Indianapolis, Indiana USA
School of smelt
Learn the art of
smelting at Indiana Dunes
On early spring nights a couple decades ago, Indiana's Lake Michigan
shoreline was dotted with fires. Wader-clad smelters huddled around the
warmth and waited for their nets to fill.
Rainbow smelt, a small relative of the rainbow trout, teemed in southern
Lake Michigan waters until the late 1980s. Today, smelt still make their
annual shoreline spawning runs, but the schools are fewer and smaller -- and
only the most dedicated smelters wade into the cold water to set their nets.
Smelt populations are down, possibly due to drops in mysis shrimp, one of
the smelt's primary food sources.
"The smelt runs aren't what they were, but it's still great to be out on the
dunes and net a few fish," said Ryan Koepke, park ranger with the Indiana
Dunes National Lakeshore.
Koepke is inviting prospective smelters to gather around his shoreline
campfire for a three-hour "Smelt School." He will talk about smelting
techniques, regulations and fishing access.
"There are a lot of anglers out there who think that you have to either live
in Beverly Shores or know someone who does to get access to smelt fishing
waters. This is not true. There are miles of beach open to the public,"
The program takes place at Lake View Beach in Indiana Dunes National
Lakeshore on Saturday, April 17, 6 to 9 p.m. Parking is available in the
Lake View parking lot. Lake View is located north of the Dunes Visitor
Center on Lake Shore Drive between Kemil Beach and Broadway Avenue.
A map of the park is available online at:
Participants are invited to bring their own smelting equipment or observe
others. Chest waders are recommended if you plan to venture into the water.
For more information, call Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore at (219)
926-7561, extension 225.
Rainbow smelt may be taken in Indiana from March 1 through May 30 with a
single net. The net may not exceed 12 feet in length and six feet in depth
nor have a stretch mesh larger than 1-1/2 inches. Dip nets may not exceed 12
feet in diameter. A fishing license is required to net smelt.
Smelt typically run when water temperature reaches 40 degrees, beginning in
April through the first half of May. Peak catches occur in mid-April. Smelt
are usually 6 to 9 inches long when caught, though they can grow as large as
Smelt are an Atlantic Ocean species that have adapted to the fresh waters of
the Great Lakes.
Tips for cooking smelt
The secret to lip-smacking smelt is to not overcook the fish. Smelt is done
when the flesh inside is opaque, yet still moist. Smelt can be pan-fried,
baked, broiled or grilled.
This is the easiest way to cook smelt. Pound smelt fillets to flatten them,
then pat dry with paper towel. Dredge fish in flour. Fry the smelt just a
few at a time, in a small amount of hot butter or oil, turning once halfway
through the cooking time. Cook until golden brown and crisp on the outside,
usually 2 to 3 minutes.
Pour room temperature oil into a wok or deep fryer until the oil is at least
1 1/2 inches deep. Temperature should be 375 degrees. Use a thermometer
made to monitor high temperatures. Dip each smelt fillet in the batter,
drain, and then carefully put into the hot oil. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or
Place the smelt fillets in a greased baking dish and place on a baking
sheet. Brush with melted butter or oil and season with salt and pepper to
taste. Smelt can also be wrapped in lightly oiled foil. Cook at 450 degrees
until the flesh is opaque, but still moist.
Place the seasoned and/or marinated smelt fillets on a greased broiler pan.
Broil under a preheated broiler about 4 to 5 inches away from the heat. Cook
until brown and crispy on the outside, 4 to 6 minutes.
Place smelt fillet on perforated, greased foil, grill between 4 to 6 inches
above fire. Cook smelt until brown and crispy, 3 to 7 minutes.
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