The fresh caught difference gives Upperhand Fish the upper hand

Sep 26th, 2022

“Believe it or not, I’m retired,” says Marty Schmidtke, owner of Upperhand Fish. But the problem is, the perpetual entrepreneur, father of three, grandfather of two, just can’t sit still. 

That’s why, even in retirement, he started a new company to supply freshly caught whitefish, walleye and salmon, as well as smoked fish and smoked patés (a perennial favorite!) from the cold waters of the Upper Peninsula to people living in Lower Michigan. By partnering with Market Wagon, he’s been able to grow his business faster than he ever expected without having to spend all day at additional farmers markets.

Marty is a Michigan native, even attending college in the Upper Peninsula. But his resume afterwards is anything but typical—accountant, homebuilder, owner of a successful courier service. The thread tying it all together is the thrill of starting something new and seeing it succeed, even in “retirement.”

“I need to do something,” Marty said. “It’s in my blood.”

Thanks to frequent trips to the Upper Peninsula, beginning in the early 70s, Marty got connected to the Massey Fish Company, a 6th generation family-run operation based in St. Ignace, the city on the north end of the Mackinac Bridge, opposite Mackinaw City. The company is now owned by Jamie Massey.

“Jamie, along with his entire staff, have been instrumental to the success of our business,” Marty said. “Their encouragement, ideas and support are second to none.”

The Massey name is well known in the industry, supplying places like the landmark historic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, as well as other fine restaurants around the country and the world.

The key is the deep and cold waters of the Straits of Mackinac which connect Lake Huron to Lake Michigan. Lake Superior is very close as well. After being caught, fish are cleaned, vacuum sealed and fresh frozen immediately.

“The cold waters of the Upper Peninsula make for a difference in quality,” Marty said. “Because Massey’s processes their catch immediately, all the freshness is retained.”

Studies conducted by Michigan State University back up Marty’s words. Food scientists showed that fish which is carefully vacuum packed, frozen and expertly handled, maintains “fresh from the water” flavor and texture without affecting nutritional value.

Marty began Upperhand Fish in May 2021. He started by attending a single physical farmer’s market. Since joining Market Wagon, he’s been very encouraged with how fast sales have risen and very pleased with all the 5-star reviews he’s received on the website from happy customers.

“It really comes down to quality and type of fish—walleye, whitefish, salmon and lake trout. The quality, the taste, the freshness, it’s hard to beat,” Marty said. “The quality of the fish is really good.”

Sales took a dramatic jump in 2022, increasing more than 300% year-over-year. And while he could do even more sales if he wanted to, he’s not interested in working that hard—remember, he’s retired! That’s also why he finds Market Wagon to be so helpful, as well as providing consistent revenue during the winter months when physical farmers markets are closed.

“I like it because it’s not super demanding. I’m not on call 24/7. It’s the perfect solution for me.”

But Upperhand Fish is more than just Marty. His wife Nancy (pictured below with Heather from Massey), son Michael (pictured with Marty above), and several other family members are instrumental in the marketing, distribution and technical components of the business, along with being enthusiastic cheerleaders for the operation.

Marty says the bestseller on Market Wagon is the smoked whitefish paté (pictured below) from Massey’s. It’s a spread consisting of smoked whitefish, cream cheese, lemons, vinegar, red onion and parsley. He’s said it’s an option which he has seen sales increase 30%. It also comes in a smoked salmon or a smoked lake trout option.

He also recommends the whitefish fillets which have a sweet, light flavor and are quite mild. Each fillet option is sold in a variety of sizes so be sure to click on the dropdown menu to choose the one you want.

Marty’s personal favorite from Upperhand Fish is the walleye fillets. It has a mild flavor, hint of sweetness and a slightly moist texture. Marty loves to cook his walleye in a cast iron skillet using the oven broiler with a light topping of breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, herbs like parsley and garlic, along with a splash of olive oil, lemon juice and a teaspoon of mayonnaise—Yum!

Last, but certainly not least, Marty recommends the smoked laker bites which are also very popular with customers. Laker bites are individual pieces of lake trout which have been smoked to perfection. They are boneless and skinless.

When Marty and Nancy eventually retire for one final time (hopefully a few years away), they hope to turn the business over to Michael and other relatives just like the Massey Family has for six generations!