Lake Michigan Smelt Fishing
Rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax) are a naturalized exotic in Lake Michigan. Originally transported from the east coast and stocked in Crystal Lake, Michigan, smelt were first reported in Lake Michigan in 1923. The smelt population expanded and reached high levels by the early 1940s.
Smelt begin spawning in Lake Michigan as early as March 17 or as late as April 28. The peak of the run, and the best fishing, lasts about a week, usually starting between April 10 and 20. Regulations for smelt fishing apply to the type of equipment used; there are not bag limit or length restrictions. The smelt fishing season is March 1 through April 30.
An Illinois sport fishing license is required to fish for smelt. The best places to fish for smelt are along the Chicago Park District property and at beaches from Waukegan to the Illinois-Wisconsin state line.
Find the latest updates here:
- Chicagoland Fishing - forums with daily updates
Smelt Fishing Gear
A gill net made of nylon thread is the most common type of gear used in Illinois. Threads are from ½ to ¾ inch apart in a crisscross manner and legally must not exceed 1 ½ inches diagonal stretch. There are floats on the top line and lead weights on the bottom line. the net forms a fence-like obstruction in the water and when smelt try to swim through, they become entangled. Some special equipment is required to maneuver the net in and out of the water. A one to two pound anchor, which has flexible wire extensions that grab the bottom, is attached to a heavy line and thrown our 50 to 100 feet from shore. This line is pulled as tight as possible, without loosening the anchor, and then tied to a pole, pier railing, or other stationary object. A line of about 25 feet is fastened to the back of the net and the other end of this line is secured to the shore. A trolley, which is a one half to one pound weight suspended below two wheels, is tied to the forward end of the net and then attached t the anchor line. The bet line is used to pull in the net and the trolley rides up the anchor line. Most fishermen raise their nets every 5 to 10 minutes. Gill nets up to 12 feet long and 6 feet deep may be used legally, and an angler is limited to one smelt fishing device at any one time.
A large dip net or boom net, up to 12 feet in diameter, is another smelt fishing device. Mesh size may not be less than one inch diagonal stretch. It is suspended from the top of a portable boom which is tilted to hang over the water. The net is lowered into and raised out of the water by a rope or cable attached to a winch. Smelt are removed by a long-handled scoop.
A seine is still another type of gear used for smelt fishing. It
is used on the beaches and is pulled through the water by two persons
who usually wear waders or hip boots. When smelt are running heavy,
one seine haul will provide enough fish to fill a minnow bucket.
the mesh of a seine is made of nylon, either woven or knotted, and
is 1/8 or ¼ inch square. A legal smelt seine may not exceed
12 ft in length and 6 ft in depth and may not have mesh greater
than 1 ½ inches diagonal mesh stretch. All fish other than
smelt taken in smelt fishing devices must be immediately returned
to the water.