Our friend and bar manager John Myers and his family go smelting every year around his birthday in mid February. We gathered our extended restaurant family and joined in on the celebration.

 

 
 
 

FOR PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF MAINE, SMELT ARE THESE LITTLE FISH THAT, AT THEIR BIGGEST, RUN THE LENGTH OF YOUR HAND AND ARE MAYBE A QUARTER OF THE WIDTH.

They’re like sardines. Sort of. Don't say that to a Mainer, though…

Smelting is a form of ice fishing, it involves monitoring a fishing line that dangles into an icy slot in a river, while sitting in a shack, eating, drinking and bullshitting all day. Any smelt caught are icing on the cake.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

WE DID IT BIG, WITH CRATES OF BEER AND BROWN LIQUOR.

The crew splintered into smaller cells and huddled in scattered cabins, eating, drinking, joking and watching these strings lie maddeningly still in the water. The bobbers did not bob. We waited some more and we drank some more. We sang Happy Birthday to John and he opened a bottle of champagne with a saber to celebrate. Restaurant people armed with swords, on ice, with drink... What's the worst that could happen?

Darkness enveloped us early, which we welcomed with white bread and lobster grilled cheese roasted inside of an ancient potbelly stove. It had the feeling of a Cohen Brothers movie, stripped of menace. With meats and cheeses and whiskey and beer gone, we waited for those bobbers to move. Until they did, twice, I think. It's a tradition, we were told, to bite the head off of the first catch, the fisherman’s responsibility. Our sommelier, Bryan won that dubious honor. He paced and hyped himself up while everyone crammed into the tiny wooden shanty and cheered him on. He took the shot, grabbed the fish by the body and honored the tradition.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

With our total catch for the day amounting to two smelt, Bryan devoured about a quarter of our haul. No matter. We had each other, those iron contained fires, gallons of liquor and that night to call ours. After enough lobster grilled cheese, Allagash and whiskey, and play and talk and stories and all that, the catch is beside the point.