Fish Day to return but with big changes

Port’s premier festival will span two days but have shorter parade, smaller grounds, no fireworks

Members of the Fish Day Inc. committee rode down Franklin Street in Port Washington during the 2018 parade. After a two year hiatus, Fish Day will be back this year, although with changes, including a shorter parade. Press file photo
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington’s biggest festival, Fish Day, is about to undergo seismic changes.

This year’s festival will be two days, Friday and Saturday, July 15 and 16.

It will feature a shortened parade, there will be a smaller festival grounds and no carnival.

There will only be two fish and chips stands, all in Veterans Park, fewer music stages and no helicopter rides.

“None of the changes were made lightly,” Fish Day Committee Chairman Toni Brown said. “None of these decisions have been easy for us or the civic organizations. But things can’t always stay the same.

“It’s going to be smaller, similar to the Fishtival that happened last year.”

Fishtival was held by civic organizations last year as an alternative to Fish Day, and those groups helped spur the changes, Brown said.

“Their members are getting older. It’s harder and harder for them to find volunteers,” Brown said, noting the changes were made collaboratively by the Fish Day Committee and civic groups. “They were looking to scale back, and we’re putting this on for them.

“At the end of the day, as long as we put on a fun festival for everyone, that’s what’s important.”

Dave Mueller, spokesman for the civic organizations, said the groups “came together and said we can no longer each have a tent. But by collaborating, we’ll make this Fish Day festival a benefit for our town.”

Mueller said half the civic organizations had to hire people to ensure they could staff their fish and chips stands.

“It was getting more and more difficult for groups to operate a stand on their own,” he said.

The new setup will have all the civic organizations working together at two tents in Veterans Park and splitting the profits, Mueller said, adding he believes the overall profit will likely be the same as in past Fish Days, especially since there will now be sales on Friday night.

“It used to be one group would make twice the money as the next,” he said. “Does it really matter? It all goes back to the community (through community projects).”

Mueller said some people will be disappointed by the changes, but they are needed changes.

“This isn’t going to be the same Fish Day people are used to,” he said. “But there’s still going to be good music. There’s still going to be fish. There’s still going to be a parade. People just have to understand, this is similar but different.

“Even Summerfest has changed and evolved.”

This is the first Fish Day in two years — the cancellations were due to the pandemic — and the theme for this year’s festival is apt — “The Bait Is Over.”

The festival will be held on Friday night and throughout the day on Saturday.

Friday night there will be food sales and music, Brown said, adding the musical lineup for the festival hasn’t been finalized yet.

On Saturday, the event will run from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., but as usual it will kick off with the Fish Day run/walk, a fundraiser for Portal Inc.

The parade will run along Wisconsin and Franklin streets and Grand Avenue, starting at the intersection of Wisconsin and Woodruff streets and ending at Grand Avenue and Milwaukee Street.

Brown said the route was determined during talks with the city and Port police department and will allow officials to block off the intersections along the parade route.

“We decided it would be a lot better to keep people safe,” she said, especially in light of the tragedy at the Waukesha Christmas parade, where a driver plowed through the route, killing six people and injuring 62.

Shuttle buses will pick people up at sites throughout the city, as well as the Justice Center and north-side park-and-ride lot, and drop them off at the grounds to help alleviate downtown congestion.

The Fish Day grounds will run along the lakefront from Jackson Street north to Upper Lake Park. It won’t extend into the marina.

The food stands will be in Veterans Park, while the Gridiron Club will host a beer garden in Upper Lake Park, Brown said.

Upper Lake Park will host the car show, she said, but the arts and crafts show will be combined with vendors from the farmers market, which won’t be held July 16, with their booths interspersed throughout the grounds.

“As people walk through the grounds, there will be places to stop,” Brown said.

Fish Day was unable to secure a carnival this year, she said, but there will be bounce houses in Upper Lake Park.

The Brewers Street Team will also be at the festival, she said.

There will be three music stages, one at the beer garden, one near the car show and the third at the bandshell. But, Brown said, there won’t be a Main Stage per se.

The traditional Fish Day pins will still be sold, she said.

“I know there are people out there who collect those,” Brown said, adding Fish Day T-shirts will also be sold.

Fish Day will also be collecting nonperishable food donations for the Port Food Pantry, she said.

“We want to include as many nonprofit organizations as we can,” she said.

The list of nonprofit groups participating in Fish Day includes Portal, Inc., Port Washington Food Pantry, Port Washington Lions Club, Port Washington Yacht Club, St. John XXIII Parish Men’s Society, Be3, Ozaukee Masonic Lodge, Port Washington-Saukville Rotary Club, Port Gridiron Club and Friends of Parks and Recreation, Brown said.

The traditional smoked fish eating contest will continue to be part of the fest, Brown said.

Brown said there probably won’t be a fireworks show this year, noting the festival doesn’t have the funding for it.

“We’re still working on it, but it’s not looking like fireworks are going to happen this year,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t in the future, just that this year it’s not in the cards.”

Brown said that in many ways, this year’s Fish Day will echo back to the festival’s roots, when it was heralded as a celebration of the city’s fishing heritage.

“In the past years, it’s grown to be way more than that,” she said. “With Covid, it gave us a chance to take a close look at it and think about what we want to be. We’re coming back to the roots and making it more of a community festival.

“The nonprofit groups are excited about it, and we’re excited to put on a new Fish Day.”

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