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A. Sayward Lamb

 

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Smelting
By A. Sayward Lamb

When I think of spring I think of smelting, because it is a ritual that I have participated in since I was a boy. I cannot remember when I did not go smelting, so I must have started at a very young age. Smelts are a small, anadromous fish, which travel in schools, and are found in both fresh and salt water. The spawning runs for salt-water smelts generally occur during the late winter along the coastal bays and tidal rivers. Fresh water smelts generally begin to make their spawning runs about the time the ice breaks away from the shorelines of inland waters, and can last from a few days in small bodies of water, to as long as two weeks or more in large inland lakes.

 

When I think of spring I think of smelting, because it is a ritual that I have participated in since I was a boy. I cannot remember when I did not go smelting, so I must have started at a very young age. Smelts are a small, anadromous fish, which travel in schools, and are found in both fresh and salt water. The spawning runs for salt-water smelts generally occur during the late winter along the coastal bays and tidal rivers. Fresh water smelts generally begin to make their spawning runs about the time the ice breaks away from the shorelines of inland waters, and can last from a few days in small bodies of water, to as long as two weeks or more in large inland lakes.

Smelting has been a family tradition of mine for many years. I have heard my father and uncle tell me that when they were young men in high school they would hitch up their father’s work horse to a two wheeled dump cart and then go down to smelt in Rangeley Lake, not too far from where they lived. Often times others would help them fill the small cart body with smelts. The following day they would drive all over town giving smelts to anyone that wanted them. Of course in those days, (during World War I) they told me they did not recall that there were any bag limits on smelts, so they always took what they wanted, but they were taught not to waste them. That is why they always went around town giving them away. When I first started smelting the bag limit was four quarts per person, per day. Now it is two quarts, per person, per day. As far as I can find out, there is no bag limit on taking salt water smelts on hand lines while fishing through the ice on tidal waters. I believe the limit on saltwater smelts is two quarts when fishing tidal waters during open water season.

Smelting can mean going fishing from late afternoon until well into the wee hours of the morning. How long the night will be depends upon several factors. Smelts run upstream from ponds and lakes, into inlet rivers and streams, in search of sandy or gravely bottoms that will serve as suitable spawning areas for the females to deposit their eggs, while the males fertilize them with milt. Smelting also means you have to play the “waiting game”, because smelts often do not run until after dark. Most smelters plan to arrive early enough to select a good spot, especially if it is a place where large crowds gather, and most prefer to use dip nets or swing nets to make their catches. Sometimes, in shallows, where smelts move upstream over rapids and gather in small pockets, using your hands can be productive if you can stand the cold water. If the crowds are orderly, most people will wait until the smelts have run upstream in sufficient numbers so that everyone will have an opportunity to get enough smelts for a meal, and better yet, get their two quart limit.

Many changes have been made in both regulations and methods, since I was a youngster. Back in my earlier years, the limit of smelts was four quarts per person per day. Lights were seldom used, other than an occasional use of flashlights to check to see if the smelts were running. At that time, most people felt the beam from flashlights would make the smelts stop running, which was often the case. So, when people waited for the smelts to run, they frequently stood in the darkness until smelts moved upstream in sufficient numbers and then it was time to start dipping them with their nets. Most streams run very high in the spring with icy cold waters from melting snow. A lot of people fish from shore, while others dress their feet with warm stockings and use hip boots or chest waders, in order to stand out in the cold water. Dipping was done by swinging the nets “with the flow”, starting upstream and moving the net rapidly downstream, near bottom, in order to catch the smelts. Often times they would make a swing with their nets and immediately repeat the process. This would continue until each person had enough smelts in the net to make it worthwhile. Some used small pails or some other convenient container to hold the fish. Some even kept their pails on shore and would swing their nets to a fellow fisherman waiting to empty the smelts into the containers. I always found it handier to have a gallon pail held around my waist with a rope or belt. That way I didn’t have to take the time to chase my pail or take a chance of losing my chosen spot while going ashore to remove my smelts from the net.

I can remember when it was dangerous to even carry a propane lantern close to the water and allow it to shine into the water. There was always someone who would holler “Put out the light!” and if the person who had the lantern did not comply, threats of throwing him or her into the water would come forth, or even worse, rocks would start flying. Can you imagine how dangerous that was, especially in the dark? Fortunately, this did not happen very often and most of those along the streams got along very well and had a good time catching their smelts.

Eventually people discovered that the lights from a Coleman or propane lantern, would “call” the smelts. They used aluminum foil or metal to makes shields to go around the globes in order to control the amount of light they felt would bring the smelts in close enough to dip their large nets. Instead of smelting in the streams the smelters began to hang their lanterns just above the water on some type of holder, such as a metal rod, a short distance offshore. The dip nets, that can be as much as three or four feet in diameter with have very long handles, are generally placed in less than three feet of water. The light from the lantern is adjusted to provide light enough so the fishermen can see the smelts passing over their nets as they swim along the shoreline. The number of smelts that pass over their nets depends on location, and interference from other fishermen, who set up their lights nearby. Most smelters hope the schools will be so big that they cannot see the nets when they get ready to pick it up out of the water but more often this is not the case. In my own experience, I have seen as few as one or two smelts to as many as one or two quarts—it all depends!

Of course, people still smelt in the streams but with all the lanterns and dip nets set up along the shoreline, the smelts are seldom able to make their way to the streams in large numbers. The lanterns are so effective that fishermen can set up considerable distances from the inlet streams and still attract the smelts to their nets. This does serve the purpose of dispersing the crowds over a much larger area. I have seen times when I would decide the crowds were too much of a hassle and go in search of smelts after the crowds thinned out.

In recent years several bodies of water, as well as inlet streams, have been closed to smelting. Several years ago I was instrumental in getting Lake Christopher, in Woodstock and Greenwood, re-opened to the taking of smelts, by getting a petition signed by residents of those two towns, favoring the opening. One of the provisions agreed upon at a hearing with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife was to close Bowker Brook and Stone Cottage Brook. Not only were the two brooks closed, but also the perimeter around the mouth of the brooks, for a distance of two hundred feet. Doing this insured the propagation of enough smelts to provide adequate forage for the cold water species of fish in the lake, {i.e. trout and salmon}. Each body of water closed to smelting puts more pressure on those places that remain open. Once a body of water is closed to smelting, it is seldom ever re-opened to smelting. Supposedly, smelts are more valuable for food for cold water species of fish, than for human consumption. I never personally felt closing the waters to smelting resulted in any great improvement in the fishing of those particular bodies of water. Rangeley Lake was closed to smelting and in a few years the lake experienced a severe die off and thousands of dead smelts were seen floating on the surface of the water.

Another cause for closing some of the waters was due to the littering and vandalism caused by smelters. They would leave all kinds of bottles, cans and other trash alongside the streams and much of this was on private property. Smelters have been known to destroy private property and to start fires beside the streams. This sort of behavior is very detrimental to good public relations. Consequently, only the smelters themselves are to blame for some of the closures. Still, I have many fond memories of various smelting trips and I hope I convey a true meaning of what smelting is all about in the following stories.

We were fortunate to live in southwestern Maine where there are several lakes and ponds that contain smelts. I lived in West Paris when I was growing up and it was there that I first went smelting. I did not have any means of transportation but there were always friends who would invite me to go smelting with them. One of my earliest recollections was going with my brother, Newton, to Overset Pond, in Greenwood, which was about seven miles from home. The first five miles were on public roads but the remaining two miles were over logging roads owned by a local mill. A pick-up truck was the first choice for traveling into the pond but the older automobiles were built high up off from the ground, so if necessary we would ride in as far as we could safely go with a car, then walk in the rest of the way. The smelts ran at the northern end of the small pond but the road stopped on the south end. This meant a difficult walk over some very rocky terrain along the easterly side. The rocks were a result of fallen crag from a sheer cliff at least two hundred feet high immediately adjacent to the shoreline of the pond.

The small trickle that we intended to fish from was much too small to be called a brook. It was generally filled with leaves and other debris, so we always planned on the first trip in to take a spade and dig it out for a distance of fifty to sixty feet, so the smelts could run up it. No nets were necessary, because picking them up by hand was the only practical way to catch the smelts. We usually went up early in the day, in order to dig out the trickle. All the digging upset the soil, so we had to allow time enough for the silt to settle and clear the water before it was time for the smelts to run, because they do not like roiled water. While the water was clearing, we would spend our time fishing for trout in the pond. If our timing was right, the smelts would begin to run soon after dark and we generally caught enough smelts for a good feed or two and got home at a respectable hour.

Smelts generally run earlier in those ponds located in the southerly part of the state and as the season progresses, the smelt runs progressively move northward. This has the advantage of giving several weeks of smelting season, if you want to drive a few more miles. A few times each year I have traveled more than seventy-five miles, (one way), to go to the Rangeley Lakes area, or to other lakes and ponds in the Aziscohos area. Of course that is a long way to travel for only two quarts of smelts, but the enjoyment of watching all the wildlife while driving each way, makes it all worth while. When we go up north to smelt, we generally leave about four or five in the afternoon, so we get to see deer, partridges, moose, rabbits, foxes and on some rare occasions, even bobcats. On one trip up to Aziscohos Lake, I remember seeing eighteen deer and twenty-nine moose, as well as several smaller animals. This made for an interesting trip. One thing for sure, a driver has to be very careful after dark, especially late at night, when the moose are often standing beside or in the road. Their eyes do not reflect the light the same as deer and whoever is driving must be prepared to stop in a hurry to avoid a collision with those huge animals, which stand as much as seven feet high at the shoulders, and can weigh over a thousand pounds.

A couple of years ago, I was riding with Robert “Bob” Keniston, of Bethel, and we were returning home from a smelting trip to the Aziscohos area. It was nearly midnight when we came upon a bull and cow moose standing in the road. Bob saw them in time to slow down and stop. The bull left the highway while the cow moose continued to stand in the road blocking it. I suggested to Bob that he blow the horn as we approached very close to her. He blew the horn and this startled the cow moose so much that she lost her footing and fell down in the road. Of course this was not what we expected to happen. Luckily, she apparently was not hurt, and got right back up onto her feet and moved out of the way. That certainly taught me a lesson. I am sure if that ever happens again we will be more patient and not scare them. There are always several fatalities, as well as other injuries, caused each year with moose/auto collisions in the State of Maine, and we certainly do not want to become any part of those statistics.

Seldom have I come home from a smelting trip up into that North Country without any smelts. Most of the time I have managed to get my limit of smelts, without too much work. One thing I learned very early was to avoid the big crowds, so I usually do not plan to go smelting on Friday and Saturday nights. I find it much easier to get smelts by going during off-hours, such as very late at night, early morning, or during the week. Sometimes things can go wrong and that can spoil all the fun. One year, my friends Ivan & Edith Morey, of Greenwood and Harold and Alice Lothrop, of Gouldsboro, along with my wife Cynthia, all took our pick-up campers and headed for Aziscohos Lake to go smelting. The brook we planned to smelt on was fourteen miles off the main highway over paper company roads. We were about half way in on the gravel road when my truck stopped running. I had no idea what happened and when I tried to re-start the engine the starter would not work. Harold managed to get past my truck with his pick-up and towed me a short distance ahead to a place where I could back down a slight incline and get it turned around. Then he towed me back out the seven miles to the main highway and another three miles to an area beside Route 16, near Aziscohos Dam, where all three of us couples camped overnight in our respective campers. The next morning Harold towed me the rest of the way back to a garage in Errol, New Hampshire where I had the starter repaired. Needless to say, we got no smelts that night.

There are times when the smelts come easy. I remember several years ago when Eino and Waina Heikkinen and myself went smelting up to Mill Brook, located on the northerly end of Upper Richardson Lake. We arrived quite early, so we had the opportunity to find a good place to dip our smelts. While we were waiting for it to get dark, I got restless and told the other fellows that I was going to go across to the other side of the brook to see if any smelts were showing up over there. I left my net with Eino and Waina, then walked upstream a short distance and crossed over an old logging bridge to reach the other side of the brook. It was beginning to get dark but not dark enough to need a flashlight to see where I was walking. Once I left the bridge, I moved downstream along the bank of the brook to look for any smelts that might be straggling upstream. I had only gone a short distance when I could not believe my eyes. There was a line of smelts, at least a foot wide and twenty-five feet long, that had moved out of the rapids and were laying in shallow water very close to the banking of the brook. Everyone else on that side of the brook was some distance below that spot. I casually moved away from the brook and went back over to where Eino and Waina were waiting. I quietly told them to bring their nets and come with me. They asked why, but I did not want to let anyone else hear about the smelts, so I said, “You’ll see.” It was getting quite dusk by the time we got back to where the smelts were located and no one else had discovered them. We took our smelt nets and walked upstream at a fast pace, scooping up the line of smelts. By the time we reached the upper end our nets were overflowing, so we laid them on shore and filled the buckets with our limit and returned the rest of the smelts into the brook. Then we headed for home before anyone else had even started dipping smelts. We sure lucked out that night.

One year Ivan & Edith Morey, and my wife, Cynthia, and I, took our pick-up trucks and our truck campers up to Mill Brook, to try to get some smelts. We planned to dip our smelts, then camp out somewhere in the area overnight and come back home the following day. We sat around in our campers and occasionally checked the brook for smelts. I might have dipped a half dozen smelts by ten P.M., so it was apparent the smelts were not going to run hardly any that night. We finally gave up and went back to the campers. We decided to go to Sturtevant Pond, a few miles away, to see if any smelts were running there. We arrived a little before eleven p.m. and walked down a small brook almost all the way to the pond. We saw quite a few smelts in the brook so I said to Ivan, “Let’s go back and get our nets”. It may have taken us less than ten minutes to go back to the campers and get our smelt nets and pails, then return to where we had seen the smelts. We were very surprised when we arrived to find four people dipping smelts like crazy. They got their limit shortly after we arrived and then left the brook. It was very apparent they were standing in the dark when we looked in the brook and when they heard me say we should go get the nets they decided it was time for them to get to work. We did get our smelts that night on that brook but we had to wait until after midnight before enough smelts ran upstream for us to dip them. It was about two a.m. when we went back to our campers. We were sure glad to have our campers with us that night so we didn’t have a long drive home in the wee hours of the morning.

I believe my favorite place to go smelting has been up to Aziscohos Lake; mainly because I have always had good luck getting smelts around that lake. I also believe the smelts from those waters are the best tasting smelts that I have ever eaten. There are so many streams available to smelt on the lake that generally some brooks can be found where the smelts are running. For the past few years, the tributaries on the west side of the lake have been closed to taking of smelts. Prior to that, access to the west side was over paper company roads. The entrance to the logging road on that side of the lake was gated and a fellow whom I only knew as “Tom”, ran a roadside eatery at the entrance to the logging road, where you could get a cup of coffee and a hamburger, etc. Tom also tended the gate located in Wilson’s Mills. During smelting season, the gate was opened in late afternoon to allow smelters access to those streams on the west side of the lake. Sometimes, when the frost was just going out, the graveled road would have some very muddy places that seemed like bottomless pits. I have seen times when we would cut branches off evergreen trees to make a layer of boughs to help support the wheels of our vehicles, as we drove over the mud holes. The trick in making it through to terra firma was to “give her hell” and not let the wheels sink too deep in the mud. Most of the time the mud holes would not be more than the length of the vehicle, so it was imperative to keep moving when you drove over the soft spots. We never worried too much about getting stuck, because sooner or later, another vehicle would be coming along and help pull you out of a mud hole. We always considered those as a minor inconvenience and I don’t remember of anyone ever turning around and going home, rather than attempt to drive through the muddy places. I would say that the large percentage of vehicles that went over those roads were four wheel drive pick-ups and for a good reason. In recent years the tributaries on the westerly side of Aziscohos Lake have been closed to smelting, so now we have to do our smelting on the easterly side of the lake.

We were getting plenty of April showers the day that Milton Inman and I, his son Gary, and my son Ron, all went smelting up to Aziscohos Lake. We left West Paris, late in the afternoon, with threatening skies, and encountered several hard showers along the way. By the time we got to the brook it was nearly dark but surprisingly, on this week day night, there were no other smelters there.

We parked our car only a short distance from the brook and it didn’t take long before we had our hip boots and waders on. We untied our nets from the top of the station wagon and walked down to the brook to take a look. Milt and the boys had swing nets, so they planned to smelt in the brook. I had my large dip net and my propane lantern, which I intended to set up along the shoreline a short distance from the mouth of the brook We felt the smelts would be coming soon because several were beginning to straggle up stream into the rapids.

I went down and chose a spot along the shoreline, then set up my lantern on a metal stake so that it hung about a foot above the water. It was dark enough now so I lit the lantern, then adjusted the light and placed my dip net in position. I had hardly gotten myself settled into position when a large school of smelts passed over the net. I lifted it out of the water and must have had well over a pint of smelts with that one dip. I knew if this continued I wouldn’t be long getting my limit. It was misting a little bit but still very comfortable, so I continued to fill my pail with smelts. I didn’t have quite my limit when Milt appeared and said he and the boys all had their limits of smelts. I couldn’t believe it because we had not been there for even a half hour. I told him I would have my limit in another dip or two, so I might as well stay where I was and finish getting my smelts out of the lake. Milt said the brook was black with smelts when they finished getting theirs. I had my limit in only a few minutes, so I took my net, the lantern, and my smelts, and walked back up to our vehicle. I couldn’t believe there was still no one else after smelts. Maybe all the rainy weather was keeping them away.

I told Milt that I had my 35mm Minolta camera with me and would like to take some pictures of the smelts in the brook. I took my propane lantern and the camera, while Milt took his net and we went back down to the brook. This was the perfect time to see just how effective the propane light was on smelts. I placed the lantern so the light only shone a little bit on one side of the brook. Soon all the smelts in the brook worked themselves to that side of the banking. In a few minutes, I waded across the brook and placed the lantern so the light shone on the opposite side. Again, the smelts moved across the brook towards the light from the propane lantern. Not only that, but they built up in considerable numbers around the spot where the light was shining into the water. I took several photos and then I asked Milt to take one dip with his swing net. I wanted him to hold it up so that I could take a picture of the catch he had in his net. I knew then that he had well over a limit in his net. I took a picture of the smelts in his net and then Milt dumped them all back into the brook.

We went back to the station wagon and had sandwiches before we got ready to head for home. Shortly before we were ready to leave, a fellow drove down and parked nearby. When he got out of his vehicle he asked if the smelts were running. We told him he would need to take only one dip to get his limit. I think the man thought we were filling him full of “you know what”. He went down to the brook and was gone only a short time before he came back and said, “You guys were right. The brook is still black with smelts.” We had finished our lunches and got the nets tied back on to the top of our vehicle, so we headed home without even having to work up a sweat.

A few years ago a good friend, Harlan Abbott, and myself, rode up to Aziscohos Lake to go smelting. We arrived during early evening before anyone else was there. We walked a short distance downstream from where we parked our vehicle. Not long after we arrived at the shore of the lake, we decided to walk upstream and look around for a good place to wait for the smelts to run. Harlan was a short distance ahead of me when he hollered to me, “Sayward, bring the nets. This hole is full of smelts!” I had a big dip net, while Harlan had brought a smaller swing net. In this manner, we figured we had the right equipment for whatever type of smelting we would need to do to get our limits.

As soon as I arrived upstream to where Harlan was standing, we laid our plans to get our limit of smelts from that one pool which was absolutely black with smelts. I placed my dip net in the brook at the lower end of the pool, while Harlan used his swing net to dip smelts out of the pool. Of course, once he started dipping, the smelts scattered as best they could in all directions. Harlan scooped up his limit with only a couple of passes of his net. All I had to do was wait for the smelts do drift down into my net, which was blocking off the downstream end of the pool. It didn’t take long before we had our limit of smelts in our pails and were headed back to our vehicle just as it was beginning to get dark. Incidentally, we did not meet any other people coming down towards the stream until we were almost back to where our vehicle was parked. By that time, it was getting dark enough so the others could not see into our pails, so we doubted if they ever realized we already had our smelts and were headed home.

Smelting can also be a winter sport, both in fresh and salt water. I have friends Leon and Jim Baker. Their sister Marjorie and husband Francis Mailloux, live in Richmond. Francis always set up an ice-fishing shanty on the Pleasant River in Dresden. Occasionally, I would go down with one of the Baker brothers and go smelting for salt-water smelts. This was usually in the middle of February or early March. Salt water fishing for smelts was different because of the tides that effected the times when you could smelt. We would plan to be ready to fish when the ebb tide turned and began rising. We could fish until full tide. The smelt houses all had raceways cut through the ice the full length of the shanty. There was room for two men to sit comfortably and tend the twenty or so lines that were attached to a narrow board suspended over the raceway and supported by springs on each end. The fisherman could jig all the lines at once by simply taking hold of a line and pulling it down and letting the spring bring the lines back up. Each line was baited with a piece of bloodworm or a small piece of cut up smelt. Sometimes even a smelt eye on the hook, would catch smelts. Each respective fish line had a piece of white foam, about the size of a nickel, placed around the line, so it would float on the surface of the water. When the smelts bit the hook, the white foam made it a lot easier to detect the strikes. With the least bit of movement, the smelter had to give the line a quick jerk, and if the smelt was hooked the line was pulled in. Sometimes the action would be so fast that it was almost like playing the strings of a harp, only the smelts would be flopping all around your feet. There was hardly time to get the lines baited and back into the water. It was always a lot of fun when the action was that fast. I think the most I can ever remember two of us catching on one tide were a five-gallon pail full of saltwater smelts.

I also used to go down to fish in the saltwater bay near Brunswick, at a place we called the “Wrinkles”. I only went there a few times with J. Albert Jackson, of West Paris. It was a different kind of saltwater smelting because instead of fishing in water less then eight feet deep, we would be fishing by sitting outside on a bucket, with two holes chopped through the ice, that were about two to three feet apart. We used multiple lines by building a contraption out of coat hangers. We soldered five eyes made of wire, to the coat hanger, then we tied on five individual pieces of monofilament. These were about six or eight inches long. We tied our small smelt hooks to them. This made it possible to make multiple catches of the smelts on any of the five hooks that were tied on the hanger; then attached to the single line that was held with each hand. We fished in about twenty feet of water and it was easier to haul up several smelts at a time rather then one at a time.

On a couple of occasions I went with my Uncle Fred Jackson, and caught saltwater smelts by hand as they ran up some very small tributaries in the saltwater bays. I remember vividly how it felt; like grabbing onto a piece of sandpaper when we got hold of a male smelt. There was no danger of them slipping out of your hand.

It was always a lot easier to go fishing for fresh water smelts because of the close proximity of the lakes in the area where I lived. My two sons, Jim and Ron, and I, built ourselves an ice fishing house that was constructed with two by two framing, covered with aluminum sheeting, to keep it light. We also built it on skids so we could pull it on the frozen snow and ice on the lakes or pond. Our fish house had a small wood stove in one corner to help keep us warm in cold and windy weather. We would set it up on Lake Christopher in Woodstock and fish for smelts. Sometimes we would take it to South Pond where we could fish for smelts and also fish through the ice for Lake Trout , as well as Whitefish. The fresh water smelts are generally smaller than salt water smelts, so we had to use very small hooks and usually baited them with very tiny pieces of angleworms.

My son Ronald, had a commercial bait fishing license for a few years and went ice fishing for smelts in his ice fishing house on Lake Wassookeag, in Dexter, Maine. Milt Inman and I visited him one day to see what it was like. He fished in very shallow water, only six or eight feet deep and the water was very clear so we could watch the smelts that milled about in the water under his fish house. Occasionally, he would say to us, “Here comes a togue!” I asked Ron how he could tell, and he said, “By watching the smelts. They begin to move out of the way when they see the togue coming.” He went on to explain the togue do not try to catch individual smelts, but go charging through a school of smelts with tremendous speed and then return to eat the smelts that were stunned during their charge. I watched togue do this several times during the time I spent at his fishing shanty and I couldn’t believe how fast togue can swim. The smelts also did a pretty good job of moving out of the way because I did not see any stunned fish within the vision of the perimeter of the ice-fishing hole.

Smelting can be a year ‘round sport, because there are places where it is possible to jig for smelts from a boat anchored over a smelt hole during the open-water fishing season. This can be from soon after ice out until late fall. I recall one year when my sister, Elaine, was visiting over the Fourth of July holidays. One of the old Maine traditions is to have fresh garden peas and landlocked salmon for the holiday feast. We had the fresh peas and my sister remarked how nice it would be to have a salmon to go with them. I told her I would go up to Lake Christopher and see if I could catch a salmon. I went up and anchored my boat over a smelt hole and threw out a hand line weighted with a small sinker and below that was a small smelt hook baited with a small piece of angleworm. I jigged the line up and down while holding my arm over the side of the boat and before long I felt a bite on the line. I hooked the smelt and had it almost ready to bring into the boat when a salmon tore by the bait at a furious pace. It must have missed the smelt because it came jumping right out of the water. I pulled in the rest of the line and the smelt as quickly as I could and then tossed the smelt, still hooked to the line, as far as I could in the direction where the salmon had surfaced. I let the smelt sink for a couple of minutes and then started hauling in the line, hand over hand. I had only taken in a few feet of line when the salmon slammed the smelt with such force that it almost pulled the line out of my hand. I had quite a tug-of-war with the salmon, and found it quite difficult to keep the line taut while trying to play the salmon by using only my hands. How I wished the line was attached to a fishing pole. After a few minutes the salmon tired and eventually I was able to boat it. It was a pretty fish and weighed almost three pounds. I was happy to go home and tell my sister that we would be having fresh peas and salmon for our Fourth of July feed. She found it hard to believe how I had caught it, but the proof was in the eating and we certainly did enjoy our holiday meal.

I have fished for smelts on Aziscohos Lake in the summer and on a few occasions have brought back enough smelts for a good feed. Mostly though I have kept them for sewing bait for togue fishing, because they are large smelts and have good action when used for trolling. Some people who go up there smelting in the summer, take their fish poles and as soon as they catch smelts, they put one on a hook and throw the baited fish lines over the side of their boats and let them sink to the bottom the lake. Often they will catch trout or salmon, which pick up the smelts off from the bottom. I have never gone there very often to do this type of summer smelt fishing, mainly because I guess I am too busy doing other things and doing other types of fishing in lakes and ponds that are nearer to my home.

As I write this another smelting season is fast approaching and with good luck I hope to enjoy the experiences of another year of smelting. I am over seventy-six years old right now and have no idea how old I will be before I hang up my smelt nets. One thing for sure, a feed of smelts, fried up to a crispy golden brown, along with some dandelion greens, and a few french-fries, sure make a wonderful springtime meal.

By A. Sayward Lamb

     
     
     
     
 

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