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Rainbow Smelt

Rainbow Smelt

Scientific Name: Osmerus mordax


Common Name: saltwater smelt

 

The rainbow smelt is a small, tasty anadromous fish highly sought by winter estuarine anglers. Abundant in inshore coastal areas from the southern Canadian Maritime provinces south to Massachusetts, rainbow smelt congregate in bays and estuaries in the fall to feed on crustaceans and small fish. In March, as water temperatures rise and ice breakup occurs, smelt spawn in areas of high water flow and rocky bottoms in estuarine rivers. The rainbow smelt is a slender fish with a large, toothed mouth, pointy head and small adipose fin. A deeply forked tail, presence of teeth on the jaws and tongue, and green color on the dorsal side distinguishes smelt from most other small fish caught by smelt anglers in Great Bay. Sexual maturity is reached at a length of about 7 inches. Most landed smelt are 7 to 8 inches in length, but some “jack” smelt can exceed 12 inches in length.

 

 

smelt

Catching Smelt: The smelt begin to gather in the bay and near the mouth of tributaries in late fall and winter in anticipation of their spring spawning run. These smelt are often larger than those found in inland water bodies because they spend their life feeding in the rich marine environment, where food is plentiful. During late fall, smelt are occasionally caught by anglers fishing from docks and along the shore in New Hampshire’s coastal harbors and tidal rivers. However, smelt fishing begins in earnest with the formation of ice in the Great Bay Estuary and its tributaries. Smelt fishing is best a few hours on either side of high tide, and catches are most often greater at night. Many anglers use short two-foot-long fishing rods, while others simply tie their fishing lines to cross beams, placing them over the holes in the ice in their ice shanties. Smelt anglers will have success using a variety of gear, whether it’s a small spinning outfit or a handline. A very light line, 4-pound test or less, is essential. Clam (or sea) worms and small local bait fishes like mummichogs are effective using a size 6 to 10 hook and a small sinker. Since schools of smelt can move vertically in the water column while they swim, the depth of a baited hook is critical to successful smelt fishing. An effective lure is a small silver or metallic-colored jig.

 

See also: Wildlife Action Plan Species Profile PDF Document