Finally, Smelt

This post is a little behind schedule. I have been ridiculously busy at work and running all over the place when I am not at work and just haven't had any time to write.This post should have been up at the end of April. Even as I am writing this post I just finished packing to head out after work tonight for four days on Leech Lake fishing. So forgive me for the tardiness and try to imagine it is the end of April as you read this. 

I have been trying to catch smelt on and off for about 10 years now with no success. In fact my most successful smelting excursion was a number of years ago and netted me 7 smelt, It was pathetic. My sister-in-law Thia, has family that lives in Duluth, MN and they have talked about smelting and having a good amount of success so I put a bug in Thia's ear to let her family know that if they would be willing to take me out I would be very interested. At the end of April I got a call from Thia, her step dad had been out and if I was available he would be willing to take me out. I hopped in the car on my next day off and headed up to Duluth in hopes of finally getting some smelt. 

I arrived at Tim and Jackie's about 6 in the evening and we mapped out our strategy for netting some smelt. The first thing we needed to do was head out to the bar and eat pizza and drink beer and shots until it was time to go to the spot where we were going to net smelt. We got to our designated smelting area around 1030 at night and the picture above is an accurate portrayal of how I felt when we got there. 

We were going to be using a 28 foot seine net to try and catch the smelt and our first few passes into the lake resulted in nothing. We tried that spot a few more times with the same result so we decided to move. The next spot brought more of the same and then on our third or fourth pass we finally got some smelt. there were 9 or 10 smelt in the net and in one pass I had broken my personal best. We got a little excited by our success and headed out with the net again adding a couple more smelt. Then the nets went dry and there was nothing. I don't know what changed but we were pulling empty nets again. We took a break and had a much needed beer and a shot and then Tim suggested we try walking out without turning our head lamps on. That next pass was amazing, we netted several dozen smelt. It seemed we had figured out what we were doing wrong and over the next hour we manages to fill a five gallon bucket. That might not seem like much but it was more than I had ever seen and was the perfect amount for me.

Now, a five gallon bucket doesn't seem like much but trust me about 2 hours into cleaning them all you start to wonder why you kept that many. You don't have to clean them and there are some that fry them whole but I am not one of those people. I cut the heads and guts out of all those smelt and ended up with 3 one gallon freezer bags full of smelt. 

When I fry smelt I don't like to over batter them but I want them to have a crisp outer shell. When I made one of Hank Shaw's recipes for General Tso's Pheasant I really like the way the marinade left the pheasant with a light crisp exterior without being overly breaded. So i adapted it to my smelt batter. It leaves the smelt crisp on the outside tender on the inside and perfectly cooked. 

Fried Smelt with a Sriracha Lime dipping sauce

1 lbs smelt
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce

Mix the yolks, corn starch and sauces in a bowl with a whisk and then add the smelt, toss to coat and allow to sit for at 30 minutes. Right before you fry your smelt stir them around the batter one more time and then fry them in canola oil at 375 for about 4-5 minutes. This should be enough time to get a nice crisp layer on the outside and to soften the bones inside. I would sample one before adding any salt as the soy and fish sauce both a have a good amount of salt in them. Serve with a Sriracha lime dipping sauce.

For the Dipping sauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise
juice and zest of one lime
one clove of garlic minced
1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika
2 tablespoons of Sriracha

Combine all the ingredients and let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes before using.