“This he-ah is the Cat’s Ass!” Kevin says with a grin as he swings the door open, silhouetted by the bright light outside. “Stahht pulling up the oth-ah lines.”
Dutifully, we start wrapping up the ten lines that are dangling down in the water below, and Kevin grabs his drill and screws a board into the wall of our hut. Attached to the board were six spools of fishing line, each connected to a small metal tip. He baited the hook and showed us the correct depth to drop the line. “Now, keep yah eyes on em, and give em a tug right like this if you see the tip move.” He added a few words of encouragement before heading to the next hut.
Just minutes later, I watched the tip dance up and down, and I gave it a hard tug to set the hook before pulling the line up. There was a flash of silver as the diminutive fish darted left and right before breaking the surface. The first smelt of the day!
After catching that smelt, and dispatching it in the “traditional way” according to Kevin— biting its head off— I head outside to put the smelt in the cooler. There was a veritable shack city out on the ice of the Kennebec River at Jim Worthing’s Smelt Camp. Each hut had several benches, two ice fishing holes, and a little wood stove that could seriously heat the space.
We are here with Big Tree Hospitality and Allagash Brewing, and together we fill several of the small huts. Outside, the amazing chefs from Eventide man the grills, creating concoctions to feed the hungry fisher-people—my personal favorite are the grilled oysters, just the right amount of salty, smokey, and sweet. Allagash also brought along their two newest canned beers, and I try each, the classic Allagash White, canned for the first time, and a new beer, River Trip, a hoppy Belgian ale.
The afternoon is spent mingling, eating, chatting, and occasionally fishing. All told, ten smelt are caught by the end of the day; certainly not an impressive haul given the number of lines in the water, but honestly that isn’t important to us. Instead, it was an amazing day spent with friends, old and new, partaking in a traditional Maine activity. I can tell already this will become an annual tradition!