Young smelters

Some young smelters kill time waiting for day to become night on the shores of Lake Superior.

Hello friends,

Every week for the last 30 years, this column has been published in about 60 newspapers. One of the really cool bonuses from this job is that I have become friends with many of the readers. The Glidden Enterprise, which is located in Ashland County, is a paper that has provided me with a lot of friends, and this week’s column is another example.

Saturday, May 4

High 67, low 42

A spring that has not given us much for pleasant weather gave us a gift today in the form of perfect temperatures and sunny skies.

My plan was a simple one. All I had to do was drive to Glidden, pick up Scott Polencheck, and then drive to Ashland and hang out on the shores of Lake Superior for the day. When day became night, my good friends, Dave Bebeau, Brett and Carol Buccanero, Dan Hill, Preston Polencheck, Pat Beil and his son Bret would join us for a night of smelt seining.

I have only done this once before, and it is a very cool sport. A good part of it is getting a spot on shore where you can operate a 30-foot seine (a type of fishing net) while wearing chest waders. Though Scott would not operate a seine tonight, what he did was the most important job, and that was sitting on the beach with me after I laid out our seine, and thus reserving our spot.

For the next six hours we visited with other folks that had reserved their spots as well, and it was extremely cool.

To our right was a large family of Hmong from Eau Claire that seemed to be living the life out here, cooking smelt with a big fire. I have to tell you they were really cool, very tough, and knew how to catch smelt.

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To our left was a family from Phillips of three generations that do this every year. I was very impressed how their 4- to 8 year-old kids wore knee boots and could amuse themselves. Past our immediate neighbors were two teenagers from Ashland, and a couple of young men from Waverly, Minnesota, that had seined the night before and were doing the big job of cleaning their catch.

Our gang from Glidden arrived about three hours before dark and we lit a fire. Some people enjoyed a cocktail, and everyone visited with each other including all of our neighbors.

Just before dark seiners get serious, and put on their chest waders, and a person on each end of the seine was keeping it tight, but with a slight bow, and on the bottom. We would wade out as deep as we could go — about 25 yards — and head back to shore. At shore the net was picked up and held tight and the shore crew picked out any of the smelt out of the net.

This year has been a very good year for smelting, and that is big news for the people of this tradition-based sport. Well after dark it was amazing for me, as I would wade out to sea and watch all the lights go on for miles, and hear the laughter of everyone having a good time.

Our catch came tough, but slowly added up with each pull being between 15 smelt to just over a quart. Since I was kind of a rookie, I had to bite the head off a live smelt, as did Brett Buccanero and Dan Hill. This goal was accomplished and put on Facebook Live, and no one told me that you did not have to swallow it, but I did not care.

I met these guys about 15 years ago because Scott Polencheck contacted and invited me on a bear hunt. Since then, we have had many very good times and Scott loves giving me a hard time, and if you know Scott, it isn’t too difficult to throw it back at him.

My comrades left late in the night and were physically exhausted. I slept for a few hours in the front seat of the Chevy Hotel, and of course, when I woke up, another cold spell had hit the area and it was raining.

As long as I can keep my health and an income, I should easily see 40 years of this way of life!



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