Hey kids. Want to know what Mainers do in the winter time?
I’ll give you a hint: it’s not going to Dairy Queen.
Or museums. Or lighthouses. Or the beach. Because everything in Maine is closed in the winter.
Everything, that is, except the smelt camps.
…The what camps?
The smelt camps.
Smelting is a form of ice-fishing, apparently, but instead of fishing for… fish, you fish for ‘smelt’. Which is a kind of fish. Even though I’m preeeetty sure it’s actually a kind of metalworking. But all of the Mainers around here insist otherwise, and, well, ‘when in Rome’ and all that, so – fish.
One catches them thus:
1. Trek out onto an icy river. Fear for one’s life.
2. Seek out a ‘smelt camp’ of tiny, wood-stove-heated huts perched upon the ice.
3. Precariously make one’s way across this ice and through the camp in search of one’s assigned rental hut.
Continue speaking in the imperative indefinite third person to delude oneself into believing that one is not, in actuality, a veritable Maine redneck, despite the fact that one is actively engaging in the epitome of Maine redneck activities. And enjoying every second of it.
4. Find one’s hut.
5. Open a beer. Beer consumption is the primary priority of a smelt camp, followed secondly by generally carousing, followed lastly by the catching of smelt. Priorities are key to a successful day.
It is preferable that the aforementioned fermented grain beverage be a session-level variety drunk out of cans, as the whipping out of one’s fine pilsner glasses with a subsequent discussion of malt profiles and hop characteristics whilst in a smelt camp hut is generally considered ridiculous. …At best. But, if one is in a hurry and one’s wife won’t allow one to spend money on more beer when there is perfectly good, albeit higher-quality bottled, beer in the cellar already, then bottled beer is considered acceptable.
6. Examine one’s surroundings. The most important element of a properly designed smelting hut is the presence of a crudely hand-built, wood-burning stove. These contraptions are decidedly splendid and fill one’s hut with an astonishing amount of cozy heat – the removal of jackets and assorted layers may be necessary.
7. Behold the layout of the smelt hut. For perspective, know that the photographer of the picture displayed below was straddling the pile of wood seen in the photo above.
Cozy, ain’t it?
8. Also, note the contraptiony setup of fishing gear seen on both sides of the wall in the pic above, and shown closer, below:
These bobbins and hooked line are unwound at varying lengths from the long piece of wood hanging from the ceiling, baited, and plopped into a long rectangle of bottle-green water that has been cut out of the ice on either side of the hut, where they hang out until a smelt comes along and, hopefully, takes a chomp.
9. Wonder what the bait is.
10. Find out the bait is a sandworm.
11. Commence with being horrified by the appearance of a sandworm.
12. Stand around taking pictures from a safe distance while someone else pinches off a piece of the ghastly sand
centipede alien monster ”worm” and slips it onto the hook.
(I normally love fishing and have no problem baiting hooks, fyi. But there is just something about a worm that looks like a CENTIPEDE that skeeves me out. I cannot stand centipedes.)
11. Bombs away!
12. Oops. Untangle one’s line.
13. Warm one’s fishermanly feet by the fire.
14. Admire artsy setup of bobbins on the wall. That piece of wood to which they are all attached, by the way, is hung from the ceiling by pieces of bungee cord, so that one can reach up and give it a tug and it will make all of the lines and hooks on one’s beam jiggle a bit, thus enticing the smelt below. Quite clever, really!
15. Fish on.
(This would also, generally, be when the beer-drinking and carousing come into play.)
17. Four hours later, catch a smelt!
18. Have it mounted and hung on a placard in one’s study, alongside one’s water buffalo heads and tiger skins from one’s expeditions throughout the Empire.
20. …Embrace it!