Ice & Smelt

by Catherine Schmitt

I haven’t yet been smelt fishing this year, but now that it seems cold enough for the rivers to actually freeze, I’m getting anxious. Rainbow smelt are a native, sea-run species that are good to eat (the fresher the better) and fun to catch–at night, in a shack suspended above a frozen tidal river, warmed by a rusty wood stove and whatever you may have brought to drink. You can find cleaned smelts in fish markets and some grocery stores this time of year, but why not catch your own?

This weekend is the Ice & Smelt festival in Bowdoinham, kicking off the town’s 250th anniversary celebration. The festival will include a reception and opening on February 3, 5:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. at the Merrymeeting Arts Center to open the show “Ice Cutting and Smelt Fishing on Merrymeeting Bay” with work by local artists and a reading of “Smelt Makes Ice” by local artist Bryce Muir, from his book “Local Myths.” There will be a dance following the reception, at the Bowdoinham Town Hall. On February 4, a full day of events includes a Carnivale of Smelt, a costumed parade staged by the Ziggarut Theater Ensemble, games, and contests, including a Best Beard Contest with multiple categories.

So, if you’re not doing anything, head on down to Merrymeeting Bay to celebrate the smelt, and then rent a smelt camp for the night and catch your breakfast while taking part in Maine’s fisheries heritage.