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Great Lakes Article:

Smelt run speeds up
Harvesters start netting tiny fish

The Lake Superior smelt run took its first tentative steps the past few days.

Sivertson Fisheries in Superior has hauled up a few hundred pounds of the sleek little fish since Monday.

"It's the early part of the run,'' Stuart Sivertson said. "It's mostly males we're seeing now. Today (Wednesday) we got about 1,400 pounds.''

When the run is going well, Sivertson Fisheries has netted as many as 15,000 pounds in a day.

The fish, cigar-sized or smaller, swim up Lake Superior tributaries and into the shallows along Minnesota Point to spawn. Spawning begins in earnest when stream temperatures remain at least in the mid-40s overnight, said Don Schreiner, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Lake Superior area fisheries supervisor. Stream temperatures are well below that now.

Once a rite of spring, the smelt run has diminished since the heyday of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The run used to draw people from all over the Midwest, who used dip-nets or seines to fill garbage pails and buckets with the delectable little swimmers. Smelt numbers have dropped significantly, and the phenomenon doesn't draw nearly the crowds it once did.

"We'd expect to see what we've seen the past 10 years or so,'' Schreiner said of this year's run. "That means a decrease in both the length of time -- three or four days is what you'd expect -- and space. You see them in streams from Duluth up to Gooseberry, maybe a few in the Cascade (near Lutsen), but nothing to speak of.''

The run used to begin along Minnesota Point and swing around to Duluth and then up the North Shore to the Canadian border. It would last a week and a half.

Smelt harvesters can still expect to find some smelt along the Minnesota Point Beach, Schreiner said. Some smelt fishers likely will be out this weekend along the point and in Duluth-area streams, he said.

"I'm guessing it will peak toward the end of next week,'' Sivertson said.

Smelt harvesters are reminded that they must have fishing licenses to take smelt.

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