I’ve wanted to go smelting for years. The last time I went I was seven and a half months pregnant with our first child and Dad took me to dip smelts in the Penobscot River. That “child” is now 28. Uncle Bobby would go smelting, come to our house and clean a bucket of smelts at our kitchen sink when I was a child. I watched, probably in his way, and waited for Mum to take the first smelts out of the hot oil. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories.
Melissa, my sister, messaged me Friday afternoon to say that Kenny would take her smelting if he could find a net. We have a net so I offered to meet her at Flood Brook in Topsfield so they could use it. She’d never been smelting. We were excited. I changed my Facebook status to “Melissa and I are going smelting (we’re letting Steve, Kenny and Rick go with us, ha ha). Any bets on who gets the wettest? Falls in first? Uses the wrong end of the net?”
We parked in a growing line of cars and trucks along the side of Route 6. Two men were standing on the edge of the stream, looking in. I didn’t pay attention to their identity, assuming it was Kenny and his brother Rick. I couldn’t see Melissa. I almost yelled down to them, “Did you already push her in?”
You can start dipping smelts at noon and continue until 2 am. They’re supposed to “run” around dark. We arrived early and walked to the stream. Beavers dammed the stream and flooded a large area at the edge of East Musquash lake. We walked through a bog, in stinky mud, stepping on tufts of dead grass here and there. I was grateful for my almost knee-high Muck boots.
We reached our destination-something that resembled a puddle beside a tiny outlet created by the flooding the beavers caused.
This was not what I was expecting.
I’ve heard stories of dipping the net in three times to fill the two quart limit. That’s what I was expecting.
When everyone who hoped to go home with smelts that night showed up, there were 30 of us (no kidding) standing around a puddle and a tiny stream. With nets. I waited for the people who were there first to take their turn. I watched smelts swimming in the puddle. Nobody moved. “They’ll start running soon,” someone said.
Ryan Beers of Topsfield said he had his limit and was home by 8:30 the night before. I looked at the smelts swimming in the puddle again. Nobody moved to get them so I dipped the net in and aha! I caught three. Three smelts, not quarts. When I was done, an hour later, I had two cups worth of smelts in a two quart container. It was a sad sight.
I’m not disappointed in how the night turned out. We talked, we laughed, Melissa answered the question of “who will get wet first?” by being the first to get wet. Turns out I got the “stupid smelts” that weren’t smart enough to get back to the lake. That’s ok. It was fun!