The History of Kalkaska’s National Trout Festival

Michigan’s trout season opens this Saturday (April 26) and as it has for 78 years, the people of Kalkaska will mark the occasion with the annual National Trout Festival from Wednesday, April 23 – Sunday, April 27 (we’re slapping a “persistent music warning” on the NTF site so be warned!).

After Don Harrison posted a couple of cool old postcards, we decided to dig through the internet to discover the festival’s origins. Read on for more including a photo gallery and schedule for this year’s Festival.

Crowning the Trout King (PE Ummel) by UpNorth Memories

Crowning the Trout King (PE Ummel) by UpNorth Memories

From Big Trout Black Gold, Dawn Triplett, editor and published by Kalkaska Genealogical Society

In 1935, the National Trout Festival made its first official debut with two days of festivities held on April 30 and May 1. Forty floats made up the parade held on the first day.

The Trout King was crowned in the bandstand where evergreen boughs were arrayed. Mr. Peter Emanuel Ummel of Grand Rapids was chosen to rule the festival. With great ceremony he was put under oath and given a crown. Fred H. Tompkins swore the ruler in, making him repeat the long comic sketch swearing his allegiance to Kalkaska County. King Ummel’s throne was a pine stump from the plains of Kalkaska mounted on a trailer and drawn by a car. He took his place on the throne and was driven around the block and up and down main street (Cedar Street) before the parade.

…The prize for the funniest float went to S. C. Shumsky who appeared in full fishing regalia but had his feet clad in skis. Stormy weather had brought some snow showers into the area the day before.

Here are a few fun observations about that first year by author Fred H. Tomkins from Ashes of Years:

1970s Trout Festival

1970s Trout Festival

For a great many years the trout season opened May first, and so it was when we landed in Kalkaska. Le Roy Greenman, long since deceased, and I started a campaign, to close all business in Kalkaska, except eating places, on May first, except when it fell on Saturday.

We soon acquired the name of “The town that closes all business to go fishing.”

…many of the Kalkaska citizens were “fish conscious” and in 1933 a handful of us gathered at the Hotel Kalkaska, where the National Trout Festival was born.

…In 1935, it made its first official debut. Peter E. Ummel, of Grand Rapids, was the first King, chosen and crowned by myself. The Coronation ceremony dragged out a little too long to suit Harold Jors, who had lined up the parade and was waiting at the school grounds for word for the parade to start. He finally sent down a message, “Cut the comedy and hurry up as we are freezing to death.”

We have had other cold opening days, but I believe that was the worst ever. When we got up in the morning there were two or three inches of snow on the ground, and it was still there at parade time.

Serving on the committee with me was Stanley Shumsky. He came to the store that morning with the suggestion that we call the whole thing off. Stanley agreed, put on his waders and other trout fishing equipment, got a pair of skis and covered the entire parade route, copping the ten dollar prize given for the best entry.

More National Trout Festival History at Archive.org. As festivals go, this one is about as authentic as it gets featuring parades, fireworks on Saturday night at dusk, classic car show, fishing contest, flea market and on Wednesday at 6:30 the Taste of Trout. Click over for all the details.

Enjoy this photographic look back courtesy Don Harrison and UpNorth Memories and the National Trout Festival.