Bay Port, Michigan – As late summer rolls around the days get a bit shorter and the evenings around the campfire can have a bit of chill in the air. It’s also festival season! If you’re in the Upper Thumb the first weekend in August, head to Bay Port. The Bay Port Fish Sandwich Festival is the granddaddy of them all. Since 1978 folks come in and lined up for a fish sandwich that “takes two hands to hold one.” At $4.00 it’s a deal. It’s a family friendly event but its proximity to the historic Bay Port Inn make thoughts of having a “short one” prior to hitting the craft booths not uncommon.
Michigan’s Upper Thumb Festival Season Starts in Bay Port
Events start on Friday, August 2nd at noon with sandwiches and entertainment, the crowning of the festival’s king, queen, prince and princess and fireworks on Friday evening. Saturday’s events start at 7am with a 5K walk/run then the festival’s parade kicks off at 10:30 a.m. At 11am is the time craft booths are open, and fish sandwiches are sold throughout the day.
The festival concludes on Sunday at noon with a fish eating contest.
A Bite of Bay Port Fish Sandwich History
The Engelhard’s family started the community’s Fish Sandwich Festival. In 1949 Henry and Edna Engelhard began selling the famous fish sandwich. By 1953, the Engelhard’s erected a stand on the front lawn of their home, with a sign that touted Bay Port’s Original Fresh Boneless Fried Fish Sandwich.
The first Fish Sandwich Festival was held in 1978, and just like Caseville’s 1st Rib stock held years later, they quickly sold out. Today the annual number of visitors averages over 10,000. Back in the late 1940’s folks told them they were crazy, but the Bay Port fishery certainly captivated them and, after all, the Bay Port slogan is “Fish caught the Man.”
The fish sandwich is the prime attraction. The original sandwich is local caught freshwater Mullet. It is dipped in a secret batter, fried crisp, and served on a long bun with ketchup and mustard. Although not traditional, tartar sauce is also available. According to Henry, the fish should overlap the bun. The sandwich should be so large “it takes two hands to hold it”. All day, the lines in front of the sandwich stand are long. It is not unusual to sell 12,500 sandwiches to people from as far away as Florida and the northeast.
Henry was the festival’s primary inspiration, energy, supporter, and promoter. He wrote many stories regaling the fish sandwiches’ power to please and to heal. The festival was featured on NBC’s Today Show, ABCs 20/20, and in many national magazines and newspapers. Henry and Edna (she died in 1992), were honored as “Mr and Mrs Bay Port” in recognition of their contribution to the Bay Port Fish Sandwich Festival.
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