Monday, April 13, 2009


Every Spring after the ice disppeared Dad would get out the Coleman gas lantern and clean it up and burn in a new mantle on it. His Coleman lantern burn unleaded gasoline. In those days unleaded gasoline was not sold at any gas station - you had to buy it at the store in 1 gallon containers much like Coleman fuel comes in today. Unleaded gasoline was also called "white gas".

Thus when he burned in a new mantle I knew it was time for smelting. Dad jokingly called them "SHMELTS" with a thick Sargeant Schultz German accent. The Kappesser ancestry is German-American and we in that we consider ourselves fortunate...

Some readers may need to become familiar with smelts. They are little salt-water fish that look and behave like Atlantic Salmon. And they are tasty. Every Spring they used to come in from the North Atlantic Continental Shelf, all the way up the St. Lawrence River through specially constructed fish-ladders around the Seaway locks, and into the Great Lakes. Then they would swim up all tributaries: stream, creeks, & rivers to spawn and die.


From Wikipedia"..."smelt dipping" is a common group sport in the early spring months (generally late April, when the stream water reaches approximately 4°C, 40-42f). Fish are spotted using a flashlight / headlamp (the best smelt dipping is in the middle of the night from 10:00pm – 2:00am) and scooped out of the water using a dip net made of nylon or metal mesh. The smelt are cleaned by removing the head and the entrails. Fins, scales, and bones of all but the largest of smelts are cooked without removal.

Many of these streams were narrow enough for a person to straddle and get a good catch of smelt by dipping a bucket. Smelters with their bright Coleman lanterns would line both shores some nights, almost elbow to elbow. Nobody complained about "personal space", we all just wanted to fish and enjoy it.

Elbow to elbow along both banks we fished...

One year circa 1970, Dad went up to the the Lacona Supply and asked Mister Tanner to special order a 20 foot fur pole for him. He affixed the biggest smelt net he could find the end of that pole. I could barely lift it but it was no problem for Dad. He used his mega-net to gain another 8 foot advantage on reach over any store-bought net.

Typically we would smelt along the mouth of the Salmon River near the old Selkirk Lighthouse or the inlet at Selkirk Shores State Park. There would be dozens of other people there with their families dipping away with an occasional shout, the smell of Coleman lantern fumes everywhere. I love that smell.

Selkirk Lighthouse, also called Port Ontario Lighthouse.

This is the inlet at Selkirk Shores State Park where we used to go smelting. This photo was taken July, 2005 while we rented a cabin there.

Dad trained me to be his bucket-man. He would dip the mega-net in a long fell swoop against the current and bring up the floppy little fish sparkling in the moonlight. I would be positioned nearer shore within his reach to empty the net into a big 5 gallon bucket. I had to seperate the moon-eyes from the smelt. He always say "hurry-up, hurry-up". Then he would dip the giant net again. This went on for an hour or two. It was glorious.

On a good night we would bring home 4 or 5 buckets of fish. He wouldn't catch more than he could clean. Mom and Dad would clean the smelt for hours into daylight, sometimes having them for breakfast.

Later, typically on a Friday or to treat some friends or family, Mom cooked 'em up in a deep fryer with her secret breading. We would dip 'em in Tartar Sauce. They were eaten bones-in matter-of-factly. You could not find fish better than that in any restaurant, anywhere, I don't care who you are.

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