Christopher G. Wahl “The Bait Shop Guy”, age 47, of Escanaba, passed away peacefully on February 21, 2020 at Christian Park Healthcare Center in Escanaba, surrounded by his loving family.
Chris, better known as The Bait Shop Guy to locals, was born in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan on September 26, 1972 to Richard and Nancy (Zimmerman) Wahl of Escanaba. He was the oldest of three children. After a childhood spent in the U.P., Western Minnesota, and the Northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan, the Wahl family returned to the U.P. in 1989 where Chris graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1991. After graduation, Chris remained in Escanaba and happily lived the rest of his life there.
In 1992, Chris met the love of his life, Diane Leppanen Carlson of Escanaba, affectionately referring to her as “Girlie.” They made their home and life in Escanaba as owners and operators of the Ludington and Bay View Bait Shops. They ran a business together, fished together, and laughed together for 26 years.
Chris was an avid sportsman from a very young age, a trait handed down to him by his parents. His father was a former DNR Agent and part time fishing guide and his mother, a lifelong angler with the “Magic Touch” who routinely caught more fish than the rest of the family. The Wahl family spent the majority of their free time and vacations together fishing, camping and exploring the outdoors. With all the exposure he was given to outdoor activities, Chris developed a passion for fishing that eclipsed the rest. While his siblings, Trevor and Jessie, preferred to throw bobbers into tree branches and hope for the best, Chris was fine tuning a technique he read about in In-Fisherman magazine (this was at age 11). He kept years of records of his fishing trips, referring to them routinely later in life to pattern where and when to go and what to use when you got there. While he did have some “secret spots,” he never withheld his knowledge or experience from anyone; he got as much joy from that person catching the fish of a lifetime as he would if it were his own; this element of his character made him a natural in the Bait Shop business.
Chris was an ambassador for the Greater Bays de Noc Region and the Upper Peninsula as a whole; he spent years on the Board of Directors of the Bay De Noc Chapter of the Great Lakes Sportsfishermen Club where he was fully engaged in developing local plans and policies designed to improve habitat, access, and opportunities to what he thought of as a sporting paradise. He believed in promoting the sport of fishing to the next generation of anglers and spent large amounts of personal time working with local organizations to teach, mentor, and excite kids about the opportunities they had all around them in the U.P. He was a fixture in local and regional TV segments, radio spots, and social media outlets. Beyond just giving accurate fishing reports, Chris always promoted the local area businesses, people, and other-than-fishing opportunities for families; the exposure and business he brought to the Central U.P. is immeasurable and will be an enduring testament to his love for this paradise in our own back yard.
When not fishing or working, Chris spent time with family and friends hunting, skiing, constructing a massive aquarium system at his home, and enjoying times around family fire pits. He loved a great fish fry and his family loved that he was usually the one doing the frying. He loved his cat, Sheba; she was his constant companion at his home and enjoyed his aquariums as much as he did. Chris loved to see new places, but was content to limit that exploration to the U.P. A day trip to just “check out” a new access road to a lake, hunt for wild blue berries or morels, visit a great restaurant he was told about by a customer or just an easy ride up Highway 13 in the fall to see the colors of the leaves arching over the road; these were his adventures and he appreciated every one of them.
Chris passed as a result of a long battle with cancer, he did not let it define him and fought it every step of the way with a sarcastic sense of humor and the typical Yooper hard-headedness. He was determined to prevent his condition from impacting those around him as long as possible. Nearing the end, when he did need help, he was extremely humbled and appreciative. He was a good man, son, brother and friend to those around him and his community. In his own words, Chris spent his life “doing what he was destined to do” and was “one of the few people who enjoyed his work.” He was comfortable in his own skin and never tried to be something he was not. He embraced his passions and enjoyed the simple parts of life. He will be deeply missed and forever remembered.
Chris is survived by the Love of his Life, Diane Leppanen Carlson; parents, Richard and Nancy Wahl; siblings, Trevor (Julie) Wahl, and Jessica (Shawn) Makosky; his rambunctious nieces who he referred to as “The Children,” Delaney and Olivia Wahl, and ShaiLee, Morgan, and Mallory Makosky. Also surviving is an extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends he always considered as close as family; please know if you were in his life he loved and cared for you.
Chris was preceded in death by his grandparents, Nels and Louise Ebbesen, Henry Zimmerman, Doris Walstad, Louis Wahl Jr.; as well as his cousin and eternal fishing buddy, Darren J. Pickersgill.
Chris’ family will receive friends from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., Friday, February 28, 2020 at the Anderson Funeral Home, 2200 Ludington Street in Escanaba. A memorial service will follow at 6:00 p.m., Friday, in the Anderson Funeral Home Chapel with Pastor Bill Rafuse officiating. Refreshments, coffee, and desserts will be served during the time of visitation. A reception will be held at the conclusion of the services. In lieu of flowers, contributions or gifts may be directed to Chris’ family members for inclusion in a charitable donation that will reflect his love of fishing and belief in passing the sport on to the next generation of anglers entrusted to protect the waters he loved.
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