Wildcard777

Surf Smelt Behavior

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As many of you might be aware, this year has seen an abundance of smelt on our beaches. I am referring to the surf or night smelt, not the jack smelt that people catch off piers in the bay using foam bobbers.

 

Unlike other bait fish, I have yet to understand the pattern of these smelt. Do they hold in holes? Do they come in only on incoming tides? Do they prefer sandy beach or rocky coves? Do they prefer big tides or more mellow conditions? Why can't pelicans zero-in on them like they do with sardines and anchovies???

 

Thanks in advance!:confused:

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We used to catch bucket loads of them. Some of them over 20" long and one right after the other.

 

Dan Different species.

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From what I have experienced they come in more often right on the top of the tide through the outgoing. As far as the birds go I look more for the terns targeting the surf zone because as you said the pelicans don't really get dialed in on them. Last week I was in on a big run and it was a pretty mellow tide but not sure really about the tide playing a huge role but it probably does when they are in spawn mode.

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They come in during the high slack normally to spawn in the intertidal zone the eggs adhere to sand grains or gravel. Depending on beach temperatures, incubation can take from 2 to 8 weeks until, at another high tide, the larvae emerge and join the plankton, drifting in nearshore environment

 

Juvenile surf smelt rear in nearshore areas while feeding on plankton. Little is known about the movements of adult surf smelt, until their return to spawning grounds at the age of one or two years.

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Just curious... any of you guys go smelting? I think foggy does?

 

Back east the smelting game is much different. It's a fall/winter type of thing. I have a lot of great memories sitting on floating docks at the marinas at night dropping sabikis for smelt. Grass shrimp was the best bait and baby bunker worked well too if you could catch em. The smelt are piscivores and you could see them fly through the water to snatch the baby bunker like mini-torpedos. Of course once the ice set in we'd go to the intertidal rivers in Maine to fish through the ice sitting in shacks over night. It was crazy listening to the ice crack like thunder while you're sitting on it!

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Just curious... any of you guys go smelting? I think foggy does?

 

Back east the smelting game is much different. It's a fall/winter type of thing. I have a lot of great memories sitting on floating docks at the marinas at night dropping sabikis for smelt. Grass shrimp was the best bait and baby bunker worked well too if you could catch em. The smelt are piscivores and you could see them fly through the water to snatch the baby bunker like mini-torpedos. Of course once the ice set in we'd go to the intertidal rivers in Maine to fish through the ice sitting in shacks over night. It was crazy listening to the ice crack like thunder while you're sitting on it!

 

Scoobe different animal, These smelt are plankton feeders and swarm the beaches to spawn. The spawn is going on right now. Take a ride down to the area near the hat fling beach in HMB and bring your binoc's Keep and eye on the terns and when you see them diving in the surf walk down and watch the guys net them.

If your lucky and find someone willing to give you some go home and quick fry them. Tasty little suckers. They are reffered to as the potato chip of the sea.

 

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Just curious... any of you guys go smelting? I think foggy does?

 

Back east the smelting game is much different. It's a fall/winter type of thing. I have a lot of great memories sitting on floating docks at the marinas at night dropping sabikis for smelt. Grass shrimp was the best bait and baby bunker worked well too if you could catch em. The smelt are piscivores and you could see them fly through the water to snatch the baby bunker like mini-torpedos. Of course once the ice set in we'd go to the intertidal rivers in Maine to fish through the ice sitting in shacks over night. It was crazy listening to the ice crack like thunder while you're sitting on it!

 

Scoobe different animal, These smelt are plankton feeders and swarm the beaches to spawn. The spawn is going on right now. Take a ride down to the area near the hat fling beach in HMB and bring your binoc's Keep and eye on the terns and when you see them diving in the surf walk down and watch the guys net them.

If your lucky and find someone willing to give you some go home and quick fry them. Tasty little suckers. They are reffered to as the potato chip of the sea.

 

Funny you should mention that winch. Last week I was goofing off doing some perching and I caught three surf smelt on hook and line in the mouth and got numerous hits in the wash using pile worms.

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hah yea i know it's a different beast... hence i shared my story of how we catch em back east :) i haven't had the opportunity to try fresh (aka self-caught) smelt out here to see how it compares to the east coast version. i assume it's gotta be pretty good but the east coast ones are killer fried up whole with just a light batter. the bigger ones (6"+) are better gutted and picked off the bone.

 

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I’ve fished for surf smelt for over 35+ years right here on the west coast. The bottom line is they do not have a pattern that you can predict. I’ve caught them using A-frames, 2 man nets, and throw nets. Back in the 60’s and early 70’s A- frames and 2 man nets were used mostly to catch the surf smelt. The reason is that when they came in, they literally would turn the surf black. I’m talking wave after wave of schools. Tons of smelt. The surf smelt would not spook back then,they would sit in ankle deep water and just sit there, lay eggs, play around. I remember, when it was so thick of smelt, that schools of fish would be left stranded on the surf after the wave receded. Their pattern was so predictable back then they would run just before the high tide, almost like clock work, they would run for several hours straight. The bass guys know what I’m talking about. ;) You had a lot of commercial smelt fishermen back then, and a lot of smelt were caught on a daily basis. I’m talking about seeing anywhere from 4 to 8 five gallon buckets lined up, filled to the top full of smelt :shock: Then about mid 70’s and 80’s fishing pressure began to increase. The surf smelt adapted to the pressure and they began to get skittish, they wouldn’t sit in the surf they would “run” back (hence the term the smelt are running) into the trough thus the throw nets became popular and the A-frames began to fade. It was during this time, that their patterns started to change. Sometimes they would show up when they were supposed to, just like clock work at the high, sometimes for 5- 6 days straight. Sometimes, they wouldn’t even come at all during the high, but would show up during the low. Sometimes they wouldn’t run for days, but the one day they did show up they would run for hours. In other words, their consistency as far time of day and numbers of fish started to change.

 

Oh by the way, back then, every time the smelt showed up, the bass showed up.:) I’m talking big numbers of bass and big ones too. It was very common to see surf smelt guys, accidentally netting bass as big as 20lbs. I’ve accidentally netted bass that tore my net to shreds, you could many times see the bass shooting through the shallow water, cutting through the schools of smelt. It was crazy, smelt would be everywhere, and guys would be hooking up bass left and right.:) Thats when I started to get into stripers...... Back to the smelt.

 

Then the 90’s came and the smelt started to make another big drastic pattern change. Some think it may have been El Nino that played a big role in the change. Toward the end of the 90’s the smelt started to act funny. They would show up for maybe half a day and disappear for a weeks. I mean nothing, not one school would be seen. The next season saw even less fish, soon they had practically disappeared for about 7 years. The regular beaches where we would see big heavy runs on a regular consistent basis, we wouldn’t see any fish for weeks. A dozen fish in a day was a good day back then. Some of the old-timers wondered what went wrong. Some say El Nino, they felt the big storms changed the structure and sand of the beaches. Smelt like coarse sand beaches to spawn. They usually don’t like fine sand, which is why you rarely if ever see them run up South near Santa Cruz, Monterey and way North in S.F. They do however run up at the coarse sand beaches in Bodega Bay, Fort Bragg area. Others say it was overfishing, high fishing pressure on the surf smelt that made them disappear for so long forcing them to find other locations to spawn (I am not a biologist, this is just IMHO). Then 2002 came and we started to see more fish show up on a regular basis. Around 2003-2004 was the break out years, the surf smelt returned in greater numbers at the local beaches. However their patterns were way different from the patterns of the decades before. Instead of the usual high tide, they would show up many times during the low tide. We would see a lot of male fish, and very few females. The schools we came across weren’t giant schools, they were big but the fish were spread out and they were spooked very easily. There were times where we had to work for the fish. (The old timers and regulars know what I’m talking about) Standing in the surf and walking the beaches for hours, just to get a limit. Some seasons they would run heavy for the first 3 months, then shut down again until later in the season.

 

As recent as the last 2 years, the smelt have IMHO returned in greater numbers and on a more consistent basis, they are however still very unpredictable. If you pound them before they can get started, many times they will shut down and find another area to spawn. Sometimes they will show up in one certain small stretch of shoreline as small as 20 yards wide, yet you have miles of continuous shoreline on both sides. Sometimes they can run on several beaches at once, miles apart. This season is probably the best I’ve seen in a very long time. I’ve seen a lot of females early in the season, and the fish are bigger than normal and seem to be healthy. I just hope they don’t get over fished

 

As far as birds, don’t get me wrong, they are the best at locating smelt in the area, i pretty much rely on them putting me on the fish but IMHO they are not ALWAYS the best. Many times as recent as a few weeks ago, I’ve come across stretches of beach, where there is absolutely no activity at all, no terns, no cormorants, no seagulls, no seals. Yet, when I took a peek in the surf, all I saw was school after school of fish but no birds around anywhere, and who knows how long they were in the surf before I saw them. Pelicans can target them, although it is not normal. I have seen Pelicans pounding them past the breakers, then a short time later, they started pounding them about 100 yards off shore, along with the Terns. Soon they were on them about 50 yards off shore. About 10-15 minutes later, the smelt stormed the beaches and they ran for about 45 minutes.

 

However they seem to be doing something unusual again this year. I am hearing reports that they’ve been seen as far north as S.F. :shock: Bottom line, is me personally, I cannot predict any pattern with these fish.

 

I don’t fish for them as much as I used to, I caught enough smelt early this season that I’m pretty much done fishing for them this year unless someone asks me to catch them some. I mainly targeting the stripers more this season. If I am plugging and run into them spawning( Ive done this a few times this year already), I’ll sit and watch them. They are an intriguing and amazing species of fish, if people stick to the daily limit then the smelt should be around for awhile, will they return like the good ole days? (Again I am no means an expert on surf smelt nor am I a biologist) I seriously doubt that we will ever see the giant runs of surf smelt like the 60’s 70’s, but hey, enjoy them while they’re still here. :)

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This week end would be a good time to go check it out. Spend the day down there and talk to the guys in the parking lot watching and waiting.

Smelt are caught with an A frame net or throw net. This year has been exceptional because of the long spawn they had last year.

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Surfsmelt great post, I didn't see it before I posted my last post. You were ahead of me by a minute.;)

 

As for North of the regular grounds we have had smelt for many years but they were never the clouds you guys see down there. Mostly caught at night on a couple of corner beaches. But they are not new up here. I think a lot of the bait issues is a cycle issue, depending on water temps, and sea conditions. When things are not right in your neck of the woods they choose other places to spawn. Also the bio-mass probably has up and down cycles, same as anchovies, dungenese crabs, surf perch and even sand crabs can have good years or bad years. Most of the northern beaches also have a thicker pebble like sand where they seem to be. But I have run into them on flat fine sand beaches also.

 

As with anything fishing they are unpredictable and so many variants can give us false readings and leave us guessing. My hope is your sport will continue in a productive manner. I also applaud you and others that I have talked to about caring to not over fish this years bounty. Too many times I have seen types of fishing go bad when people do not take care of what they are given by the sea. Right now we have an abundance of perch, but I see the same guys hammering the holes and keeping everything they catch. This isn't good practical fishing tactics and in the end will cost us all. Same goes with seeing guys keeping a large number of smaller bass. People get caught up in the moment and do not realize that these fish are our future 20 pounders.

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not sure if its the same species up here north as it is down south..? But growing up I use to go at midnight on a full moon high tide with my grandfather and go scoop up smelt and throw them in the bucket. It was awesome!! Back then (early 90s) you coudnt use no nets and had to catch them by hand, oh man talk about fun times for a youngin! lol They would hit a beach in San Diego called Silverstrand, in big #s. ahhhh the good ol days. :D

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not sure if its the same species up here north as it is down south..? But growing up I use to go at midnight on a full moon high tide with my grandfather and go scoop up smelt and throw them in the bucket. It was awesome!! Back then (early 90s) you coudnt use no nets and had to catch them by hand, oh man talk about fun times for a youngin! lol They would hit a beach in San Diego called Silverstrand, in big #s. ahhhh the good ol days. :D

 

Grunion different species. These night smelt dont actual come up on wet sand. They spawn in the froth of the wash and scoot out very quickly

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