Smelt Fishing




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Fishing House
Smelt Fishing
Snaring Fish
Spearing Fish
Spearman's Shanty

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By Dan Beard

From about December 20th until the middle or latter of February the smelt fishing season is in its height along coast of Maine.  The fish are caught through holes in the ice.  In the vicinity of Belfast clam worms are used for bait; the worms are found in the clam flats. 

Notwithstanding the reputation for original inventions possessed by the inhabitants of the Eastern States, the " D East" smelt fishermen of Maine have for years, while fishing through the ice, exposed themselves to the piercing winter winds, apparently without once thinking of providing any other shelter than their heavy overcoats and perhaps a rude barricade of ice blocks and evergreen boughs. 

There is no telling long this state of things might have continued, but during the winter of 1877-78 a single fisherman, more enterprising than his comrades, appeared upon the fishing grounds with a small canvas tent, inside of which he at once proceeded to make himself comfortable, and at the same time excite the envy of the unprotected, shivering fishermen scattered over the ice. The latter were not long in taking the hint, and the next season found the ice dotted all over with the little canvas houses of the little canvas houses of the fishermen.  

During the best of the season the smelt fishing grounds now have the appearance of Indian villages; the blue smoke Curls up from the peaked roofed lodges and floats away on the frosty air, while the figures of men and boys passing to and fro on different errands might at a distance be easily mistaken for the aboriginal red Americans at their winter camp. 

The framework of a smelt fisher's house consists of a light wooden frame about six feet square, with a sharp roof.  After the frame is firmly fastened together it is put upon runners, furnished with a bench for the fisherman to sit upon, a stove to keep him warm, and a covering of light canvas to keep out the cold. 

The canvas is a better protection against sleet and frost if it has been covered with a coat of paint.  Sometimes the houses are made large enough to accommodate more than one fisherman.  Snugly ensconced beside a warm stove, with pipe in mouth, the old veterans spin their yarns, and, oblivious to the raging northwest winds, watch their lines, which are attached to a rack overhead and hang down, passing through a hole in the ice. 

The bait dangles about eight or ten feet under the water.  When a fish bites, the motion of the line apprizes the fisherman of the fact, and he pulls it out, unhooks the fish and again drops his line.  In this manner one man will succeed in catching from ten to fifteen pounds in a day. 

A gentleman who seems to be posted upon the subject of smelt fishing sends me the following device, which ought to have been included in the pages on odd modes of fishing.  My correspondent says: "During the fall months the smelt run in large schools up the creeks and streams emptying into the ocean, and are caught with seines or nets by professional fishermen for market.  To be sure, no true sportsman could make use of such means  for capturing game; still, as it is necessary to take these small fish in large numbers to make a respectable mess, some ingenious sportsman has evolved a fishing-tackle with which one can legitimately do wholesale fishing. To a line on an ordinary pole is attached an apparatus resembling an umbrella-frame without the handle; from the point of each bow hangs a line and hook (Fig. 199); in this way six or eight smelt may be taken in the time it would require to catch one with a single line." 

For boys who live inland where smelt fishing is out of the question, there are other fish whose gamy nature will impart more fun and excitement to their capture.  Long rods would be out of place within the narrow limits of a little cloth-covered fishing box; but hand lines or short rod and reel may be used.  When a short rod is used it is only for the purpose of facilitating the use of the reel, and the rod should not be over two and one-half feet long. 

Fish may also be snared or speared through holes in the ice by boys concealed in little wooden shanties built for the purpose. This sport is much in vogue on some of the small lakes in the Northwest.







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Fishing House ] [ Smelt Fishing ] Snaring Fish ] Spearing Fish ] Spearman's Shanty ]

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.