Reel in a Fishing Experience in Alpena

When visiting Alpena this Summer, make sure to catch more than a sunrise! This town is a Great Lakes seafood haven, with connections to the past and delicious modern-day bites to explore.

With the main community originally established as a fishing village on Thunder Bay Island, Alpena county is about 66% water, found amongst a number of inland lakes and branches of the Thunder Bay River watershed. Healthy fisheries in this area maintain opportunity for everything from youthful summer days angling for pan fish from the riverbanks, to big lake sport fishing.

Curious about how to connect with this fishing community during your visit? Check out our suggestions, below: 

Check out their fishing competitions and festivals!

The lakes surrounding Alpena host many fishing tournaments throughout the year. In the Winter, check out the Reel Fun Ice Fishing tournament, held on Grand Lake annually in February. In the Summer, the Michigan Brown Trout Festival is held on Lake Huron. This festival includes the longest running open-water fishing tournament, celebrating more than 45 years running! Anglers can register as teams, or individuals. In addition to seeking out ‘Big Brownie’ (the special tagged fish with an attached monetary award if caught), prizes are also given for the biggest walleye, steelhead, salmon, and lake trout. With events for kids, new enthusiasts, and experienced sport anglers, be sure to check out this signature tournament festival scheduled for July 15 – 24. The weigh-in station buzzes with activity when the boats return to the harbor with their catch for the day. In the evenings, music from the big tent drifts throughout the downtown. It’s a quintessential small town summer scene.

Explore unique shipwreck habitats with a charter fishing trip!

Want to try your hand at fishing in this area? While local anglers may not give up clues to their favorite spots, there are plenty of fishing experiences in the area to go around, many totally unique to the waters off the coast of Alpena.  Hire a fishing charter to explore the distinct fishing habitat created by nearly 200 shipwrecks at rest on the bed of Lake Huron! Captain Ed Rutherford of Trout Scout Charters recommends booking between mid-June and mid-August for the best weather conditions – but to do so in advance. Once you have a trip booked, make sure to ask what equipment to bring, and what to bring for lunch while on board! Rutherford, a seasoned charter captain and steward of supporting healthy fisheries, has spent decades tirelessly advocating for resources to reduce invasive species, bolster native fish populations, and shares his enthusiasm for fishing with young and old alike, inspiring the next generation of responsible anglers.

Planning on eating what you reel in? The ‘Catch & Cook’ program allows you to bring your catch to a local restaurant to be prepared by their chef for you! In Alpena, the participating restaurants include Twin Acres 19th Hole and the Courtyard Restaurant. If you plan on saving your fish for another day, be sure to ask your captain for their favorite recipes – Cpt. Rutherford says that a lot of captains are cooks, and you can request your favorite way for your fish to be cleaned before taking it home.

Step back in time at the Besser Museum and visit the last Great Lakes wooden fishing tug!

According to Besser Museum board member and retired commercial fisherman Clarence “Tuffy” Cross, hotels, restaurants and fish markets in Alpena would sell everything from herring to whitefish as early as 1835. Local history records show more than 1.9 million pounds of fish were shipped from Alpena in 1882 alone! Most were packed in ice and shipped to Detroit and other markets.

Today, you can take a peek back in Alpena’s fishing history and visit the Katherine V, which was the last wooden gillnet tug on the Great Lakes. Katherine V was built in 1928 and is clad from roof to hull in steel and aluminum to assist with winter fishing. The Besser Museum has built a small village exhibit around her to showcase what the fishing community was like in that time, with Cross being involved in much of the restoration and exhibit planning. 

The museum is also home to an Indigenous birch-bark canoe, and a retired MI-DNR research vessel, the R/V Chinook. From 1947 to 1968, the Chinook was an enforcement vessel monitoring commercial fishing. In 1968, it was converted into a research vessel and now enjoys retirement on the grounds of Besser Museum, near the Katherine V.

For a nostalgic day on the water with friends and family, to serious tournament angling, the Alpena area is a delicious destination. Ready to drop a line in the waters of Michigan’s sunrise side? Start at

Claire Butler is the Content Strategy Specialist for Taste the Local Difference. Contact her at [email protected].

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