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TALKIN WITH DOKKEN: Does anybody smelt anymore?

Q. Walking through the grocery store last week, I saw a package of smelt. It reminded me of a neighbor in Wisconsin when I was a kid who always had a smelt fry after he got back from smelting. Does anybody smelt anymore and where do they do it at?

A. I've never smelted myself, nor do I know anyone who does, but without question the North Shore of Lake Superior remains the most popular destination for smelting in this part of the world. It's a springtime activity that occurs when tributary streams are running and the smelt come in from Lake Superior.

Some years are better than others, but when the smelt run is in full swing, you can be sure the smelters will be there.

I remember one spring in the early '90s camping at Gooseberry Falls State Park north of Duluth. The smelt run was in full swing, and the park actually set aside a camping area specifically for the smelters. The hardy souls gathered for the occasion even had a huge canvas sign designating their encampment as "Helter Smelter."

A fitting name it was.

Not a sound could be heard from the encampment during the day, but once the sun set, the smelters came to life. The whoops and hollers that penetrated the darkness in the direction of the encampment suggested the smelt run was more of a social occasion than a serious attempt to gather the small, silver-colored fish for smelt fries. But I'm sure the people who actually braved the icy-cold water with nets and headlamps caught their fair share of fish, as well.

We weren't geared up for smelting, and the temperature dipped into the 30s after sunset so we opted to stay warm by the fire rather than venturing to check out the festivities.

The Missouri River System, including Lake Sakakawea, also supports rainbow smelt, but I'm not familiar with smelter gatherings. There may be a few, I suppose, but it would pale in comparison to the convergence that occurs every spring along the North Shore.

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Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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