Something Smells Fishy Here: A Stop in Leland's Fishtown
I wrote a post a couple months back about things to do in Northern Michigan this summer, which included such selections as taking a wine tour on Old Mission Peninsula and hitting up one of Michigan's various islands — like Mackinac or Beaver. I now see that an eighth item was glaringly omitted from that list.
I'm talking, of course, about Leland's commercial fishing village, Fishtown, with its shanties, smokehouses, shops, and smelly smells! Followers of the Logan's Run Instagram and Twitter accounts (God bless your souls) will know that I became acquainted with this charming little fishing village for the first time in mid-August.
If driving around Los Angeles and Santa Monica last year reminded me of rampaging through the digital streets of San Andreas as Carl Johnson, Fishtown kept my mind returning to an area of gameplay in Scooby-Doo! Night of 100 Frights that included levels like "Shock on the Dock!" and "Fear on the Pier!" Why I felt the need to include video game references in this travel piece? The world may never know.
I'm not sure if Fishtown technically has a wharf — I don't even have the definition for that nailed down — but it sure is a fun word to use, and so I will use it. As you may have noticed in the image at the top of this post, some of the docks on the wharf (at the wharf?) look rather ancient, almost as if they're unsafe to walk on. Are you really in an historic area if there aren't architectural hazards that should be closed to the public, though? You could be; that rhetorical question is admittedly a poor one.
All right, all right. That's probably enough of me prattling on. I don't think I've provided you with any useful information just yet, so let's get to that, shall we?
First observation of consequence: Fishtown is small. How small, you ask? Small enough that you could walk end-to-end in a minute — given that you put blinders on the sides of your head and clothespin your nostrils shut to stop you from wandering into the Village Cheese Shanty for a bite to eat, or meandering into the Dam Candy Store to satisfy your sweet tooth, or catching a whiff of the regionally-famous beef jerky that's prepared in the smokehouses owned by Carlson's Fishery.
All around the teeny-tiny fishing village, the smell of fresh-caught and recently-cleaned fish is pungent. Though many of the shanties along the wharf — a term I will continue to use regardless of its correctness or applicability — now house gift shops, art galleries, or dining-type establishments, actual commercial fishing is still very much alive in Fishtown. Carlson's Fishery has anchored Fishtown for generations and charter fishing options are certainly available if that's your thing.
Step out of the confines of Fishtown and you've still got the village of Leland to explore. There are shops and places to grab a bite along the main drag, M-22, which runs right through the heart of the village, but stray a little off the beaten path and you will find what I consider the gem of Leland: Good Old Books on River Street. Akin to what I will call its sister store, Landmark Books, in Traverse City, Good Old Books is a treasure trove for literature lovers.
Mary Ball, who runs the bookstore with her husband, George, is reason enough to visit this place. On top of excellent customer service, she was the right amount of charming with a touch of humor. While finalizing the sale of a 1951 copy of Henry David Thoreau's "Walden" for me, Mary quipped that she and her husband are just like the books they sell — good, old, and rare. If you give her and George a visit some time, I think you'd agree with her assessment.
Much like the other small communities spread across Northern Michigan, Leland — and its historic fishing village — is an idyllic kind of summer getaway, the type of place you go if you're looking for a quiet vacation or a laid-back day trip. If that's your prerogative, it'd be pretty difficult to go wrong here.