It seems that in following the signs posted by this early and erratic spring, I took a wrong turn somewhere. Consequently, I’ve yet to dip a mess of smelts to go with a mound of fiddleheads.
Actually, I find that hard to believe because when shags (cormorants) showed up on the Penobscot in mid-April, usually signaling the start of the smelt run, I showed up the next night with net and bucket in hand.
Surprisingly, though, my trips to the familiar but increasingly steeper “smelt rocks” buttressing the South Brewer shore were unproductive. So I began fishing for answers as to why the shags were on time but the smelts were late.
Roosting in trees atop piers, the birds were silhouetted against the glow of lights from Cianbro Corporation’s module-manufacturing facility. Thus prompting me to wonder if the dredging necessary to accommodate barges used in Cianbro’s shipping operations resulted in smelts giving the South Brewer shore a wider berth.
Or did the fish run early, before the shags returned from their southern wintering grounds? If so, were the voracious waterfowl following a vanguard of alewives?
A few days later, elver fishermen at Souadabscook Stream in Hampden told me the tidal pool was stiff with alewives. The herring-like fish usually don’t arrive until the first week in May.
On my first trip to the smelt rocks I was lonelier than Lindbergh, but on subsequent outings I met several kindred spirits, each of whom had yet to dip a smelt. One thought the fish hadn’t run yet. Another said he’d heard that smelters did “pretty good” beneath the railroad bridge a week or so earlier. And one told of seeing smelt-size fish leaping from the river to escape bigger fish, which he assumed were stripers.
Too early for stripers, I thought. Must’ve been kelts (post-spawn Atlantic salmon returning to sea) driving those smaller fish.
On the other hand, though, things are so out of sync this spring, they could have been stripers that took a wrong turn somewhere.
Tom Hennessey’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org