Smelt fishermen get expanded access to Milwaukee Harbor under the Hoan Bridge

Smelt fishermen will be able to tend to their nets until midnight this spring at a traditional location in Port Milwaukee, according to a plan announced last week by Port Milwaukee officials.

For security reasons, the popular fusion area under Hoan Bridge is usually closed to the public from 8:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m.

The ordinance has, however, encroached on foundries, which often have their best action after dark.

For example, members of the Milwaukee Chapter of the Great Lakes Sport Fishermen have raised concerns about daily closing times with Port Milwaukee officials, the Department of Natural Resources and local elected officials.

The 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. public access restriction has been in code since 1993 but rarely enforced, said Milwaukee GLSF member Brian Haydin.

The GLSF has expressed a desire to provide smelters with additional time each night at the Port Milwaukee site under the Hoan Bridge.

Discussions between the club, Milwaukee Ald. Marina Dimitrijevic and Port Milwaukee manager Adam Tindall-Schlicht paid off last week.

Opening hours of the melting zone extended to the public

Tindall-Schlicht announced on Tuesday that, effective immediately, public access in the area would be extended to midnight daily.

The change will be in effect until April 22 to coincide with peak merge season.

“Port Milwaukee constantly strives to maintain a high degree of safety, vigilance and compliance with safety requirements for its business operations, while providing residents with as much public access to the waterfront as possible under local laws. , state and federal,” Tindall-Schlicht said in a statement. “We hope members of the public can safely enjoy this year’s smelt race.”

A port security officer will be on hand to ensure all safety and security measures are followed by members of the public, Tindall-Schlicht said.

The site will remain closed daily from midnight to 3 a.m.

Dimitrijevic, who represents Milwaukee’s 14th District which includes the port, recognized casting as a long-standing outdoor tradition in Bay View as well as the state.

“I appreciate the flexibility shown by Harbor staff and the Board of Harbor Commissioners in hosting the 2022 Smelt Race while keeping residents and families safe during this fun fishing season,” said Dimitrijevic.

A rainbow smelt, prized by generations of Lake Michigan gillnetters, hangs along the edge of the Milwaukee lake during a smelter trip on April 8, 2017.

What is smelt and the history of fish in Wisconsin?

Smelt are native to the Atlantic Ocean and have been introduced to inland waters in the Midwest. Attempts to bring smelt to the upper Great Lakes date back to 1906, but the current strain is generally believed to have spread from the 1912 storage of 16.4 million smelts at Crystal Lake, Michigan, according to “Fishes of Wisconsin” by George C. Becker.

Smelt were first caught in Lake Michigan near Frankfort, Michigan in 1923 and a year later had crossed the lake to Big Bay de Noc. In 1928, smelts were caught in gillnets near Little Sturgeon Bay in Door County. By 1930, the fish had reached Manitowoc, Port Washington and Racine, according to Becker.

The species has been a favorite of dip net anglers and diners in Lake Michigan communities for generations. It comes close to shore to spawn in the spring; its numbers usually peak near the shore in late March and April.

Smelt spawning begins when the water temperature reaches 40 degrees or higher, according to Becker.

Although smelt numbers have declined in Lake Michigan in recent decades, the fish still attract lakeside dip-net anglers each spring.

Kurt Bregar, 49, of Milwaukee is a GLSF member who has been melting along Lake Milwaukee since he was 5 years old.

He can only recall one instance where smelters were asked to vacate the Port Milwaukee property at 8 p.m. It was 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bregar said.

“It’s good to know we can stay until midnight,” Bregar said. “All the years I’ve done it, foundries have never caused any problems.”

In 2017, 120 people gathered for a Saturday night outing under the Hoan Bridge dubbed “Smeltfest”.

Members of the public are reminded that all tents, trash and other fishing-related equipment must be removed nightly from under Hoan Bridge.

Port Milwaukee is an economic entity of city government governed by the seven-member Board of Harbor Commissioners, a group appointed by the Mayor of Milwaukee and confirmed by the City Council.

It administers operations on the 467 acres that make up the Port. It promotes navigation and trade throughout the region by providing access to national and international ships, rail and road transport.

To view the Port Milwaukee Public Access Rules, visit

About Marc Womack

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