Smelt

    S melts are tiny fish that are 9 inches or less. They are freshwater fish that escaped from Crystal Lake in Michigan, invading the Great Lakes in the early 1900's. At one point they became a nuisance, but are greatly appreciated now.

        In the winter they can be found in 50 feet of water where they live under the ice in pockets called "huts". When the ice thaws in the spring, the spawning runs being. In March and April (generally late April) they start traveling upstream, usually moving at night. They like dark cold waters and most smelters will go out while it's dark when the fish tend to be in shallow waters, put on hip waders and dip them out of the water by the net loads.

        A really fun evening is having a smelt dipping party with a campfire on the shore. Granted, you will have several garbage bags full of these little silvery fish to clean, but it goes really fast and the outcome is well worth it. And what better way could be spent relaxing and catching up with friends. This is when you'll usually see dippers out at night. There have even been festivals dedicated to smelt runs.

General Techniques

Smelt are mostly caught in early spring when they come into the shallows to spawn. When water temperatures approach 8C, they enter suitable spawning areas where they are caught by a variety of nets. The method of choice is using a 6'x6' net strung on a wire frame. Smaller nets are also employed, as are hooped metal or nylon dip nets. Some Seines up to 10m may also be used. Whatever method is chosen, the common factor is water temperature and time of day. Smelt seldom enter the shallows until well after nightfall. The run generally begins about 2 hours after sunset and peaks around midnight. But there are nights when they may appear at dusk or not until well after midnight.

If fishing with a dip net, you must locate yourself on a dock or pier. You will need a light source, such as a Coleman lantern to illuminate the water so that you will be able to see the fish as they pass over the net as well as to serve as an attractant.  In general, catching smelt is a social activity. If you dislike crowds, you are advised to get your smelt at the supermarket.

The best time to go is following ice-out once we've had a week or so of warm daytime temperatures (above 15C).  Be prepared for multiple trips and numerous skunkings unless you know someone in the area who can keep you posted on conditions. A good rule of thumb is to watch the buds on the willows. Once they are swollen and just starting to burst is a good indicator that the time is likely at hand. But if it's very rough and windy, you are better off staying at home. Calm, warm evenings are best. In fact, if conditions continue stormy for more than a few days, the fish will spawn on shoals offshore and will not enter the shallows.

Where to Go

Thanks to the rowdiness and general slovenly behaviour of many smelt fishermen, there are few areas still open to the general public. You can bet the situation will only get worse.

Sibbald Point Provincial Park
Although the park road is closed, you are allowed to fish from the docks at the north end of the park. You can park your car behind the church and hike in with your gear. It's a long walk that will seem even longer should you have a bucket or two full of fish.

Whitby Harbour
At the foot of Brock Street in Whitby (Highway 12).

Rouge River Mouth
The run here is very sporatic. You will have the best success in the lake, about 200 yards west of the river. You'll need waders as you will have to walk out about 20 feet from shore. The Rouge is one area where a seine may be used to good effect along the shore just west of the mouth. Do not attempt to wade in the river unless you're tired of living.




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