About / Our History
Our History Runs Deep
Henriksen Fisheries is a family operated business, but it all started with one man. If you know him now it may be hard to believe, but Charlie Henriksen came to Door Country for the first time the same way so many do – as a tourist. But over his life he turned what was once his family’s vacationland into a homeland, and became an institution in the community.
After a few summers spent visiting the beautiful Door Peninsula, Charlie’s parents Virginia and Elmer Henriksen, bought the Hotel Disgardin in 1972.Charlie was in college at the University of Illinois and would come up as often as possible to help with renovations at the hotel. Moving here in 1973 he was soon approached by Clayton Johnson with the offer of an ice-fishing job with he and Craig Woerful. And thus it all began. Even when Charlie became the owner of the resort and started a restaurant on the property, he still found time to fish. What started as a side gig to fill the down time at the resort became a full fledged passion and by 1980 he turned to fishing full time, working with the Teskies, Weborgs, Paul Goodman and Charlie Voight over the years.
Henriksen Fisheries officially came to exist in 1987 as Charlie started to run his own small operation and in 1989 he purchased his first boat. He started by renting a space in Sand Bay at a dock that has been a fishing village for well over 100 years and home to many fishing families before. Today, Charlie with 2 partners continues this tradition and while only one of the original buildings remain, the property still proves to be an excellent homeport for them and others.
The crew was small to start, with Dick Bergwin helping to get the business off the ground, and his first wife and early business partner Karen, the namesake of the green trap-net boat still seen running out of Sand Bay daily, forming the foundations of the crew. Shortly after Chip Dickelman started in 1990 and has been a key part of the operation ever since. In 1988 and 1991 two additional crew members were added with the birth of his daughter Elly and son Will respectively. Both kids spent countless hours of their childhood strapped into the car seats on the boat, running around in fields of cleaned trap nets and folding fish boxes in the back room of the plant, helping (and occasionally hindering) in whatever small way they could in what was truly a family endeavor.
From the outset though, Henriksen Fisheries was always more than just boats and nets. Charlie credits fellow fishers Jeff Weborg and Elaine Johnson with getting him involved in “fish politics” but he has stuck with it for four decades, leaving an indelible mark on the management of the Greats Lakes fisheries. He has served over 30 years as the President of the Great Lakes Commercial Fishing Association, and has been a constant and passionate advocate for the industry in local, state, and regional politics. He also is a member and current Chair of the Lake Michigan Commercial Fishing Board. Charlie also served on the Wisconsin Invasive Species Council for eight years as a founding member.
During his time on the council he provided a direct insight to the effect invaders like zebra and quagga mussels had on the fisheries. And this engagement goes beyond the fisheries. Charlie and his wife Kathy were named Volunteers of the Year in 2017 for their work with the Door County Humane Society and the Sister Bay Lions Club, the latter of which has thrown fundraising fish boils for many years with donated fish from the Henriksens.
Despite ever changing political climates and literal climates, Henriksen Fisheries shows no sign of slowing down. Will Henriksen has outgrown his car seat and is now often seen in the captain’s chair. And he has brought along a cast of his own. John Koessl, a long time friend of Will joined the crew nearly 10 years ago and is now a major part of the team. And in 2021, Will married the ever delightful Kristie (née Moss), who has been innovating the retail marketing and sales side of the company for awhile When the pandemic hit and restaurants could no longer serve fish, Kristie helped the fishery to pivot to direct consumer sales. Starting with just fillets, she then worked to develop dips, fish cakes and pet treats made with fish. She worked tirelessly to sell these products at local farmers markets.
In 2021 Henriksen’s Fish House opened in Ellison Bay, allowing customers to find all of their favorite whitefish products in our own location. The business continues to expand with online sales plans for more new recipes, but the hard work of catching healthy, sustainable local fresh fish continues as it has for decades.
Copy courtesy of Elly Henriksen