"Man, this weather makes me want to go smelting."
The young man sitting in the shotgun seat of my taxi was speaking to his friends in the back, two girls and a guy. We were on the way to a North Union apartment that belonged to one of the girls. The weather he was referring to was the ice/sleet/freezing rain/snow of the preceding 24 hours. You know you're sitting with a New Englander when these conditions turn him on.
"You're not kidding Jason," came from the other young man sitting behind us. "I'd love to go ice fishing tomorrow."
"I'm not talking about ice fishing Matt," Jason said, pivoting in his seat to set straight his confused chum. "I'm talking about smelting, dude."
This was too juicy for me to stay out of it. "What's smelt, exactly?" I asked. "Those are, like, those little fish, right? They fish for those on Lake Champlain? Are they tasty?"
Jason said, "Well, I'm from Maine, and that's where I've done my smelting. And you don't eat smelt. You, like, freeze 'em for bait in the summer. Maybe some folks eat them, but they don't taste very good."
"Do you live on one of those big Maine lakes or ponds?"
"Nope, I live on a river." From the relish in his voice, it was clear that, if this wasn't Jason's favorite subject, it was definitely in the top three. "I grew up in Brunswick, right on the coast, not five minutes from the Atlantic. We would go smelting on the Androscoggin River which flows right through town where it meets up with the ocean."
"So, is smelting like the ice fishing in Vermont? I mean, same technique, with the shanties and the ice holes, all of that business?"
"Well, on the Androscoggin, we cut troughs, maybe five feet long - not holes. And we put in about five or so lines. Yeah, and it's not shanties. We put up these cabins, maybe ten-by-ten feet."
"Ten-by-ten feet!" Matt in the back couldn't hold back. "What's that? Ice fishing for Donald Trump? In Vermont it's more like four-by-four. Jeez."
"I'll ignore that," Jason continued, laughing at his buddy's out-of-proportion vehemence. "Anyway, another thing is the tradition with the first catch."
Just at that moment, one of the girls had me stop in front of her place. As they pooled money for the fare, I said to Jason, "OK, I'll bite. What happens with the first catch?"
Jason replied, "Whoever brings up the first smelt has to bite its head off."
"All righty, then," I said. "That's lovely. Does he have to eat it, too?"
"Nope, just bite it off. Like I said, smelt don't taste real good."