Along the Leland River, as it feeds into Lake Michigan, is Leland's Historic Fishtown – one of the last working and thriving fishing districts on the Great Lakes. Native Americans first lived and fished from this site, with european settlers arriving in the 1850s and creating the current fishing village. Fishtown was, and is still, comprised of weathered fishing shanties, smokehouses, overhanging docks lined with fish tugs, charter fishing boats, and the Manitou Island Transit ferry. Today, many of the shanties are home to small, local businesses. Each year, thousands of visitors enjoy and appreciate the shanties, fish tugs and docks, that remain a crucial part of Lake Michigan’s fishing heritage.
Carlson's Fishery, a family business now passed down through five generations – opened in 1904 in one of the shanties along the docks. Through the years, the Carlson family weathered many changes - from government policies, revisions in fishing territories, adjustments in quotas, fish population dynamics, contaminants, and invasive species to remain a sustainable business. In 2004 they sold the Fishtown property, fishing licenses, tugs and gear to the none-profit Fishtown Preservation Society, with the provision that they be able to continue operating their retail business at the dock.
Today, Fishtown Preservation Society manages and maintains Fishtown, so visitors may still experience one of the few remaining commercial fishing villages on the Great Lakes. The endearing fishing tugs, the Janice Sue and the Joy, remain working Fishtown icons – integral to Leland's continuing fishing culture. Visit Fishtown, and enjoy the unique shops and galleries, get a great sandwich from the Village Cheese Shanty before taking a ferry to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore's North or South Manitou Island, and stop by Carlson's Fishery to pick-up the best smoked fish, whitefish sausage, fish pâté and fish jerky in our region.