A GoPogy Smelting Experience to Remember

November 29th, 2011  |  Published in Fishing Stories

I did an earlier post on setting and achieving goals in my fishing game. Becoming a more successful and diverse angler is a direct result of expanding your techniques, fishing locations and targeted species. One of my top goals is to increase and broaden my list of catches. When you think about the number of possible saltwater species that exist just in New England alone, there is no reason this goal cannot be reached.

A popular species for New Englanders in the fall and winter is the shiny “Smelt”. To me, it looks like just a bait fish you hook to catch a more substantial fish. But to many, it is a delicacy they look forward to arriving each year. They’re fried little goodies you catch while sitting on buckets at the town dock while reminiscing about your fishing successes and failures of the year. So this was a must-have species for GoPogy.

When people ask me what I love about fishing, the first thing that comes to mind is the word “experience”. Each time we go fishing, whether it’s a destination trip, a run out to the harbor or just dropping a line at the dock, they’re always memorable experiences. Some filled with despair, most filled with hilarity, chaos of some sort and lots of laughter. The smelting experience was right up there in terms of hilarity. This one will forever be logged into my memory bank. The shiny smelt and the robust angler wrestling on the dock is a vivid picture that words just don’t seem to do justice. But I’ll give it a go.

Our experience started with a trip to Fore River Tackle for some live grass shrimp. The store was packed with avid smelters. The owner of the tackle store sent us out with frozen grass shrimp (all they had left), sabiki rigs size 6, and tips on rigging the teeny tiny bait. When we arrived home, the frozen shrimp went back into the freezer. When it was time to hit the docks, I was busy “layering up” for the winter temps when I smelled a foul odor permeating from the kitchen. I asked Fred what he was cooking for dinner and was prepared to tell him that I would have something else, when he quickly got up from his office chair, and ran to the kitchen. I could hear the microwave door fly open and the words “Oh Sh** coming out of the room. The smell was overwhelming. I went into the kitchen to find our little container of grass shrimp a very cooked container of grass shrimp. These little guys were hot pink and steaming. We looked at each other and began to laugh hysterically. Fred was trying to defrost them, but forgot he was doing so…and well…if smelt are attracted to stench, then we were gonna kill it.

We got to the dock and set up our buckets, rods and LED dock light. I’m not sure if ANY smelt angler has ever cooked their shrimp, but its toughness made it easy to rig on the teeny tiny sabiki hooks and pleasantly stayed on them despite the irritating silverside nibbles. The schools of fish began to appear and do continuous passes around the light. We put our lines, weighted with split shot sinkers, down just off the bottom and began to smoothly bounce our rods up and down. Typically the bigger smelt are underneath the schools of spearing, so that’s where we placed our lines. With every new species and new gear, it takes me a few misses before I know the feel of the fish and the proper way to securely hook and land it. After a few misses, I got my delivery, hook-up and landing down pat and started adding these guys to our empty 5 gallon bucket. Meanwhile, Fred is to my right with a rod under each arm bouncing and staring at me hoisting my smelts over the dock. I was out fishing him 10 to 1 and after a few hours, we only had about 23 in the bucket.

With our fingers frozen and faces red with wind burn, I told him I was going to call it after his next catch. He agreed. He pointed out a giant smelt that occasionally appeared at the top of the water swimming with the silversides. He declared this giant smelt to be his final catch. His determination was endearing. His eyes never left this smelt. His reflexes were quick. He made sure his bait was perfectly presented to this giant every time he appeared. After 20 minutes passed, I was beginning to think we were never going home. This smelt didn’t want the leather-tough shrimp that was practically hitting it in the head every pass he did. At this point I was wondering what the signs of hypothermia were. Then the spastic catch of this giant happened. “I got it, I got it” he yelled and in a single moment, Fred was heaving his line and behemoth smelt within inches of my head in one swoop over the dock. I couldn’t believe after all his mucking around that he had done it. I guess this smelt got so pissed off with this rig constantly bouncing in his face, that out of anger, he grabbed it. What happened next was like the scene from the Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston movie “The Bodyguard”. Our dock has spacing between each board. Enough spacing that a small bait fish could literally fall in-between the cracks and land back into the ocean. When Fred hoisted this guy over the dock, he had so much enthusiastic momentum going that it flew off the hook and hit the boards flailing. We could both see where this was going. He began to yell “No, No, No” and in that moment, I watched my robust fishing partner throw his body on top of the smelt like he was a bodyguard jumping on his client to take an intended bullet. I began to laugh so hysterically that I couldn’t breathe. I then gained some composure and said “Fred, I think you can get off of him now, you got him”. Fred peeled himself off the poor guy and lifted him over the bucket with a huge grin and de-hooked him. He then looked at me and said “Ok, we can go now”. We took some photos of his giant, measured him and headed home. He was 10 inches and one of the most memorable catches I have witnessed.

I belong to the Massachusetts Striped Bass Fishing club. This club has many old-salts who have been fishing for 40-50 years. As soon as I mentioned our “smelt” fishing to one of them, his eyes lit up. He began to ask me where we went, how he could get access to the dock and how many we caught. The excitement in his face was as if we were talking about giant bass or Bluefin tuna. I couldn’t understand why he was so excited until he told me when he was a little kid, he would go fishing with his father every winter and it was the most special time of his life and one he would love to recreate for that nostalgic feeling. Fishing is about the experience. No matter the species or outcome, it holds a special place in our hearts and memory banks. I will forever remember this experience and as a result, smelting will now be a part of our winter repertoire.

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