Jul. 4—FRANKFORT — Last May, Capt. Eric Anderson wasn't even sure he would take his boat out of storage.
Just a few months later he wrapped up his busiest year yet with Anderson Fishing Charters — whilst helping a tourist from Frankfurt, Germany haul in a 31.5 pound king salmon on a fishing trip last August. Coincidentally or not, it was the largest fish someone caught on the charter he's been running for more than 24 years.
"I said 'You just caught a big king in Frankfort, Michigan; and you're going back home to Frankfurt, Germany. That's pretty neat,'" Anderson recalled.
Stories like that make it no surprise that demand for Lake Michigan fishing charters is right up there with oceanic ports, according to data from an online booking agency.
FishingBooker, an online booking website for charter fishing trips across the nation, reported an 135 percent increase in bookings for Frankfort and Elberta from 2019 to 2020. That makes it the eighth fastest growing spot in the United States and No. 1 in Michigan.
To many charter boat captains on Betsie Lake, that didn't come as a surprise.
Migration trends as of a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have seen many from out of state moving into the Grand Traverse Region. On top of that, many cited a boom in tourism to Frankfort the last two summers that's certainly shown in the city's parking and traffic.
"Every time I was out at the harbor, I looked back at the beach and you were like 'Holy Cow,' you can't even see any sand there's so many people around," said Capt. Dave James of Fish Hunter Charters. "Booking wise, it was through the roof. Going through the summer and once I finally got into August, I mean, my phone would ring for charters five or six times a day — and I was already completely full before July even started."
The FishingBooker study ranked Frankfort eighth on a list that had nine other coastal towns. Those were markets in Oceanic areas like Port St. Joe, Fla.; Port Isabel, Tex.; Tybee Island, Ga.; and Chesapeake Beach, Md.
James, who also owns an ice cream shop in downtown Frankfort, said the city has a vibe that people think doesn't exist anymore.
"I just truly think that Frankfort is this small town atmosphere that once someone sees it, they want to come back," James said.
Anderson agreed, adding that he'll typically get guests who come for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and give him a call to use a fishing trip as an aspect to the vacation.
He said when he first started running charters his customers were a lot of people who worked for car companies in southeast Michigan.
Now many of his clients come in from all around the Midwest like St. Louis, Mo. and Ohio. Tourist trips typically start around the Fourth of July.
"No. 1, Salmon and trout fishing, people know about it all over the U.S.," Anderson said. "No. 2 is the scenic beauty, I mean, when you take people out of Frankfort and they look that those bluffs ... the people are just in awe of the shoreline."
Anderson said the national park's attendance and fishing trip bookings often go hand-in-hand. The dunes' attendance hit a record-high last year as well.
It amounts to be about a $1,100 boon to the Frankfort economy per charter trip, according to Anderson, who was the president of the Michigan Charter Boat Association from 2015 to 2019.
In the past he has advocated for charter boat captains in Lansing and organized randomized drug testing for captains.
"I have an awful lot of people that have come that'll come in to do a charter, and when we're done cleaning fish and we're getting off the boat they ask me 'Where can we go eat?'" It all works out," Anderson said.
Anderson said of his guests have stayed in hotels, sought recommendations for a local restaurant, and shopped downtown after wrapping up a day on the water. With so many staggered around Betsie Lake, most completing about 60 to 70 trips in a summer, those figures add up.
"What people don't realize is that, particularly in western Michigan, there isn't a day of the year that you can't go and fish somewhere," Anderson said. "We take it all for granted because we're so used to it. These people come from out of state where the biggest thing they've caught is maybe a 10-inch perch ... you take them into the northern Michigan lakes, you catch some of these bigger trout and fish and they're eyes are bigger than a silver dollar."
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