Hot Spot on the Delta: Harsens Island
Published: Friday, February 17, 2017
Nearly everyone in the world knows that the Great Lakes are the largest concentration of freshwater in the world. Not nearly as many know that within the Great Lakes there is another “largest” freshwater feature. The St. Clair River delta is “the largest freshwater delta in the world”. Sure, there are other larger deltas throughout the world, but the largest “freshwater” delta (defined as fresh water flowing into fresh water) belongs to the St. Clair River delta.
Making up the delta are a series of islands, river branches, streams, and bays. One of the area’s largest islands is Harsens Island, a place with a colorful history as a resort area during the late 1800s. For decades, the island was a playground for the well-to-do with steam ships and private yachts bringing multitudes of people from near and far at a time to spend weekends at the luxurious resorts and fine hotels. Hundreds of people came to spend the day at the Tashmoo Amusement Park while others enjoyed the dance pavilions or tried their luck at the casino. The sportsmen who visited the island enjoyed the spectacular game fishing and bountiful hunting.
Today, the hotels and resorts are gone now and the island is primarily made up of privately owned cottages and nature reserves. It is still a magnificent playground but one that is enjoyed by all who traverse her waters or visits her shores. The delta provides world class fishing for a number of species including small and largemouth bass, walleye, northern pike, and musky making Harsens Island a sportsman’s paradise. The North Channel of the St. Clair River is in fact, the sturgeon fishing capital of the Great Lakes and is visited by fishermen traveling from all reaches to test their skills in catching one of these legendary creatures. Local fishermen know what a treasured area they live in. For many of the local residents the fishing is the reason they live here in the first place.
Harsens Island is a world renowned duck hunting venue due to its abundance of birds, the diverse aquatic features of the delta and the excellent preserve management provided by both local and state agencies. There are not many places where you can harvest a limit of birds and have each bird be from a different species. Hunters come from throughout the globe to hunt Harsens Island and the surrounding area.
The island’s population is well under 2,000 year-round residents. During the summer months the island will often have over 10,000 people enjoying the island vibe. They enjoy the vast nature preserves, the diverse water features and the sporting opportunities. It is true that the island only has a handful of businesses, but believe it or not you can find everything you need to enjoy and entire summer without ever leaving the island. The island has two yacht clubs, a couple of marinas, some restaurants, a small hardware store, a souvenir shop, and a couple of convenience stores, and gas docks.
A few of the places one can visit by boat are Great Lakes Scuttlebutt favorite destinations: Muscamoot Bay, Brown’s Bar, and Riverside Grocery. Muscamoot Bay is well known for its annual raft off which is an attempt to break the world record for the longest raft off (a continuous line of boats tied along each other side-by-side). During the week the bay is a great spot to drop anchor and relax, paddle around in a kayak or on a stand up paddle board, swim, or simply float about on a raft. On the weekends the bay tends to get very busy.
Bill Fritts’ Browns Bar is a legendary eatery located on the Middle Channel of the St. Clair River. Famous for their delicious “Madison Burgers”, this waterfront diner has been serving up smiles and fun food since 1946. Browns is a favorite stop for poker runs for personal watercraft and performance boats. Much of the middle channel is no wake so be aware of your location and the wake you might leave. There are plenty of slips during the week, but the weekends bring the crowds of fun-seekers so you may need to wait for a slip. Be aware that the slips across the canal are private and should not be used by the general public. Simply be patient and wait for a slip to open up, this place is loads of fun and the people-watching is legendary. (42°35’31”N 82°38’56”W)
Riverside Grocery, also called Riverside Landing is a 100-year-old waterfront store and gas dock located on the South Channel. It’s not hard to understand why this is a favorite spot for boaters from all over the Great Lakes. The store offers so many things it is hard to describe it as simply a store. They offer an exceptional beer selection, quality wines, and a fine line-up of premium liquors. For people with a sweet tooth there is an old school penny candy area and a dip cooler loaded up with delicious Mackinac Island Creamery ice cream. Riverside is also a first-class café serving up gourmet coffee and espresso drinks. That’s right, a true water access café with trained baristas. If you are hungry you can order up one of Riverside’s award-winning pizzas or try an order of one of their famous original creations, their famous “Boat Knots” (knots made of pizza dough stuffed and topped with a variety of ingredients). The large inviting deck seems to always have friendly people rocking in the teak rocking chairs or surrounding a table loaded with food. You will also find a livery with kayak and stand up paddleboard rentals, a variety of watersports equipment and accessories, fishing tackle, and live bait for purchase. Riverside is that one location on the lake that seems to have something for everyone. The charm and friendly vibe in itself makes it a super spot to visit. (42° 33’ 23”N 82 37’36” W)
It is clear that the St. Clair River delta has a lot to offer such as great places to eat, fantastic sport fishing opportunities, world class waterfowl hunting, and crystal blue waters for kayaking and stand up paddle boarding. The delta and Harsens Island is a “must see” for all Great Lakes boaters. Plot your course for the St. Clair River Flats and Harsens Island and explore this magnificent area for yourself. It is likely to become one of your favorite places as well.