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Milking fish — a Guest Post by Bob

Fish and a chip off the old block

Until my brother in-law Dennis came to visit, we thought of the Oconto River as a recreational vehicle, transporting us via kayak, canoe, or inner tube from drop in point to cabin on frothy summer waves.

It formed a scenic, babbling backdrop to the view from our front porch swing.

Then Dennis arrived with his green lures and earthworms, license and reels, and we learned our charming river could be an excellent food source as well.

Dennis is a fisherman, the kind of guy who can land a small mouth bass, clean, filet, pan fry and serve it faster than you can say, “Hey, Mr. Grumpy Gills.”

He once fished an entire weekend with a wire hook embedded in his lower lip.

“It was a brand new hook so I knew it was clean,” he said. “It hurt a lot, but I got six beautiful trout that weekend, including the biggest Steelhead I’ve ever caught.”

This weekend, he and his son, our nephew Ryan, taught us a little something about how to eat food so fresh it melts in your mouth, and so delicious you want to chew anyway.

I took notes, but there’s no way we’ll be able to recreate that meal.

Norman McLean wrote in A River Runs Through It, “If our father had had his way, nobody who did not know how to fish would be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching him.”

Ryan and Dennis, two very skilled fishermen, honored their catch.

We’re grateful for every bite our family fishermen provided us, and for every moment they spent with us.


Dennis is the best kind of fisherman. He can spin a good yarn at the same time he untangles a 40-year old snarl of fishing lines in my dad’s old tackle box.

Dennis fishing

Here he is showing us all how it’s done on the river.

Ryan and his fish

Though, I have to be honest, Ryan caught the biggest fish.

Ryan fly fishing

Here is Ryan casting on the river. He picked up a wood tick or two, but he found an excellent spot.

Dennis with his catch

Dennis with a couple of his catch.

Dennis in action

Here is Dennis in action in the kitchen. Pan fried bass.

Donna, Vinnie, Sharon Ryan

My sister in-law Donna, Vinnie, my sister in-law Sharon, the family historian, and Ryan.

My plate

My plate. Be jealous. Be very jealous. That’s fresh, smoked (by Dennis) salmon, which he caught the day before in Lake Michigan, fruit salad, and the flakiest pan friend fish I’ve ever tasted.

I got smelt in Underhill

I got smelt in Underhill Friday night and I’ve been chuckling about it ever since.

A sleepy little town on a quiet curve of the Oconto River most of the year, Underhill comes alive during the annual smelt fry, a fundraiser for the Town of Underhill Fire Department that attracts smelt enthusiasts from all over Northeastern Wisconsin.

Though they look like bait to me, smelt are actually a very healthy, tiny little fish, full of those good Omega 3 fats you read so much about.

In Underhill, they serve them dusted with flour and deep fried. For $10, you get a plate full of all-you-can-eat smelt, homemade potato salad, coleslaw, tartar sauce, baked beans, pickles and cheese curds.

A veteran told me smelt tasted like deep fried salmon, so I gave it a whirl.

Turns out that veteran was wrong and I probably won’t be tasting smelt again.

But, everyone else genuinely loved the food. People of all ages filled the tables, and lines snaked around the inside of the fire station and out the door.

Lucky paddle raffle winners also took home frozen meat, fresh cheese and gift cards to local businesses. With lucky number eight, I won a T-shirt that made me laugh, but which I’ll never wear in public, and a $20 gift card to the local nursery.

Though I’m not a huge fan of smelt, I did love the Underhill Smelt fry. It celebrated all of Wisconsin’s greatest resources — fish, cheese, meat, beer, and friendly people.

Best of all, it raised funds for the volunteer fire department.

Thank you to the Town of Underhill Fire Department, for the annual hospitality and the year-round dedication.

May God bless you all.

Downtown UnderHill

Downtown Underhill was hopping during the annual Smelt Fry Friday night.

Smelt boys

Most of the guys in this group have been going to the Smelt Fry for 20 years or more. Vince began tagging along a few years ago.

Underhill Fire Dept.

The line for food stretched outside the door and across the parking lot when we arrived.

Full house

Inside, the tables were crammed with people.

Little Boy

The event appealed the people of all ages.

Smeltfest Assemblyline

The fire fighters and their families took care of the cooking.

Smeltfest chefs (2)

It’s hard work, but they all seemed to be having a great time.

Smeltfest chefs

Fire fighters are a social bunch.

Clean plate club

I took this picture for two reasons: 1) I thought it was charming that some little person had thought to class up the joint with the first dandelion bouquet of the season. 2) Look how clean those plates are! People love smelt.


Here’s what a tub of fried smelt looks like. I thought they looked a little like deep fried zucchini.

Smelt plate

A typical smelt fry plate, minus the cheese curds.

Smeltfest proud wife

Firefighters’ spouses pitched in as well.

Paddle Auction

I scored big in the paddle raffle, thanks to the number 8, my mother in-law’s favorite number.

We got smelt

Vince and I got smelt in Underhill. He enjoyed the cuisine, I enjoyed the company.

Underhill Fire Department

Thanks for the hospitality, Underhill Fire Department, and may God bless you and your fellow fire fighters.

Call us Ishmael