Located on a pier between the beautiful Mattson Lower Harbor Park and the decommissioned iron ore dock on the Lake Superior shoreline sits an unassuming Quonset hut that makes home for the locally famous Thill’s Fish House.
Thill’s Fish House has been providing a wide range of fresh fish to the local Marquette area residents for over 50 years. Thill’s is a family owned business that was established by one Francis Thill 50 years ago when others were using Marquette’s Lower Harbor for vessels expediting iron ore and goods from Canada and lower Michigan. Francis saw that there was a niche market that he could capitalize on, while others pursued the mining interests. Marquette’s Lower Harbor was large enough for both to neighbor in harmonium.
Francis Thill’s sons Ron, Ted, and at the helm of the ‘Linda Lee’ trap net boat is Skipper Dan Thill. This band of fishing brothers are all commercially licensed fishermen for the Great Lake called Gitche Gumee. Thill’s commercial license entitles them to net the bountiful sea of catches Lake Superior has to afford. Whitefish is the premier local catch of the day that Thill’s offer to the Marquette area residents.
Due to Native American fishing laws, some fish such as Lake Trout are prohibited and must be tossed back into the sea. This Native law however does not prohibit the sale of Lake Trout caught by Native American fishing operations to Thill’s Fish House or any other fish market the UP has to offer.
Melody, Skipper Dan’s wife, who is also deeply involved in the family business, so much so she was wearing the typical fisherman attire of chest waders packaging fresh fish, while Dan’s brother Ted filleted Whitefish and explained to me that the fish Thill’s is not allowed to reap from Lake Superior can be bought from the Native Americans and vise versa. Melody went on to elaborate that a fish market along Lake Michigan’s US-2 may wish to offer what any UP resident knows is best, and that is Whitefish solely dispatched from Lake Superior. It’s simply the year round frigid waters of Lake Superior that gives the Thill’s Whitefish it’s distinct taste.
The inside of Thill’s Fish House is modest in style and decor, but very clean and well kept. What more could you ask for from a fish market provider whose mission is bringing the freshest catches of the day to market-place on a tireless daily basis. A menu sign hangs above the display case full of fresh fish from Lake Superior, as well as many fresh selects the our earth’s oceans with the current market prices. They also offer some incidentals one may need for a Good Friday fish-fry.
For those not familiar with fresh water fishing and the methods the Thill brothers employ to harvest the Whitefish is by means of trap nets. Trap nets use many floats to support what is called a pot (or trap) of the net. A lead, the hearts and the pot of the trap may extent 40 feet up from the bottom but are completely submerged with only the marker buoy’s visible at the surface. Trap nets may be as long as 1200 feet, and are set with the pot in deep water (up to 90 feet) and the lead extending towards shore or shallower water.
Should you be a weekend warrior of the Lake Superior waters and fishing near or around commercial fishing vessels you may cross over a trap, however your fishing gear may become entangled. In Michigan waters the lakeward buoy of a trap net is marked with one orange flag or red flag on the buoy farthermost from shore, Fellow fishermen should pass around the lakeward buoy of the trap nets.
Sources: Melody Thill – Thill’s Fish House