I’m thankful for smelt dipping. If you don’t know what smelt dipping is, I can promise you it’s a real thing. It’s not like snipe hunting. Although, if you’ve been skunked at smelt dipping, you might think smelt are also fictitious. I haven’t been smelt dipping in almost twenty years. For the uninformed, smelt are small fish, almost like big minnows, that swim into rivers and streams from the lakes to spawn in the spring. I always thought they were only in the Great Lakes, but I learned they are also in inland lakes. In the middle of the night, folks head to the rivers in April and May with long-handled dipping nets. Now see, I know what you’re thinking, and “in the middle of the night” is the tipoff. For some reason, smelt “runs” happen most often in the middle of the night. I don’t know why. No, I’m not making this up. Smelt dipping is real.
Anyway, a bunch of people go out with their nets, build a fire on the shore, and wearing chest waders go out into the stream and sweep their nets through the water, hoping to catch the little fish. I’ve never seen this myself, but stories abound of people filling their nets with one dip. What fun is that? One dip and you nearly fill a five-gallon bucket. Swoop, you’re done. Time to go home. I prefer catching five or six with each dip, dropping them in the bucket, watching them swim around, then dipping again.
I remember my dad going smelt dipping and bringing home a huge wash tub full of smelt. It was our job to clean them. Smelt are small enough that the bones are soft. We snipped off the heads and cleaned out the insides. They were deep-fried, and the only part we didn’t eat was the tail. Great!
I loved going smelt dipping with our kids. We went to a harbor with a breakwall of huge rocks. Our boys spent more time climbing around on the rocks than dipping. And, of course, the best part of the trip was the snacks! Peanut M&Ms, snack mix, Gummy Bears, coffee, and pop.
I never really hit it big smelt dipping. Even catching a few was still exciting.