Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Dipping of the Smelt!

Warm spring nights growing up in the U.P. meant one thing - I would be staying up late for the best party of them all. The annual Dipping of the Smelt Party!

We would all pile into the car and head off for the dirt road leading to the Carp River near the old Mackinac Trail. By the time we got there smelt anglers and bonfires would already dot the river banks just before sunset.

Back then the smelt would be so thick you could fill any number of five-gallon tubs in a matter of minutes just using hand-dip nets. Huge bonfires would hold vats filled with oil. The five or six inch long smelt would be dropped in whole (guts and all), fried in the oil for a few minutes, and eaten as fast as they were fried.

It was a festival atmosphere, especially when the smelt ran at night.

There were grandfathers, grandmothers, teenage girls, 20-something boys, even kids still in diapers.

You could here the shouts up and down the banks of the river . . .

“Bucket full!”

“New net!"

"Frying time!"

We kids would help by keeping the fires stoked, running buckets to and fro, singing songs and telling jokes. Oh, and watching the fish frying over the open fires.

All that remained was the eating, which was always the best part of all. I honestly think as many smelt were consumed riverside as were packed in coolers and carryed back home.

Spring smelt runs have not been the same in recent years. These days, smelt are breeding more in lake waters so we’re not seeing as many heading up stream. Still, a fishing license, a smelt net, a bucket, a flashlight and a pair of waders are basically all that you need to have the time of your life.

Of course, you need to know when the smelt are running to take full advantage of the experience - with any luck the run will come at night .

May the holes in your net be no larger than the fish in it.
~ Irish Blessing

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