Night Smelt

(spring - summer)

AKA:  "nightfish"

(In the past all smelts and smeltlike fishes were grouped under the somewhat misleading heading: "white bait")

The Meat:

Oh man, I love these little guys. That should be clear from how much I've written about them on The Monkeyface News over the years. They are just such perfect little fish. Much milder than anchovies and perfect for the fry pan. The fishwife likes to bake and broil them too, the way she does with surf smelt. 


Virtually every fisherman on the coast and most of the chefs who cook these fish fry them whole: heads, guts and all. They do not as a rule feed while spawning so there's nothing in their stomachs. The only problemin eating them whole is that they tend to swallow a little sand, and also there may be a few sand grains in their gills. It's no more grit than what you get in an average oyster, but I want to point it out before you guys chomp down on whole night smelt.




2010 - present

2010 - present

Almost all night smelt are caught by A-frame dip net (see picture below), A-frame dip nets are based on a Native American design that has been used on the California coast for many thousands of years. If you want to see how this is done you can come a long with me, I do special guided trips for night smelt in the summer.  I also make some pretty beautiful A-frame nets.

Gear and fishery info:

This is about the healthiest fish you can eat. Low on the foodchain, high in all the good stuff, low in all the bad stuff.

Health concerns:

This is a truly awesome local fishery.  I have had nights out there where I am the only person fishing for many miles--and nothing makes me happier than that. Sometimes I turn the headlamp off and the lights of the squid boats are all I have to go by.  That and the moon.  Ah!  the surf at night... the inexorable metronome of the waves... the wind whipping off the ocean...  Not sure what I would do without nightsmelt. They are such a treasure. Really looking forward to providing you with these delicious, nutritious fish.  

Fish Nerdism 101:

In the spring I will likely be offering private guided trips for night smelt, so stay tuned for that.  I also make some fairly awesome custom A-frames (If I do say so myself). If you want to try out this fishery on your own... all you gotta do is e-mail me... Kirk-out.

Parting Shots
  • Scientific Name:               Spirinchus starksi


  • Habitat:  Juvenile smelt rear in nearshore areas while feeding. Little is known about the movements of adult night smelt, until their return to spawning grounds.


  • Diet: Feeds on small shrimp-like crustaceans.


  • Size: schooling forage fish that reach up to 9 inches in length.


  • Range:  native to the Pacific coast of North America, spawning from Point Arguello in central California to southeast Alaska.