My dad and I shared a time-honored adventure chasing tiny fish for huge enjoyment

By Sarah Sindo

I remember the first time I went smelting. I admit, it was more of a high school social outing than a fishing adventure as I didn’t bother getting a license to actually dip for the smelts. Nonetheless, it was fun, and I somehow returned home to tell my parents, “I bit the head off a smelt!” Shocking or not, I think the first-timer ritual still holds true today. 

Late April is the time of year I return north in preparation to shift jobs. I spent a couple of nights at my parents house in Millinocket, and my dad, Pete Sindo, and I had both recently heard from friends in town that the smelts were running.

“We should go,” we said to each other. 

I decided to stay with them another night, and dad and I gathered what we would need for our evening adventure. First and foremost, I purchased a fishing license. We grabbed a couple of one-quart freezer bags from the kitchen cupboard as well as a small blue bucket and a dipping net. How simple is that, I remember thinking. 

Photo courtesy of Pete Sindo
SMELTING OUTING — Bangor Daily News Outdoors contributor Sarah Sindo sits atop a rock in the Penobscot River during a recent smelting outing with her dad near Millinocket.

Mud boots and gloves were pulled from the closet and flashlights were checked. “I think we’re ready!” I said. 

We turned off the smooth pavement onto the rough Golden Road, and shortly after, backed into a spot alongside other trucks.

My mom and I always refer to my dad as a social butterfly so not surprisingly, he immediately recognized someone upon exiting the truck. As I gathered our supplies, he grabbed the dipping net from the bed of the truck and walked over to get the latest fishing update from them.

The four of us were soon walking on the path that parallels the West Branch of the Penobscot River, heading downstream. 

We passed someone on their way out. I felt slightly confused as it was 6:30 p.m. 

“How is it?” I asked. 

“I got my limit, heading home!”, the gentleman shared.

Wow, I thought, maybe we won’t be here all night. 

After walking for about 10 minutes, we started to look for a spot. As you might imagine, there’s some thought that goes into this. Any way that you can get yourself a bit farther out into the water, the better. Whether that means hopping rocks or testing your balance on a downed tree, you get creative. 

My boots weren’t super high, so I settled on some large rocks that were close to shore but still offered a way for me to get the net out farther into the river. 

And there I sat on a big rock, slowly dipping the six-foot-long net into the water, skimming the bottom and coming up empty.

“It’s early, Sarah,” my dad offered. 

An adult and a middle school-aged kid were just upriver from us, and all of a sudden, one of them raised their net from the water and it was weighed down with a hefty amount of tiny dark, silvery smelts. Oh, the excitement! 

I got back to it. I started to pay attention to the water around me, noticing the contrast in colors around rocks and the space that was free of rocks. 

I saw something silver swim by. I dipped the net and brought up a single smelt. Nothing like precision to get things started.

Some folks approached from the trail behind us and asked how things were going. 

“Great, the smelts are running,” I excitedly said.

My dad and someone else near us immediately hushed me. I guess I broke the one rule in fishing: don’t offer up the goods. 

In one quick forward sweep of the net, I felt the weight and knew I had my limit. I swung around, my dad grabbed the net, flipped it over into the blue bucket, and then transferred the smelts into the quart-sized bag. 

It was his turn. A similar scenario played out for him. 

It was dusk. We returned to the footpath and made our way back toward the truck. After stopping to check in with the game warden, we were on our way back to town. It was an early night, in terms of dipping for smelts, and we were happy.

It was a memorable pastime to share with my dad. I love when you can get together with someone and the outing conjures up memories and stories from the past. The nostalgia brings you right back and possibly evokes details you may not have thought about for some time. 

The smelt run is now over for another year, but come next April, many will flock to certain rivers and brooks in Maine in search of the tiny fish that offers big excitement.

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