Dick Pinney's Guide Lines: Yummy smelt and the case of the empty cansBy DICK PINNEY January 14. 2018 3:05AM
Last night's meal at the supper table had nine freshly caught Great Bay smelt as the focal point! These fish were recently caught by my grandson, Nate Griffin. I'm taking the credit for inoculating him with the hunting and fishing bug!
He caught the smelt before this recent thaw, fishing off the ice that had thickened enough to support some limited ice fishing. It was mostly off the Greenland/Newington shoreline, which couldn't have been any better. That's where the good ice usually forms and provides some good access to the bay and adequate vehicle parking.
The smelt were large. The females are larger than the males and they were full of an egg sack that made them look ever bigger.
Being brought up almost on the shore of Great Bay, wife Jane needed no instructions on how to fry 'em up! Her late dad was quite the outdoorsman and no stranger to all the goodies that the bay had to offer.
Maybe we're a bit prejudiced in favor of the saltwater smelts compared with their freshwater cousins, but we don't think that the freshwater fish can hold a candle to the flavor of the larger saltwater smelt.
We could probably write a book about our experiences out on the ice at the bay, but we won't. But there are some things that happened, often pretty comical.
As a young New Hampshire Conservation officer stationed along the coast, it was part of my duties to patrol Great Bay. And this was pretty much a full-time, four-season occupation as there was the ice fishing in the winter, excellent open water (especially for white perch and striped bass) as well as some all-year-long opportunities to harvest shellfish.
One time out on the ice on foot patrol, we quietly snuck up alongside a fishing "shanty," where there was a lot of, we'll call it garbage, scattered around the shanty. We didn't have to wait too long crouched down behind a nearby shanty to observe an empty beer can being tossed out of that garbage pile.
Very quietly, we stepped over to the door of that shanty and waited until another one was tossed out, which gave me a great opportunity to grab the violator's hand and arm. I thought the guy was going to pass out from the surprise.
He was so shaken up that I kind of had to support him with my free hand to keep him from falling over! And then to beat it all, he tried to deny he had anything to do with all that garbage.
That turned out to be his downfall. He didn't have a fishing license on his person but said that he had just purchased one the previous day at a local corner market. For some reason there was no doubt in my mind that he was lying to me but we didn't make an issue out of it. Calling my good friend at the market, he checked with the staff there and they checked their records and there had been no license purchased there. So we paid another visit to that ice shanty and invited the perpetrator outside to not embarrass him to his two friends inside. Stepping out of earshot, we told him about our phone call. "There must be some kind of a mistake!" he offered. But when we told him the name of the clerk that had supposedly made out his license, he admitted to the lie.
"Before we made the call, we were satisfied to just summons you to court for your part in all this rubbish out on the ice," we told him. "But now you've just given me the excuse to put you under arrest and to seize your gear." That brought a lot of apologies from my newly-made best friend!
"All's well that ends well" is one of my favorite sayings. Offering an option of policing all the visible garbage on the ice in the area, he readily agreed. As was my habit, there just happened to be several large black plastic bags in my cruiser. And my new best friend was very happy to do the clean-up and pledge to me that he'd never lie again about having a license because he was going to purchase a lifetime license as part of his penance! It seemed like a pretty good bet for me to accept his offer.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.