Dick Pinney's Guide Lines: Saltwalter smelt fishing time is here

By DICK PINNEY February 18. 2018 12:35AM

It won't be long now that the ice on Great Bay will be loosening its grip on the large and more open spots where the wind has a chance to break up the big packs and send those smaller pieces of ice downriver for their demise in the turbulent and warmer waters.

Saltwater smelt will still be available for anglers who value those relatively small fish, and there's something about them when rolled in flour or corn meal and fried that is addictive!

Although smelt are often caught through the ice, this year the ice wasn't good enough to support much if any fishing. But as the days lengthen and the smelt drop back out of Great Bay, the lower Piscataqua River and all the way down the river to the mouth, there are spots where traditional smelt fishing is often quite productive.

Most of this fishing is done at night, and at that, some of the most productive and easiest is under the lights along the shore docks and the bridges.

Two of the most productive bridges are the ones in the lower Piscataqua River. The so-called Newcastle Bridge is the favorite and most productive.

We've fished most of these places in the past years and although the fishing is really not that difficult, you want to feel lucky if your several hours of fishing provide you with any more than a couple of good feeds - we're talking three or four dozen fish.

Mature smelt, after they are dressed out and the head removed, can vary from a couple of ounces to maybe 3-4 ounces for the largest ones.

Some of the real hard-nosed smelt fishermen will cook their fish whole - just roll them in flour and drop them into a skillet with a good amount of vegetable oil that is heated to just below the smoking stage.

These people don't mind eating some bones and in some instances we've been told that some will eat them whole, including their heads!

Please don't try this! Smelts are full of small sharp bones and having a mouth full of them and trying to swallow them is not comfortable, and also has quite a bit of danger of choking!

We like to remove the heads. Make a slit from their vent all the way to where the head has been cut off, and remove all the entrails. Female smelt will have yellow lines of eggs along their backbone. Some people eat these but we've never enjoyed them. We'll remove these eggs by just getting under their skins with a finger. Then run them under cold water. We let them dry on a bed of paper towels and roll them into white flour or corn meal. Some people do the flour and then the corn meal thing.

We love to serve and eat them enhanced with a dip in some homemade tartar sauce, which in our case is just some good mayonnaise, small diced onion and some good green pickle relish.

My mouth is watering as we write this!

We usually eat our smelt at supper but there's been plenty of smelt eaten in the Pinney house at both breakfast and lunch!

If you're really a traditional smelt cooker you'll also have some home fried potato fries! You can cook them in the same fry pan and use the same oil you used to cook the smelt.


Drop us an email at DoDuckInn@aol.com and please stay in touch!

Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.


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