One of the last fish species to finish the Fishes of Missouri photo project has been the Rainbow Smelt. This species is a northern relic, historically residing in oceans along the far Northeast and Northwest coasts where it migrates up freshwater rivers to spawn. They can also maintain vaiable populations landlocked in freshwater. During the early 1900’s, a large lake in Michigan with direct access to Lake Michigan was stocked with Rainbow Smelt, along with several reservoirs in the Dakota’s on the Missouri River. Coincidentally, this species now occurs in all the Great Lakes and up and down the Missouri River. Unfortunately for Bob Hrabik and I, Rainbow Smelt are only sporadically found in Missouri. To guarantee a stellar photograph, we would have to find them elsewhere.
Within the Great Lakes, smelt are considered a seasonal delicacy – fries with eyes. They can be caught by the hundreds through the ice. Smelt can also be netted by the thousands for several days shortly after ice off while making mass migrations from the lake up flowing streams to breed. Since Bob and I could not guarantee being available for the short window these smelt runs occur, we opted to find someone to take us ice fishing.
That’s when Bob found Scott Braden. Scott offered to put us on fish in Lake Superior. Bob and I took him up on it.
These last images have not seemed to come easy on the schedule. I somehow managed to be covering night shift at the time, on a twelve hour shift. Bob was traveling from SE Missouri and picked me up in the morning as I got off work in Decatur. We then burned the day driving to extreme northern Wisconsin. Come evening, we ate in Haywood, WI at the Angry Minnow (how about that for a fitting name?) and crashed for the night. We met up with Scott the next morning at 5:30am and set out for the lake. Scott came prepared with snow mobiles, portable ice shanties, heaters, Vexlar units, and fishing equipment for all. After a fair drive out on the ice covered lake, he quickly put us on fish and setup shop. We caught Lake Whitefish, Cisco, Smallmouth Bass, Yellow Perch, Spottail Shiners, and our target, Rainbow Smelt. We caught smelt by the bucketful. I had ample specimens to choose from for the perfect image. I even had the convenience of an ice shanty to photograph in!