This 1940 linen postcard shows Paul Bunyan and Sourdough Sam with Paul's Smelt Fryin Pan at the Escanaba Smelt Jamboree.
Smelt are small slender fish with silvery bellies. Smelt ascend tributary streams from the Great Lakes to spawn. Nets are used to dip the smelt from the streams. A 1941 release from the Department of Interior Fish and Wildlife Service describes the smelt as "one of the most delicious of pan fishes, the flesh being lean and sweet with a particularly delicate flavor."
Escanaba's first Smelt Jamboree was in 1935. Time Magazine had an April 18, 1938 article "Smelt v. Tourists" describing the fourth Escanaba Smelt Jamboree. Twenty thousand tourists reportedly attended. Events included a Smeltiana comic opera, coronation of a a Smelt King and Queen, banquets, smelt-eating contests, a parade, and bonfire.
Large smelt runs appear to be a thing of the past. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has current information on "Smelt Dipping Opportunities." The smelt dipping season is mid-April to early May, depending on temperatures and location.