Smelt

It seems like living on a homestead has changed my perspective on seasons. Of course there are still spring, summer, fall, and winter…but there’s so much more!

There’s mud season. And actually, I find there are usually two mud seasons. As the late fall grows wet, but before it freezes, there’s mud season. And as the winter gently melts into spring, there’s mud season again. Mud season is characterized by trying to slip your boots off before you step into the door, and still tracking a muddy mess across the entry way. There’s a lot of mopping up in mud season. Of course, as the spring warms into summer but before the days dry out, there’s black fly season. That one’s a little rough. There’s apple blossom season, a period of about two weeks when all the air is sweet with a rosy fragrance, when the treetops are full of the hum of busy bees, and when gentle breezes shake apple petals down around you like snow. There’s beach season, with bright sun and warm sand, piles of beach roses in bloom, and a steady stream of excited chatter about swimming and tide pooling. The kids gently brown during this season.

On the homestead, our seasons are more-and-more defined by events that return every year, always familiar, often eagerly anticipated, and each one slightly unique…So sometime between late January and early February, I suddenly realize that it’s smelt season!

I kind of forget about smelt season, nestled as it is right in the midst of winter when I’ve been long tucked-up beside a woodstove. But then I hear a knock at the door. The knock is from a friend who is an outdoorsman and loves smelt-fishing. Though our family is entirely forgetful of the annual smelt run, his knock at the door with a bagful of fresh fish reminds us that things are underway!

Rainbow Smelt are beautiful little migratory fish. Like salmon, they are anadromous, which means that their lifecycle spans both freshwater and saltwater. They spend their adult lives at sea, but when it’s time to spawn they migrate up to the freshwater streams where new generations are born.

Rainbow smelt, a favorite seasonal food here at Riven Joiner & the Homestead Store.
You can read more about smelt from the University of Maine.

During the run they are thick below the ice, and ice fishing shacks begin to dot the frozen surfaces of the rivers.

Downeast Salmon Federation headquarters in Columbia Falls, ME - ice shacks in background.
These shacks are on the Pleasant River at the Columbia Falls Town Landing.

Someday, we look forward to experiencing the joys of smelt-fishing ourselves. In the meantime, our friend delivers several bags of fresh smelt, and we clean them up and fry them up and freeze some for later, and enjoy all the wonderful beauty and deliciousness of this seasonal bounty.

They really are exceptionally beautiful fish, which makes the messy chore of cleaning more enjoyable.

Rainbow smelt, a favorite seasonal food here at Riven Joiner & the Homestead Store.
Rainbow smelt, a favorite seasonal food here at Riven Joiner & the Homestead Store.
Rainbow smelt, a favorite seasonal food here at Riven Joiner & the Homestead Store.

I am constantly amazed at the sparkling iridescence of their scales. Their green stripe is full of sunny glitter and fades into a shimmery line of lavender-and-rose. Their white underbellies gleam like pearl.

And would you believe, they actually have a silver lining on the inside as well? Every time I scoop out the guts and scrub the fish clean, I look at that shining silver layer, as thin as foil, and chuckle that even the innards are decorated.

And then it’s into the frying pan for dinner!

Fried smelt - on of our favorites at Riven Joiner & the Homestead Store!
Though they take a little time to clean, they are ridiculously easy to cook.
Fried smelt - on of our favorites at Riven Joiner & the Homestead Store!
Just coat with a little seasoned flour and pan-fry in hot oil until golden, about 2-3 minutes.

Smelt Season, of course, is soon followed by Maple Syrup season – but that’s a post for another time!

by Sydney Michalski

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