Remember the glory days of smelting?

They weren’t that great (I had to clean them as a kid!). I used to think the smelts were planted in Lake Superior as a food for the fishery, not so.

The Mystery of the Missing Smelt



about 14 years ago

I remember getting to stay out all night in grade school for the run and not having to go to school the next day.  ey ey ey ey oh-spectators dropping cans of beer down for the guys on the Lester River to catch with their dip nets, northern lights down on Wisconsin Point, big bonfires out by the zoo.


about 14 years ago

Those late April evenings, dipping nets in the rivers along the north shore were fun.

Paul Lundgren

about 14 years ago

I went smelting once, in 1993, and gave it the thumbs up well before the thumbs up became the ultimate honor in Duluth society.

It was after the smelting heydays, but I remember driving up to the Knife River, or some river near the Knife, dropping my net about a dozen times, filling a bucket in about eight minutes, and realizing I already had more smelt than I would ever want to eat.

Jim Heffernan wrote a great column for the Duluth News Tribune in 1984 about smelt memories. It's in his book Cooler Near the Lake. The whole column is a series of questions Heff asks himself as if he can't believe his memories are accurate.

An excerpt:

Didn't I see a neighbor lady come home from smelting and dump huge buckets of smelt directly into her garden for fertilizer? Wasn't the peak of the run the biggest night of the year for the liquor stores -- eclipsing New Year's?


about 14 years ago

The smelt runs at Lester River were insane. Big carnival atmosphere. Lots of smelt, lots of excessive drinking, and yahoos biting the heads off smelt. Every year somebody would venture out too far in the mouth of the river and their waders would fill up and they'd be pulled under and drown. I remember a friend of mine telling me when someone had parked illegally on their property just off London Road, he and his buddies filled the inside of the guy's car with smelt.

Paul Lundgren

about 14 years ago

Remember the minnow swallowing contest? There must have been a similar event for smelt.


about 14 years ago

Funny you posted this, I was just thinking about smelting the other day and read this article.  I can't wait to get out this spring.


about 14 years ago

Many of my high school friends missed our senior prom for smelting.  They probably made the wiser decision.


about 14 years ago

"The drunker you get the better they taste" was the first piece of advice I got when I went smelting for the first time.  It is 100% true, by the end of the night I was eating raw fish from the net and chugging Hamms like a pro.  I was 17.


about 14 years ago

It sounds like hordes of drunk idiots ate them all. Too far fetched?


about 14 years ago

The worst place to be in Duluth during smelting season had to have been the old Perkins on London Road across from the old Curling Club around 2 a.m. Booth after booth filled with bellowing, fish-smeared drunks still in their waders wolfing down pancakes and waffles and washing it all down with their glasses of vodka-spiked orange juice.

Paul Lundgren

about 10 years ago

Archival smelting photo via the DPD on Facebook:

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