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Boreal Community Media

The Green Door in Beaver Bay hosts historic all-you-can-eat smelt fry

May 19, 2023 10:34AM ● By Content Editor
Photo: Baptism River BBQ Facebook page

By Laura Durenberger-Grunow - Boreal Community Media - May 11, 2023

Imagine it’s the 1950s - 1970s along the north shore. It’s spring, and thousands of rainbow smelt are flocking local waterways. 

This was the smelting heyday - a time when people would gather at night along north shore rivers at night, and scoop buckets and buckets of fish to take home, clean, and fry. Because the fish numbers were so high during this time, people could get 50+ gallons in a short matter of time. 

It wasn’t always that way.

Rainbow smelt are a small, silver fish that typically can be found in oceans - their native habitat. However, like some ocean creatures, smelt can survive in salt and freshwater bodies. 

The fish was accidentally introduced to the great lakes in 1912 when they escaped from an inland lake in Michigan where they had been stocked as forage fish, according to the Minnesota DNR. 

It wasn’t until 1946 that smelt was first discovered in Lake Superior. 

The boom in population occurred over the next few decades thanks to another invasive species, the sea lamprey. 

Smelt are a primary food source for native lake trout which, unfortunately, were targeted by sea lamprey. By the time smelt reached Lake Superior, there weren’t a lot of natural predators, and their population exploded. 

Fast forward a few more decades: the sea lamprey populations have dramatically decreased and efforts to boost native lake trout have increased. As for the smelt? Definitely still present, but nothing compared to the numbers of years past. 

And while that time of smelt abundance is no longer a reality, there are still places you can find a good old-fashioned smelt fry - an all-you-can-eat one if you’re lucky. 

Locally, one of those places is the Green Door in Beaver Bay

 The Green Door Facebook page

Since 1958 - as marked by an engraving on the bar - the Green Door has held an all-you-can-eat fish fry. 

Dan Cahill, Event and Food Coordinator, shared that “There are photos at The Green Door showing the Fire Department volunteers cleaning smelt (pulling off the head and removing the intestines) in a huge tub and preparing for the Smelt Fry.”

The fish are small, and the prep takes a lot of work. 

 Baptism River BBQ Facebook page

After cleaning the fish, they’re dipped in batter using The Green Door’s original recipe from 1958, then fried to golden perfection. 

While enjoying the sweet-tasting fish after a long winter is enjoyable enough, Cahill added that it’s also very much about community. 

“It's always been a big community event for people to get out and see each other after the long winter, and smelting has served as an important food source for homesteaders and harvesters on the North Shore,” he said. 

“I've heard stories about huge community bonfires on the beach and folks filling up 55-gallon drums of smelt in just a few dips of the net. The process to clean all that smelt though? Well, that's another story.”

 Baptism River BBQ Facebook page

Tickets for the May 20, all-you-can-eat historic Green Door fish fry, are available and sold for $10 at the Green Door in Beaver Bay, Timber Coffee in Silver Bay, and Finland Co-op. If extra tickets are available, they will be available on the day of the event at the Green Door (but don’t count on it - they usually sell out). 

(Note: tickets are not required to attend the event, only for the all-you-can-eat smelt.)

The ticket will get you:

  • a basket of fried smelt (using the original recipe started in 1958) with tartar sauce - along with a wristband for all-you-can-eat smelt
  • coleslaw
  • potato chips
  • tartar sauce
  • a carton of orange drink

Cahill shared that “There will also be ‘The 5th Annual Outdoor Sports Expo’ from 10:00am - 5:00pm, where raffles and auctions will raise funds for William Kelly School Trap and Golf programs."

A bounce house and obstacle course for kids will be available, as well as live music, outdoor games, and Knob Creek samples for adults 21+. Baptism River BBQ will be on site from 4:00pm - 7:00pm. 

There will be designated parking throughout Beaver Bay with rides provided by Silver Bay Shuttle Service and a drop-off zone for accessible access. 

To learn more, visit the event page here.  

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