Claudia Myers column: When smelt run free, it must be spring

People will come with coolers and kindling and long-handled nets, wearing their hip boots and winter woolies, checking to make sure they remembered to bring the beer.

A fisherman dips a net into Lake Superior while trying to catch smelt April 17, 2021, at the mouth of the Lester River in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

As I write this, today is the first day of spring, March 20. But it's not the real spring. Soon, there will be a notice in the paper that the smelt are running. That's the real beginning of spring. 

The appearance of the tiny silver wiggly fishlets in the mouths of the rivers, waiting to be scooped up and devoured, is the positive signal that we made it through another winter and summer is, indeed, a distinct probability. 

Claudia Myers.jpg
Claudia Myers

People will come with coolers and kindling and long-handled nets, wearing their hip boots and winter woolies, checking to make sure they remembered to bring the beer. They'll wade carefully into the rushing waters of the Lester, the French and Talmadge rivers, all around the North Shore, and emerge with their nets alive with silver squirminess. Dinner is served!

The 10th annual "Run, Smelt, Run!" returned to Duluth's Canal Park with a lot of fanfare.

The first "saltie," or "ocean-goer," is due to leave the harbor any time now, moving majestically under the raised lift bridge, floating like a bride down the aisle. Out into Lake Superior through the newly opened locks and then to the Atlantic it goes, carrying its cargo of wheat to the other side of the globe.

Local people place bets and make wagers on when the first ship of the spring season will leave Duluth harbor. Which ship, what is it carrying, where is it going? Sort of like the first baby of the New Year.


Resko was the first ocean-going vessel to reach Duluth in 2022, on April 13.

If you're in my area, where we have record snowfalls and windchill, before the cold weather set in, last fall, you made sure your car was in good running order and had food and safety provisions in it, most important being a good supply of chocolate bars. This is in case you slide off a snow-slippery road and wind up in the ditch, where you wait for the tow truck, with no one but Baby Ruth or Mr. Butterfinger  for company. 

In March, when you are reasonably sure that winter is over and spring is coming, you can celebrate the news of the smelt run by pretending you are sitting on a bench, on a lovely 70-degree day, listening to the waves on Lake Superior, while you gobble up all the leftover lifesaving chocolate bars from your car.

Snowstorms in Minnesota have a certain regularity about them, but they don't occur on the first day of winter nor do they stop happening the first day of spring. The first blizzard is usually a day or so before or on the day of Halloween, making it necessary to shovel your walkway and front porch so the Halloweeners can get to your door. Our kids almost always wore snowsuits over their costumes and had to unbutton to show that they were Donald Duck or a Power Ranger. 

But there's still plenty of ice in the harbors.

Then, almost like a prearranged appointment on the calendar, the last snowstorm takes place during the boys basketball tournaments held in March in the Cities. It snows Saturday night when the winning half of the good parents and fans have been celebrating. It melts the next day, but the snow causes some angst among the parents who are fuzzy about driving directions there, anyway. Especially when they are toting a van-load of over-excited teenagers who just watched their school team win state. Whoa!

The basketball tournaments are over now, and soon, it will be time to give my dahlia tubers a head start and plant them in pots of soil, which I will put out in my husband's pottery shop. There they will sit, hunkered down under his tables on the heated cement floor, perking away, fooled into thinking, "It must be spring! It's so nice and warm here!" 

I am in awe of those of you who successfully start seeds and wind up with actual green, leafy plants instead of the moldy, spindly things I prefer to cultivate. My failures never seem to stop me from buying the tempting seed packets, though. I know I'm not any good at starting seeds! Why do I keep doing it? Same reason Charlie Brown keeps running at Lucy holding the football, I guess. We just think, "One of these times, it's going to work.”

Retired teacher Larry Weber, of Barnum, is the author of “Butterflies of the North Woods" and “Spiders of the North Woods," among other books. Reach him via Katie Rohman at

Most people think of the "first robin" as the harbinger of spring, but in our yard it is the very large and talkative crows that announce the season change. They come, every year, to nest in the tip-tops of the red pines, where they set up a constant loud conversation about whatever it is that interests crows.

Maybe they are wondering and making derogatory comments about my husband who, before the snow has hardly melted, makes the rounds below them, with his 5-gallon spackle pail and old barbecue tongs, picking up the dog droppings.


Now that’s a true sign of spring!

Claudia Myers is a former costume designer for The Baltimore Opera, Minnesota Ballet and has taught design and construction at the College of St. Scholastica. She is a national award-winning quilter, author and a local antique dealer, specializing in Persian rugs.

Claudia Myers is retired from costume design and construction for The Baltimore Opera and the Minnesota Ballet. She is a national award-winning quilter, author and local antique dealer, specializing in Persian rugs. Her book, "The Storyteller," is available at and at Father Time Antiques in Duluth's Canal Park.
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