Ashland Smelt Run
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 4th
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 temps 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 (Buccanero Baits “very good lures”), Dan Hill, Preston Polencheck, and Pat and his son Bret Beil 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 (by hand while wearing chest waders) a 30-foot seine. 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 as in cooking smelt, big fire, and here for a few days. I have to tell you they were really cool, very tough, and knew how to catch smelt.
To our right was a family from Phillips of three generations that do this every year I was very impressed how there 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 that means chest waders, and a person on each end of the seine keeping it tight but with a slight bow and on the bottom. You wade out as deep as you can go (about 25-yards) and head back to shore. At shore the net is picked up and held tight and the shore crew picks out the smelt if there are any.
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 for miles the lights of my companions 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 “Superman” 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 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! Sunset