Ghosts of Main Street: Ghostly Catch

April 25, 2019

By Julie Traynor

It’s nothing new to drive along Water Street and the Pond and see folks fishing below the Marion Dam. The former ‘swimming pool’ location has been a popular fishing spot as long as today’s anglers can remember. The locale, just below the dam, is easily accessible and well kept. There is a good ‘hole’ to drop a line in and a grassy bank from which to fish. And if the intent is to make a day of it, a pavilion and picnic tables are handy. The excellent trout fishing along the Middle Branch in the Marion area is no secret in trout fishing circles all across Michigan.   

A real catch from the Middle Branch. This is an advertising postcard from Clarence Heaton and the days when he owned and operated Bob’s Place on M-115.

The Middle Branch of the Muskegon River, its proper name, has been many things to this community since the Clarke’s arrived. It has been a source of transportation, commerce, refrigeration (ice), energy, recreation and sport.
For the first half of Marion’s existence, the Mill Pond and river were seen and used as an ever-renewing resource, completely at our disposal.  The waters powered mills, both lumber and grist, and gave residents an abundant supply of ice for summer refrigeration. On the downside, all manner of unwanted waste was disposed of in the river without a second thought.

Generations of local sportsmen have fished the Middle Branch and its small tributaries, all along its course. From Hicks Lake to the Muskegon River, there are many favorite and ‘secret’ holes, each better than the next or so the fish stories go.

A “generic” catch from Marion, Michigan. 

Local anglers have always liked to tell fishing stories. A number of them were legendary for both the fish they caught and the stories they told.

Among them were local barbers, father and son, Fred and Mel Helmboldt. In their time, they knew certain stretches of the Middle Branch and local creeks like few others and seldom came home empty. Their barbershop was the place to go for the latest fishing news and forecast.

The Village of Marion has always welcomed anglers. Fisherman’s Suppers were springtime staples, hosted by several clubs.  Early in Marion’s history the members of the local Knight’s of Pythias fished local streams long and hard to provide enough local fresh catch for a spring trout dinner. This was an annual event for ten years.

The Beebe brothers and their catch of suckers was caught in Frantz Creek, a tributary the Middle Branch, about 1930. This clip is from the Millennium. 

Marion’s Rod and Gun Club, formed in March of 1937, was instrumental in the planting of thousands of trout in the waters of the Middle Branch system. As a means of fundraising, this group began two annual events; the Fisherman’s Ball in the spring and the Hunter’s Ball in November. Through the years, this group has done a great deal to improve and maintain local sporting interests, and continues to do so.

Prizes were awarded at the Rod and Gun Club’s first Fisherman’s Ball, held on April 29, 1937. The largest fish to be entered in the Club’s opening day contest was caught by Ervin Isanhart, 12 year-old son of the Glen Isanhart’s. It won him the second prize of $3. His catch was one German brown trout measuring 15 inches in length.

Ray Beebe received honorable mention with a catch of 11 speckled trout, weighing in at 3 pounds, 11 ounces. The girls at the Ideal Café won a prize for selling the most tickets. 

The days of dumping copious amounts of sawdust and other lumbering and household debris into the pond and river are long gone. Stumps dotting the upper reaches of the pond were removed although that process took many years to complete.

The Marion Mill Pond Project continues to raise funds and the first phase of work to update and replace the south spillway is scheduled to commence this summer. In the meantime, fishing season is once again upon us and Marion’s Mill Pond and that fine trout stream known as the Middle Branch River wait.   

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