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Bobby Bass

Smelt Run "Good ole days"

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Watching and waiting with interest on when and wear this years smelt run will take place. I was chatting with my neighbor and we were remembering what we consider Smelt runs to be. Back in the late 60's and early 70's the Smelt run along the north shore was a huge event. This is one of them " I remember when it was so good" stories. All the local gas stations sold dip nets, either wire mesh or cloth ones on a 6' handle. If you were going to fish the Lester river you might have to park a half a mile away. London road would be bumper to bumper with out of state campers and trailers. It was Lake Superiors version of Mardi Gras. If you were on the water you could look towards park point and see the beach from one end to the other lit up with bon fires.

The Lester river bridge would be shoulder to shoulder with on lookers. And when the fish ran they ran for hours and the river was silver from one side to the other. Not hundreds not thousands but hundred of thousands of big silver smelt filling the river. Little smelt were 6 inches big ones were 8-9 inches in length. One dip of the net and you struggled to get it out of the water to fill your five gallon bucket. You took a dip and climbed out of the water to be replace by another. Some fool would try and use a seine, If it wasn't ripped out of his hands it would tear open from the weight of the fish. There were always college kids in jeans drinking and dipping, catching more fish then they had any idea what to do. Of course there was the traditional "Bite the head off"...

When they were not running you could still dip a net and in a few minutes you would be able to fill the bucket. When you had enough you would dry off and warm up by one of the many bon fires. Maybe a beer or a shot and it was party time. Winter was gone and Spring was here.

Those days are gone an some of you may not believe fishing was like that but it was. The big runs went away. Any creek that dumped water into the lake was a place to fish. Laws changed outlawing fires and drinking. I always thought it would have made a great b movie. Instead of Beach Party it would have been Smelt run! Looking forward to getting enough for a few meals and some for bait. I was lucky enough to have experienced the good ole days.

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Watching and waiting with interest on when and wear this years smelt run will take place. I was chatting with my neighbor and we were remembering what we consider Smelt runs to be. Back in the late 60's and early 70's the Smelt run along the north shore was a huge event. This is one of them " I remember when it was so good" stories. All the local gas stations sold dip nets, either wire mesh or cloth ones on a 6' handle. If you were going to fish the Lester river you might have to park a half a mile away. London road would be bumper to bumper with out of state campers and trailers. It was Lake Superiors version of Mardi Gras. If you were on the water you could look towards park point and see the beach from one end to the other lit up with bon fires.

The Lester river bridge would be shoulder to shoulder with on lookers. And when the fish ran they ran for hours and the river was silver from one side to the other. Not hundreds not thousands but hundred of thousands of big silver smelt filling the river. Little smelt were 6 inches big ones were 8-9 inches in length. One dip of the net and you struggled to get it out of the water to fill your five gallon bucket. You took a dip and climbed out of the water to be replace by another. Some fool would try and use a seine, If it wasn't ripped out of his hands it would tear open from the weight of the fish. There were always college kids in jeans drinking and dipping, catching more fish then they had any idea what to do. Of course there was the traditional "Bite the head off"...

When they were not running you could still dip a net and in a few minutes you would be able to fill the bucket. When you had enough you would dry off and warm up by one of the many bon fires. Maybe a beer or a shot and it was party time. Winter was gone and Spring was here.

Those days are gone an some of you may not believe fishing was like that but it was. The big runs went away. Any creek that dumped water into the lake was a place to fish. Laws changed outlawing fires and drinking. I always thought it would have made a great b movie. Instead of Beach Party it would have been Smelt run! Looking forward to getting enough for a few meals and some for bait. I was lucky enough to have experienced the good ole days.


Memories!! I remember those days. We had our senior skip day and it was spent with the whole Proctor Senior class at the lester dipping and drinking. Everybody was there. And there were a couple of guys who would be frying them. But, eventually the lake ecosystem balanced out and the lake trout came back after restrictions on commercial fishing and lamprey control and found abundant forage in the smelt. People still do it and do well but it isn't like the good ole days anymore

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Yeah, my dad told me he and a bunch of guys would leave for a couple days at the drop of a hat, literally some guy yelling for everybody to come downstairs and pack a small bag, we're goin to the river. Then they would drive up 35 to Duluth, and already with a few cocktails in them, start netting fish. He told me the first swipe he took he got nothing...then this old guy says "go the other way" and then when we swung with the current his whole net was full....All they did was wade in, no waders or nothing...how cold was that in the early spring in Duluth?

They would fill garbage bags, wake the rest of the house up, and start a 5 a.m. assembly line for chopping off heads and gutting them. Then they could have a weekend fish fry and a keg.

Years later it's quite a story. The smelt numbers have dropped, but you can still get a few of them.

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I remeber the so so old days in the late 80's. My brother and I would fish steelhead all day and net a few smelt at night. Lots of people to meet and chatwith waiting for the smelt at night. There always seemed to be a smelt fry as some kinda fundraiser in the spring. We even tried smelting near Pokegama in Grand Rapids once. smelt came after we were in any shape to get in the water. One buddy even bit the head off of a stickleback.

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Has this country gone to he11 or what? Man that used to be fun. Had 1 friend who would always yell the smelt are running and then go running in. He got to the point of being obnoxious (but then thats the fun of drinking) after yelling this in a drunken stupor for hours he went running and fell and went under. But came up yelling the smelt are running and never missed a beat. Another friend 1/2 mile away relieving him outside his truck could hear the roar of laughter. Kinda of like the Grunion run at California except no beatnecks just drunken swedes and schmidt.

Big crowds but no real problems. Put these memories in the kids will never know what fun really is catagory. Along side shooting rats at the dump. We really have done a diservice to the young.

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I'm tellin you... I went to UMD 82-87 and though the "schmeltin" was starting to tail off (compared to the 60-70's), what a blast that was. A couple of bumps, a stop at Holiday to buy new dip nets because you could never find yours from the year before and off you'd go. Buckets full! We'd spend the next morning cleaning them and it wasn't always the prettiest of affairs. We'd freeze them and then cook them up on Friday before opener. Yes, those were the days!!!

And of course there was the smelt fry in Superior, but that's a whole another story...

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I moved to Duluth in late April of 1981 and the first Minnesota fish I ever caught was a smelt. I arrived in town on Wednesday and went smelting on Friday night.

In the early 1980’s the hey-days of smelting was on the wane. However, you could still fill up a 5 gallon bucket if you went down to the Lester and waited around for the runs to come in. My recollection of smelting back then was that it took about 3 beers per gallon of smelt. Then when the bucket was full I would sit around on the rocks and shoot the bull with the group of “Rangers” who traveled down for the weekend. For about three years in a row I met up with these same guys, who always had a cooler full of smoked sucker and a keg. They were always happy to share and actually could drink more beer that me.

As time went on the smelt populations hit bottom and the smelting died off to just a few die-hards. I quit going for about the next 15 years. In 2003 I decided to give it a try and dip a few. I’ve always had success, except that it takes a few nights to get a couple of gallons which is sufficient for me. Last year (2006) was the best so far and I finally got a solid run of fish. I was done in about 5 minutes and only had to wait about an hour after sundown.

Another thing I remember was the tent set up for the smelt fry. I would always go in there and have a smelt dinner with 12 smelt and some coleslaw. The smelt was always way over done, very crispy. There was also a tent on Park Point that served up a smelt dinner. I believe the tents were run by the boy scouts. Is this fund raiser still going on somewhere???

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Only smelt fry I now of us Tap a Keg. Im sure there has to be others but I havent seen it. Oh, I think Mr D's may still have a smelt meal this time of year.

I remember the glory days too and I think those memeries are what keeps me going back night after night even though it took me 9 days to finally get a smelt.

Its just another excuse to get out of the house, get some fresh air and exercise and have a few beverages with the guys/gals.

After all these are the days that will be the glory days when Im 80 and cant put the waders on no more.

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I've heard the stories, but never had a chance to experience it. frown.gif

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