1836 Fish Company
2580 Beems-kwa-ma Rd.
Peshawbestown, MI 49682
Crew: Bill Fowler, Ryan Brown, Jason Sams, and Jeremy Rice.
Nickname: Bear, because I'm big as a bear and I work like a bear.
Products: Whitefish, Lake Trout, and sometimes Salmon or Walleye.
Number of fish caught per year: Average of about 150,000 lbs.
Production: Average of about 150,000 lbs.
First Mate: Buford, his companion Dachshund Mix, travels on the boat right along with the crew.
Favorite Recipe: Blackened Whitefish
Why do you love fishing? Self- employment is great. I love being out on the lake and the thrill of the chase. There's something about being out there, you don't have to deal with people; it's just you and the crew against the elements. There's no office politics. I like dealing with Mother Nature more than with people! So many people have lost their connection to their food. I love the connection this gives me to the land and the water here. I love fishing and hunting.
What's challenging about fishing? It can be dangerous. We've seen some rough weather. It's a huge commitment to do a good job and have a substantial operation and keep up with the demand. And sometimes people expect a certain type of fish and a certain size on a certain day, and you can't always do that. You catch what you catch. It's not like you can go through the orchard and pick out the exact apple you want on the tree
Local Foods: In the old days, that's the way it was; we ate what was nearby. People are moving back toward that. They are becoming more aware of the food supply.
Future Plans: Someday having his own fish market.
Not Just a Fish Story
By Janice Benson, Taste the Local Difference
When you’re enjoying whitefish for dinner, do you ever think about the fishermen who caught it?
If you’ve enjoyed whitefish in our region, it’s very possible that many times, 1836 Fish Company caught it. Tribal fisherman Bill Fowler and his crew are some of the busiest fisherman on Lake Michigan.
Bill, the owner and founder of 1836 Fish, grew up in the western Michigan town of Newaygo. An Odawa Indian of the Eagle Clan, he knew he was born to fish.
His mother was originally from Peshawbestown, so he had roots farther north, on the Leelanau Peninsula. His cousin, Cindi, and her husband, Ed, lived in Northport and operated a fishing business on Grand Traverse Bay.
In 1996, Cindi invited Bill to work with them at their business, The Treaty Fish Company. Thrilled by the opportunity, he moved north; that was the beginning of being paid to do something he loved!
Over the next few years, Bill learned all about the fishing industry. He found that it was hard work, but also rewarding. He started thinking about starting his own business.
In 1999 he bought a 19-ft. aluminum boat and started doing some fishing and fish smoking of his own, while still working with Cindi and Ed. Realizing just how much he enjoyed this, he decided to branch out on his own. He liked being his own boss and setting his own hours, as well as making a good living for his family.
He named his new business 1836 Fish Company, after the Treaty of Washington, which was signed in 1836 to protect Native American rights to fish and hunt in Michigan—from the Grand River north to the Thunder Bay River, all the way to the Escanaba River in the Upper Peninsula. It was the United State’s original, formal acknowledgment of the sovereignty of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and their hunting rights in the Great Lakes region.
As Bill’s business and profits grew, he bought bigger boats, including his favorite, a 36-ft. steel boat named the Earl C, named after a good friend and mentor from Suttons Bay.
“He was one of those do-all, fix-it kind of guys, and he was just brilliant,” says Bill.
That’s when he started the tradition of naming his boats after some of the important people in his life.
Bill Fowler's current boat, the Beula Ogemaw, is named after his mother.
In 2004, he purchased a 38-foot trap-net boat that unfortunately sank the next year. His crew was fishing near Ludington when the boat started taking on water. It was a frightening experience but, thankfully, the U.S. Coast Guard reached his crew before anyone was harmed.
Bill bought his current fishing boat, the Beula Ogemaw, in 2005, which he named after his mother. “It’s my favorite boat, strong and solid,” he says. Most recently, in 2008, he purchased the Stormin’ Norman, named after his uncle.
Bill has made quite a career for himself over the past 15 years. 1836 Fish Co. is the largest fishing operation north of Muskegon, based on volume of fish caught. The company, on average, catches about 150,000 lbs. of fish per year. In 2008, he reached a personal goal: His business has now reeled in more than one million pounds of fish.
Bill presently employs three crewmembers, two full-time and one part-time: Ryan Brown, Jason Sams, and Jeremy Rice. The crew works throughout the year, though there are usually about six weeks when ice conditions are so difficult that they keep their boat in the harbor. The other 46 weeks, you’ll find them out there, on Lake Michigan.
They use both trap-nets and gill-nets and primarily catch whitefish and lake trout, plus the occasional salmon. They sell most of their catch to Carlson’s of Fishtown and John Cross Fisheries, of Charlevoix, as well as other local fishermen who resell their fish. You can also find their fish at Burritt’s Fresh Markets, Oleson’s Food Stores, Bunting’s Cedar Market, and many restaurants in the region.
Bill is proud of his business because it provides for his and several other families. And he’s proud to use the Treaty Rights of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indian's. “It’s important to use the Treaty Rights, it’s our connection to our sovereignty.”
Bill is also proud of the emphasis he places on quality. “It’s so important how you handle the fish on the boat and how much ice you have on board to pack it with. Some days we need as much as 1,000 lbs. of ice. The fish-handling techniques that you use make a difference. It’s extra work, but it’s better.”
Bill says that people might be surprised to learn just how tough a job fishing is. It requires a lot of physical and mental work, including planning and strategy.
“Knowing where the nets should be at what time of year is trial and error,” he explains. “You spend a lot of time looking at maps, driving the boat, looking for fish.”
The crew travels as far as 25 nautical miles, or about three and a half hours from port, on a typical day.
“Some people see what I have and they think it’s easy. But they don’t realize that the money you earn goes right back into the business. It’s not as easy as it looks.”
Apparently, Bill knows quite a bit about fishing, but still he stays humble.
“It’s been a lot to learn in one generation,” he says. “I will always consider myself a student. You’re never a master, because there’s always something you can learn. By the time I know all I need to know, I’ll be old and worn out, and hopefully the next generation will take over!”