Lake Superior Smelt Run

If you’re old enough to remember the old days of the smelt run, it was a wild event on the North Shore rivers and streams on Superior. People came from near and far to fill their containers, sometimes as large as 55 gallons, and stock tanks. Bonfires, beer drinking and falling in the river were commonplace. The smelters filled their containers and returned home, leaving a mess to alienate residents near the carnage.

Many community smelt fries became an annual tradition. When the smelt population reached its peak in the early ‘70s, massive die-offs occurred, leaving the beaches covered with the rotting smelt.   Then came the stocking of lake trout and salmon.

The fish population thrived on the abundant supply of baitfish to grow and reproduce. Soon the smelt population began to shrink, along with the smelters, as there were few left of this species to be found. The population was brought down to a realistic, sustainable level.

Smelting today has become more of a sport than a harvest. The smelt still run and can be caught in good numbers if you know when and where to fish. With the advent of the internet a new tool has also emerged: the forum. Search online for “Smelt fishing lake superior” and your fishing forums can be found.

I used to try to report on the smelt run myself, but one person cannot check out multiple locations every night. The site is moderated by Dave Nordberg (Domino Daves), son of the legendary Dr. Ken Nordberg who writes on deer hunting for MidWest Outdoors. Dave has made the forum the go-to place for any aspiring smelter. He not only instructs new people on the methods and equipment, but also helps people come together to make seining crews. The forum attracts over 700 visitors a day, seeking news of runs taking place in real time.

Commercial fishing for smelt was terminated in Duluth in 2016, but there are a few outlets on the south shore areas that still provide smelt for traditional smelt fries. So, if you want to harvest some of these tasty fish, go get your smelt information online now.