Cheese", I knew this would be good. Cheese is your neighborhood store offering made to order sandwiches, imported cheeses, local cherry products, beer and wine. They've hand crafted their own version of "pretzel bread" for your sandwich and it's better than ever. I ordered the "Manitou", named after the Manitou Islands which are in Lake Michigan with ferry service from Fishtown. The Manitou was loaded with green pepper, cucumber, onion, spinach, tomato, 3-pepper relish, dill havarti, and hummus on pretzel bread!
Dylan chose the North Shore, based on a local tip. It had smoked turkey, swiss, bacon, cucumber, lettuce, tomato and herb mayo. You'll want to get here earlier than lunch and grab your sandwich for later because by noon the line is out the door! The smart locals know that you can order your sandwiches ahead of time on the phone and just drop in to pick them up in a separate line. The sandwiches are huge so you'll have plenty to fuel you through your recreational afternoon!
Heads up, Cheese doesn't take credit cards so have cash ready before you walk in or find an ATM in the grocery store a few blocks away.
Charter fishing is exhilarating! Boats, cool gear, fresh dinner and the best part about being in the Great Lakes ... big fish but no sharks! You don't have do much on a charter, which is a little strange at first. The captain and his first mate drive the boat, set the rods, handle the down riggers and troll for big salmon and lake trout (lakers). You might be fishing half a dozen lines at once and nothing will happen for an hour but out of nowhere a fish bites on one line it's your time to shine! Grab the rod, lift up to set the hook and then reel that monster in! When it gets to the boat the crew will help you get the fish in the boat by scooping it up with a net.
The charter guys take the fish off the hook and throw it back in the water if it's too small or drop it in the cooler if it's a keeper. If you land some keepers, the crew will also filet the fish for you back on the dock. A cash tip is expected for the filet service since it's not a job anyone really loves.
Bring Dramamine just in case you feel sea sick. Wear clothes and shoes you don't mind getting fish smell on. A water resistant jacket is good because it gets cold on the water and could always rain for a spell. Wear sunglasses and bring a smile. Ask lots of questions! The captain and crew are there to share their knowledge of the area and fishing with you. They love to talk. It's a good idea to bring a backpack with your camera, some snacks or sandwiches, water bottles and warmer clothes. Charter fishing boats are all big enough to have a bathroom ("head") but it's customary to NEVER go #2 on another person's boat. People do get sea sick and if you have to chum, do it over the rail and down wind from everyone else!
You do not bring your own fishing equipment, everything is provided for you. The rods are industrial strength and the captain's job is to have everything so you just walk onto the boat and start catching fish about an hour later.
Burn off your sandwich while hiking up the old ski resort, Sugar Loaf, for a panoramic view of the western Leelanau Peninsula. Sugarloaf ski resort has been closed down for nearly a decade. Drive up the winding road to the base of the ski slopes to find an empty resort across from a flourishing golf course. The Sugarloaf base feels like The Shining with Jack Nicholson.
We parked at the overgrown, dilapidated hotel and strapped on our hiking shoes. We took our lunch to the top where we found a incredible deck, assumed to be an old warming hut. The view of Little Traverse Lake and Lake Michigan was spectacular. From one side you see Lime Lake and the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, turn 20 degrees and you'll see Good Harbor Bay on Lake Michigan, turn 20 more and you'll view the northern part of the Leelanau peninsula toward Northport. It's incredible. This is our idea of a "picnic"!
I recommend wearing pants for this hike, our shins took a beating from the super long overgrown grass up the hill.
There is no better way to enjoy Fishtown and Leland than to sleep within a stone's throw of everything! Fall asleep and wake up to the sound of rushing water outside your room. Step out onto the decks to see the sun rising on the river and Lake Michigan. Walk into town or grab your bathing suit and head to the beach. You will love Fishtown!