Sunday, July 9, 2017

Smelt Attack!

You are never safe when you go into the water.

The youngest daughter went over to the coast with some friends.  While on the beach, she was standing in the water, when she felt something slapping her ankle vigorously.   Suddenly, the realization hit that it wasn't seaweed, but a creature!

She screamed, friends came running, the water receded to reveal..... a smelt.  The daughter captured a quick, fuzzy picture of the offending monster.

A smelt is a small fish common from San Francisco north on the Pacific coast.  A better picture, more scientific and accurate, below.

Why it chose to attack her ankle is anyone's guess, but after the group of people had had their look at it, it was decided to toss it back into the water.  One person gingerly tried to pick it up by the tail, but at the touch, the smelt wriggled wildly, and slipped back onto the sand.  
The daughter solved this dilemma by grabbing the smelt with a handful of sand and chucking it back out to sea.  I'm sure the fish was appreciative of this action.

These fish congregate off the surf line at this time of year, and then rush the beach to spawn.  This may be why the smelt was suddenly on the beach.   People actually fish for them at this time, using nets.

I once saw such fishermen fill a garbage can full of smelt up in Oregon during a run.  The trick is to be on the beach at the same time they run.  If you are, and you like the taste of smelt ( they're oily), you can get a year's worth in an afternoon.

Here's a picture of the beach and water taken just at the time of the attack.  Notice the gulls congregating just beyond where the water starts breaking?  That suggests to me that there are a school of smelt waiting there and the gulls are just biding their time until the fish decide to rush the beach.  

Anyway, the daughter is fine, and presumably so is the smelt, unless a gull got it.  All in a day of adventurous beach combing on the Pacific coast.


  1. They're outstanding bait fish.

  2. I live in MI. In the spring, they come in from Lake Michigan, and up the small creeks and streams to spawn. We do the same thing, netting them. They are of course excellent eating. We clean them with scissors, cutting the heads off and then down the bellies, and using your fingers, cleaning the entrails out, all in a matter of seconds. We used to get garbage cans full, in the Upper Penninsula, but it has tapered off over the last 25 years or so, due to a resurgence in the salmon population, I think. We also used to get suckers, considered a trash fish, at the same time, but when cleaned properly, their flesh is on par with the best fresh water trout. You simply have to score the flesh side almost to the skin, to cut into the many small bones, which then cook up into crunchy tiny bits, and become quite tasty.

    1. I admire your skill at making suckers edible. Smelt are easy to catch here, if and only if you happen to know where they are spawning. If I lived on the coast, I'd make it my business to know.

    2. They are excellent eating, especially for breakfast. When the run is really good, and you're in the right place at the right time, you can fill that net with every dip. There are limits in CA, of course, but you don't want to have to deal with too many little dead fish at one time. I wouldn't mind so much if my squaw liked fish enough to pitch in and help.