Commercial Fishing in Bayfield: An Important Industry

Hailey Rose

March 9, 2023

Photo Credit: Discover Mediaworks

Bayfield, Wisconsin is all about the local community and interwoven industries, especially the commercial fishing industry. Since the town’s beginnings, fishing was recognized and became an integral part of the local economy. Commercial fishing in Bayfield holds significant importance, goes through an extensive process from lake to table, and offers top-tier dining restaurants to add to your must-try list! Read on to learn more about this long-lasting and important industry at the heart of Bayfield.

It’s Importance

Photo Credit: Discover Mediaworks

Bayfield has a long, dedicated history interwoven with the commercial fishing industry. Throughout the years, Bayfield has grown to embrace its nautical connection to Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. Its waters provide fresh fish and products to locals and abroad. In fact, 10 percent of people catch their own fish and the rest of the world depends on commercial fishing.

To capture its cherished history and importance to the Bayfield region, the Bayfield Maritime Museum showcases an array of artifacts rooted in commercial fishing on the vast waters of Lake Superior. This community museum continues to attract visitors throughout the country to learn not only about the Bayfield region, but to learn of the reasons settlers originally came and grew the area to boom with great success. Fishing is the primary reason and continues to be an integral part of this community’s economy.

The Process: From Lake to Table

Photo Credit: Discover Mediaworks

The process of commercial fishing in the charming and quaint town of Bayfield begins bright and early. As they say, the early bird gets the worm! The fisherman and their tug depart the dock around 5 in the morning and head to their set nets anchored in place. Each net is marked with a buoy, picked up, and thrown in the lifter which pulls the heavy load of fish into the boat. It’s nearly impossible to lift by hand! Did you know that each net holds just over 1000 pounds of fish?! As crazy as it sounds, it’s true!

Each day holds a new adventure and a new batch of fish. Usually, the fisherman catch whitefish but there are days where they catch lake trout, herring, and even walleyes! Once the load of fish are in the boat, they are put on ice and rushed back to get to market. But before they take off, they are sure to reset the nets in new spots and their secret hotspots.

Bodin Fisheries, a processing facility, has sparked a connection with the local fishermen, offering them a dock to park, dressing knives, gloves, oilers and more. They provide these necessities for the fisherman to keep them coming back with fresh, daily catches. 

As soon as fishermen arrive at the Bodin Fisheries dock, they take the fish, finish them off, and get them ready for restaurants, the people of Bayfield, and beyond. First, they buy, weigh, and separate the fish. Then, they begin the tedious, hands-on steps including lifting and pulling the fish out of the twine to prepare for further processing measures. Bodin alone distributes roughly to a 150-mile radius with their own delivery vehicles from retailers to chefs looking for the freshest fish out there.

Top Tier Dining

Photo Credit: Discover Mediaworks

Many local restaurants in Bayfield cook and craft amazing dishes with this fresh and finest fish, like Patsy’s Bar & Grill. They proudly serve local products from Bayfield’s finest Bodin Fisheries. Every Friday, they serve their fresh and delicious Whitefish all day long!

For more locally crafted dishes featuring phenomenal varieties of fish, stop by Portside Bar & Restaurant. Not only do they feature the popular and incredibly tasty whitefish, they have a variety of other options to choose from including trout. Enjoy your fabulous fish with the breathtaking views of Lake Superior in the backdrop.

Greunke’s First Street Inn & Dining offers yet another classic dish you won’t want to miss out on… a traditional Wisconsin fish boil! Enjoy fresh whitefish steaks from the pristine waters of Lake Superior topped off with potatoes, onions, coleslaw and all the fixin’s you can imagine!

From The Producer & Host:

Photo Credit: Discover Mediaworks

The Discover Wisconsin crew got an insider’s view of commercial fishing on the waters of Lake Superior. Eric Paulsen, host of Discover Wisconsin, shares his story:

“Even though we had to be up at 4 am and everyone got to see how crazy my hair can get, this was a fun – and educational – experience. Riding out on that boat, low to the waters of Lake Superior just before the crack of dawn, you felt the sense of adventure and marveled at the majesty of the Apostle Islands. The sunrise took your breath away…or maybe it was the smell of all that fish.

Eric and his crew have a tough job but they clearly love it. It was so fun talking with him; his spirit is infectious. He got me excited to wriggle fish out of nets, pop air out of them, even do a little gutting. It was really wild to see the seagulls flocking, too! And it was great to share the story of how commercial fishing impacts the area and has had such a lasting history and important future. I thoroughly enjoyed it!”

Bo Chovan, the producer, had their own up-close, personal experiences from behind the scenes. They explained: 

Bayfield was one of my favorite shoots of 2022. Meeting fisherman Eric Peterson was such a treat. His joy is magnetic and he is a lovely human that I am so happy to have met. Getting on a tugboat in the pitch black morning at 5 am to then be rocked about for hours was well worth it. Watching the light change as the sun rose across Lake Superior looked like art unfolding. All of the mechanical sounds of the boat droned on to score our fishing excursion. Eric Peterson’s smile remained beaming as he poked the air out of white fish and manned the wheel of his boat. The water was incredibly beautiful, which we were thankfully able to capture in its glory. I owe Peterson a big thank you for giving us the type of access that he did, allowing us onto his boat as they fished. I knew right away that this shoot was going to be an important one, but on that morning I did not know yet that it would be my favorite.”

The commercial fishing industry is truly at the center of Bayfield and the local community. The industry holds great importance to the town, community, and economy, goes through an extensive process from lake to table, and provides the freshest products for locals and visitors alike to enjoy at the many top-tier dining restaurants. Make your way North to see and taste this amazing industry of commercial fishing first-hand.

To learn more about commercial fishing in Bayfield, watch Discover Wisconsin’s original digital short ‘My Best, First Job: Commercial Fishing in Bayfield’ here:

*This article is brought to you with support from Enbridge.

Hailey Rose: Writer for Discover Mediaworks. A born & bred Wisconsinite with a love for fishing, hunting, and enjoying the great outdoors.

*Narration provided by WondervoxAI.

From the team at Discover Wisconsin: We believe in making our content accessible to all, which is why we offer an audio version of our blog posts. By clicking the play button above, you can listen to our blogs!

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