We’ll celebrate just about anything with a festival in Michigan. We’ll fete films and music, old cars and boats, and even the Renaissance, just as they do in many other places in America. And we’ll dedicate events to more locally important topics (Posen’s potatoes, Howell’s melons, Mackinac Island’s lilacs). Several national festivals that have found a home here — the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, for instance, or the National Baby Food Festival in Fremont (home of Gerber) — celebrate our standing for those products in our country. But there is perhaps no festival in Michigan that is more longstanding or more apropos to our state than the National Trout Festival in Kalkaska.
Scheduled for its 82nd running this year (it began 84 years ago but had two events canceled because of World War II), the National Trout Festival (nationaltroutfestival.com) is a five-day event that celebrates what we have here that separates us from our neighbors to the south — trout.
Michigan has always been a trout fishing mecca. Our native brook trout have been lauded in literature — is there a more Michigan story than Ernest Hemingway’s Big Two-Hearted River? — and the exotics that we have imported (European brown trout and West Coast rainbows) have done nothing but increase the state’s status as a trout-fishing destination.
It began as a one-day event designed to alert the world to the opportunities in and around a sleepy northern Michigan village that now grows in population to the size of small city for a celebration that culminates the last Sunday in April — one day after the traditional opening day of trout fishing in Michigan.
And while trout still hold an important place in Kalkaska County, where some of the state’s finest trout streams can be found, the trout festival has grown into a full-blown celebration of spring. It’s an all-inclusive party that includes everything, from parades, a car show and fireworks to face-painting for the kids.
Complete with a king — Mort Neff, the legendary host of Michigan Outdoors television program served for many years — and a queen (the previous year’s Miss Kalkaska), the festival now includes a huge flea market and carnival.
There’s still a fishing contest sponsored by the local sporting goods store (Jack’s), but the National Trout Festival has become an event that offers something for everyone in a community that makes very little noise the rest of the year.