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     At the time of year when most anglers hang up their rods, store their gear and warm the easy chair next to the fireplace Rainbow Smelt offer an opportunity for action!

Visit my Smelt Fishing Information page for a list of smelt shack facilities along with directions to where you can set up your own smelt shack at no charge.

     Presented here is general information of Rainbow Smelt, its reproduction, habitat, food, fishing season, angling tips, handling and cooking.
  • General information:
    The Rainbow Smelt, a small fish eagerly pursued by anglers because of its fine flavor, is found along coastal inshore areas of Northeastern North America from Newfoundland to New Jersey, but is most abundant from the southern Canadian maritime provinces south to Massachusetts.  Once exclusively an anadromous species (residing in saltwater but entering freshwater to reproduce), the smelt has been successfully introduced into freshwater systems throughout the northeastern and central United States.  The Rainbow Smelt is slender with a pointed head and a large mouth.  The smelt is green dorsally, with slightly paler sides and a silver belly.  It has a conspicuous silvery streak running lengthwise along each side.  Large smelt may reach 13 to 14 inches in length, but most adults do not exceed 7 to 9 inches in length and about 1 to 6 ounces in weight.  Few smelt live beyond 5 years of age.

  • Reproduction:
    Both sexes become sexually mature at about 2 years of age, although some 1 year olds may participate in spawning.  Fecundity (the number of eggs produced by a female per spawning season) ranges from 33,400 eggs for a 6 1/2 inch fish to 75,600 for a 9 inch fish.  The spawning season in Massachusetts commences in late winter or early spring.

  • Habitat:
    Smelt are pelagic (occurring within the mid-water column), usually travelling in schools less than one mile from shore and in water less than 19 feet deep.  Their movement patterns are associated with seasonal changes in water temperatures.  In summer, schools move to deeper, cooler waters; in the fall they enter bays and estuaries where they actively feed until the onset of winter.

  • Food:
    Larvae and juveniles feed upon zooplankton, particularly microscopic crustaceans.  Adult smelt feed on small crustaceans such as shrimp and gammarids; on squid, crabs, sea worms, insects and small fish, including young sea herring, alewives, cunner, sand lance and silversides.  Smelt in turn serve as a major prey for striped bass, bluefish and a variety of bird species.  Mortality due to predation is quite high for this species: up to 72% of adult fish die annually.

  • Fishing Season:
    Autumn - Winter

  • Angling Tips:
    As ice forms in the water, smelt begin to aggregate and move into coastal streams toward spawning grounds.  Anglers wait for the smelt "run" with great anticipation.  Some anglers build or rent smelt huts equipped with wood stoves for a comfortable approach to ice fishing, while other hardy souls brave the weather.  Schools of smelt tend to remain within localized areas for extended periods.   Once a productive spot is found, it may remain productive for some time.

    Many types of fishing gear are used, ranging from 9 foot light glass to small ultra light spinning outfits.  Hand lines are also popular.  Baits such as blood worms, sand worms, grass shrimp and small local bait fish are fished on size #6 to #10 hooks, with a small sinker suitable to hold the bait in current.

    The depth at which the bait is fished is critical to success.  Baited hooks should be slowly moved up and down to assure they will pass through schools of smelt.  One secret to successful fishing is always to keep an eye on the line, no matter how interesting the conversation around you.  Smelt produce such light taps or vibrations when grabbing baited hooks that rapt attention to the rod and line is a must.

  • Handling:
    Smelt should be iced immediately after capture to retain their delicate sweet flavor. If they are iced in a large cooler the melt water should be drained occasionally so the fish do not soak in warming water.

  • Cooking:
    Fresh smelt have a characteristic cucumber-like aroma.  This species' meat is white, delicate and sweet flavored.  Bones are soft and edible, although many prefer to remove the bones from cooked smelt before eating.  Preparation for cooking often involves simply removing the head and entrails.  Frying is an easy method for preparing smelt.  Mix one cup of flour and one teaspoon of Durkee seasoning in a plastic bag.  Shake cleaned smelt in this mixture so that they are lightly dusted.  Fry the fish in 1/8 inch of vegetable or olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat.  Fry for about 3 minutes on the first side and 2 minutes on the other.  Drain the fish on paper towels and eat while still warm.  Fried smelt are finger food, to be enjoyed plain or dipped in tartar or seafood sauces.
     The links to the left provide current marine and local weather reports, extended local weather reports, tide charts and the U. S. Coast Guard Navigation Center, featuring GPS information, DGPS sites (which are a must for anyone with a differential GPS), LORAN-C information, Local Notice to Mariners plus a boat load of miscellaneous navigational links, my Site Map and Link List.  Although most of the links to the left provide local information, my out of state visitors can also find nationwide marine and weather information.

     The remaining links to the right have my Boating, Fishing, Knot Tying, Fish Fileting and Tackle Tips pages.   Following those are my Search Engine pages, one with short descriptions and another in a table form, plus my Research Page.  Last but not least, is my Doll House Gallery featuring the Farmhouse and The Garfield!  These keep me busy in the winter.

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Email:  Captain Dave

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