New fly fishing exhibit opening

Marquette Regional History Center celebrates favorite local pastime

Marquette Regional History Center Curator Jo Whittler refers to a fly tied by a local craftsman as she talks about the materials used in the process of making flies. The display is part of a new special exhibit called ‘Kissing the Water: The Lure and the Lore of Fly Fishing.’ The opening reception for the exhibit, which celebrates many aspects of fly fishing in the area, will take place on Thursday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The public is invited to attend, a $5 donation is requested. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

MARQUETTE — The Marquette Regional History Center is celebrating an Upper Peninsula outdoor art form in its new special exhibit entitled “Kissing the Water: The Lure and the Lore of Fly Fishing.”

Local author and Michigan Supreme Court Judge John Voelker, who is one of the subjects of the exhibit, once said of the pastime: “I thus escape; because, in a world where most men spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power …”

From the work of Voelker, to handmade rods and flies, the exhibit traces the rich history fly fishing has in Marquette County and surrounding areas.

An opening reception of the exhibit will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, MRHC Curator Jo Wittler said, that will involve a special treat.

During the event, attendees can purchase a ticket for a drawing that will entitle the winner to afternoon at Voelker’s own mythical “Frenchman’s Pond” during the month of August.

During the outing, which will be hosted by John Voelker’s son-in-law, the winner and a guest will be treated to a shoreman’s lunch, share stories and try fly fishing at the Voelkers’ sacred fishing spot, Wittler said.

Voelker brought a lot of attention to the pastime, Wittler said, writing several books about it.

“One of the things he brought was humor, his writing,” Wittler said. “I think he brought a lot of passion to the sport and there is a certain amount. You know, there is that stereotype, there is the solitude, but there is also a certain amount of camaraderie amongst fishermen. And so, he had that.”

Although Voelker’s impact on the sport is pivotal in the area, Wittler said the exhibit was put together to demonstrate how the sport captures art, philosophy, literature and environmental concerns.

“So we talk about the history, the first part is kind of about the history and the people,” Wittler said. “Then we talk about the biology and the ecology, influences how the streams change and some of the insect life, what are we imitating.”

The deliberate design of some of the bamboo poles used for fishing and the fine art of tying flies are interwoven into the displays, Wittler said.

Many of the lures fly fishers use to catch fish on a fly are designed to duplicate the immature and adult stages of aquatic insects such as mayflies, caddis flies, stoneflies, damselflies, dragonflies and midges. Wet flies are meant to imitate insects that exist under the surface of the water, while others are meant to imitate insects with a habitat on above the surface of the water.

The practice of tying flies is a passion that is often passed from generation to generation, with a variety of materials, such as feathers, plant material and foam, Wittler said.

“It’s incredible, if you know people who quilt and they have their stashes of fabric, well some of these guys have stashes of hackles of feathers,” Wittler said. “Drawers and drawers of these beautiful feathers.”

Wittler said the museum is planning demonstrations in July and August on fly tying and casting in addition to a painting workshop on July 12.

The Fish Painting Workshop with local artist Liz Yelland will take place from 6-8 p.m. July 12. The $37 registration fee includes canvas, supplies, wine and a light snack, Wittler said. Advanced sign up is required and the class is limited to 20 people, and the deadline to sign up is July 11.

The exhibit, which will run through Sept. 16, highlights one of the more solitary pastimes in the area, Wittler said, and will appeal to a variety of people.

“It’s a really popular sport or hobby we feel like we will get a lot of interest,” Wittler said. “There is a lot we can talk about. I found it challenging just editing what I could put in.”

For more information about the exhibit, visit the history center website at, or the Marquette Regional History Center’s Facebook page.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is