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Delicious Wild Smelt

On the evening of April 17th, 2024, the temperature drops rapidly as the sun dips below the tree line. The spring peepers begin to call as we swallow the last of our venison burgers, put out our campfire, and start packing up. Chris Gilmour has been scouting the local creeks in Central Ontario the last few weeks and believes we could get a decent Smelt run tonight. He has invited a few friends to bring nets and buckets and take part in the annual festivity. This activity is undoubtedly best shared with others and paired with laughter and good energy. We split into two vehicles and started the adventure down gravel roads in anticipation of a bounteous night ahead. 

Due to plenty of spring showers and melting snow, the air was very humid, and a breezy chill moved through the trees as we headed to the creek. The full potential of WeatherWool is best realized in these cool, damp conditions when you know you should be cold but feel warm, dry, and cozy in your WeatherWool.

Chris tries out is custom made dip net wearng a CPO in Lynx pattern.

Chris scouts for smelt wearng a CPO in Lynx Pattern.

The first stop didn't shine bright with silver activity, so we decided to move on. This is all part of the adventure. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Smelting is part hunting, part trapping, and part fishing, and scouting and waiting is part of paying your dues.

When we roll up to the second spot, I get out and get a beautiful whiff of that fresh northern forest air and admire this magical little spot we have pulled into. I hear Chris call out, "They are here." I ready the camera and start recording as Chris and his friends Steve and Skeet scoop smelts into 5 gal pals. Four grown men didn't take long to start acting like 8-year-old boys. Nets in hands trying to catch these little speedy fish would bring out the youthfulness in anyone.  

Steve scooping a 50-50 blend of smelt and rocks in is AAJ in Lynx Pattern

Smelts in this region of Ontario are considered to be an invasive species. Although well established now, since being introduced by people in the early 1900s, they are not native to the lakes in this part of central Ontario. For this reason, we're allowed to net them, and there are no limits. All you need is a valid fishing licence. 

After a few shots of the boys, it's my turn to get scooping. According to Chris, the run isn't as thick as it has been at times, but there are enough to make it worth our time. I grab a net and dig in. On average, you're scoping one at a time, but every once in a while, you get a bonus one.  

Skeet poised motionless like a Great Blue Heron ready to strike.

"That spot on the other side looks like it might hold the jackpot," Skeet says as we eye up the mouth of the creek, which enters the lake. The current splashes up high on my hip as it takes a little longer for my foot to find the bottom than I expected as I try to get into position. In the deeper water, the technique changes. You need to be slow and stealthy as you can't move your net through the deeper water as quickly as in the shallows. A classic string mesh net with a thin aluminum frame outperforms modern rubber fishing nets for this task. The rubber mesh resists too much water when trying to scoop fast, and the Smelt darts away before you get there. Regardless of which net I tried, I concluded the shallows were more lucrative, allowing you to move quickly and giving the fish fewer options to escape. In the very shallow water around rocks, you could even grab them with your bare hands. There is something so rewarding about gathering food in such a primitive manner.

Skeet giving this little fella an x-ray.

By 3 a.m., we decided we had enough and called it a night. Packed on ice, I made the three-house drive home the next morning, excited to share the bounty with my family. I'll certainly be bringing them next year.

Battered and pan-fried, it was laid on a freshly made taco shell hot off the cast iron. My family devoured taco after taco, topped with spicy mayo, sweet chilli sauce, pineapple, and purple cabbage.

With a few more bags in the freezer, we're looking forward to sharing this meal with some special guests in the coming months.

Cody Bokshowan, April 19th, 2024.


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