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2002 Smelt Reports

Here is the most recent smelt information!!! stace

Wednesday fisheries: 1/09/2002


Cowlitz River flow exceeded 37,000 cfs on Monday the 8th (15,000 cfs average) and has since dropped to about 22,000 cfs. Water muddy with temp mid 40's. Birds still working the area. Columbia River also up and dirty. Birds working the river.


Cowlitz River:
Sport - Sport dippers were getting 1-3 smelt per 4-5 dips near the Kelso Bridge. Commercial - Pressure light. One landing of 25 lbs.

Columbia River:
Commercial - Pressure light. No landings reported, not all fishers contacted.

From Stacie Region 5 Dept of Fish and Wildlife ------------------------------------------------------- 1/15/2002
Weekend fisheries:


Cowlitz River - Smelt were present from Gearhart Park (near Highway 432 in Longview) upstream to Rocky Point (between Kelso and Lexington). Mixture of males/females and sizes. Flow has dropped to 19,000 cfs (15,000 is average for this time of year). Water temperature was 46 degrees.


Cowlitz River:
Sport - Open Saturday (12th) and Sunday (13th), 6am-10pm. On Saturday sport fishers caught 0-4 smelt per dip with the average 1 smelt per every 3 to 5 dips. It took one experienced angler about 3 to 4 hours to get a 10 pound limit. No sampling on Sunday.

Commercial - Pressure light. Two boats dipped 2,400 lbs in the Kelso area. Another 3,150 lbs dipped near Lexington.

Columbia River:
Commercial - Very little effort. No landings reported.

Cowlitz sport seasons/regs: Open Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays, 6am - 10pm through March 31st. 10 lb daily limit.
Updates available at (360) 696-6211 *1010.
Saturday and Sunday (1/19-20/02) sport and Sunday commercial fisheries:

Decent levels of smelt remain in the Cowlitz River but numbers have dropped in the Columbia River. Water temperature was 43 degrees in both rivers. The Cowlitz rose from 17,000 cfs to 19,000 cfs over the weekend and remains muddy.


Cowlitz River:
Sport - Catches were good from Gerhart (lower end) up through Castle Rock. Sport anglers averaged from zero to 30 fish per dip and 10 lb limits were reached within 10-30 minutes for most. Fish were moving in on high tide.

Commercial - Catch improved from Wednesday. Eight landing tickets totaled 27,600 lbs.

Columbia River:
Commercial - Effort remained about the same but catch dropped off significantly from Wednesday.

Cowlitz sport seasons/regs: Open Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays, 6am - 10pm through March 31st. 10 lb daily limit.
Updates available at (360) 696-6211 *1010.
Smelt have started running in the Cowlitz River in such large numbers that some people have been getting their limits with one dip of the net.

But it's anyone's guess how long the abundance will last, a fish biologist said. Smelt numbers can drop off quickly if the river water turns colder or other environmental changes alter the fishes' spawning behavior.

"I would say it's time to go," said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Department of Fish and Wildlife's Region 5 office in Vancouver.

Smelt started appearing in reasonable numbers last week, and the catches increased over the weekend, Hymer said. Each dip of the smelt net snared from 0 to 30 smelt, depending on the hour and area.

"If you hit the right spot at the right time, it's possible to get your 10-pound limit in one dip," he said. "In spots, you don't even need to get your feet wet."

Smelt swim from the ocean in winter to spawn in the rivers where they were born three or four years earlier. Most of the fish taken from the Cowlitz over the weekend measured between 5 inches and 1 foot, Hymer said.

The largest upstream migrations occur when river water reaches 42 degrees, he said. Abundant runs can drop off dramatically if the water temperature changes.

"They're pretty fickle fish," Hymer said. "Basically, you need to grab a net when you hear they're in."

If conditions don't change, smelt will be available through February, March and sometimes even April, he said.

Smelt are typically caught using a net with a fine mesh. Most people wade a short ways into the water and walk downstream, keeping their nets near the bottom of the riverbed to catch smelt swimming up the river.

No fishing license is required, but dippers can keep only the first 10 pounds of smelt taken in their net. Hymer said 10 pounds of smelt will typically fill a 5-gallon bucket halfway to the top.

At present, people can fish for smelt between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Fishing is often best around dawn or dusk, when skies are dark.

Smelt are primarily caught in the Cowlitz River, and most fishing occurs between Kelso and Castle Rock. Smelt also can be found on the Kalama, Lewis and Grays rivers, as well as the main stem of the Columbia as far as the Bonneville Dam.

If the run remains strong, Hymer said state regulators could add additional days or increase the 10-pound catch limit.

Recorded information on smelt numbers is available from the Department of Fish and Wildlife's Region 5 office in Vancouver by calling 360-696-6211, extension *1010.

- - - 01/23/2002


Cowlitz smelt: A dip will do ya Fickle fixins: Tasty fish return in numbers, but timing and location still needed to net a limit

Skip Card; The News Tribune

"You shoulda been here the other day."

Anyone hoping to net some smelt along the Cowlitz River this winter should prepare to hear that phrase.

Smelt, one of the Northwest's most numerous sea creatures, also tend to be one of the most fickle. Far more interested in spawning than being netted, they rarely plan their million-fish marches in connection with the Department of Fish and Wildlife's scheduled dipping days.

Instead, the trout-like fish migrate up the Columbia, Cowlitz and Lewis rivers when conditions put them in the right mood for love. That usually means a winter day when the water temperature is about 42 degrees, the current mild and the river relatively clear.

Smelt fishermen have seen a few such days already this winter. Over the weekend of Jan. 19-20, some people dipped their long-handled nets in the Cowlitz only a few times before they had their 10-pound limits.

Days later, when smelt fishing resumed on Jan. 23, the smelt were not nearly so numerous. Fishermen Homer Hoven of Vader and Ray Lewis of Chehalis netted their limits that day, but most dips pulled up four or five of the wriggling fish.

"It's different today than it was Saturday," Hoven said. "We were down here Saturday, and it didn't take but four of five netfuls and you got your limit."

Sometimes the day doesn't matter as much as the location. Hoven said he has been skunked some days on one stretch of the Cowlitz, but then caught his limit after moving to a different spot two or three miles away.

"You wouldn't think there would be that much difference, but there was," he said.

A week ago, smelt were being caught largely between Castle Rock and Kelso. But it's anyone's guess where the smelt might be running when legal fishing resumes today, Saturday or Sunday.

Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's Region 5 office in Vancouver, said Monday that smelt were thickest over the weekend farther south, near the mouth of the Cowlitz.

"It was definitely better down lower than up higher," Hymer said. In places such as Longview's Gerhart Gardens Park, people were netting up to 10 smelt per dip, while fishermen in spots closer to Castle Rock were typically netting no more than two or three, and often catching nothing.

Many suspect the Cowlitz is flowing too strongly at present, and the smelt are waiting or even retreating before running upriver.

"Once the flows drop, it should be good again upstream," Hymer said. "They don't want to fight all that extreme water. Sometimes, they'll even move out of a river if there's too much water or its too turbid."

Most of the smelt taken so far have been males, he said. That indicates the main body of the smelt run is still waiting to swim upriver.

"I always tell people that you just need to go when they're in, and they're still in," Hymer said. "Hopefully, they'll hang around a while, but they are pretty fickle."

When the run hits full strength, smelt swim upriver in uncountable numbers. Crowds on the river shore can feel the smelt bumping against the rim of their long-handled nets as they slowly sweep the river bottom.

"It's kind of mind-boggling how many there are," Hymer said.

The runs have recovered in recent years, and most credit improved habitat conditions in the oceans where the fish spend most of their lives.

Smelt lover Linda Servito of University Place fished for smelt with her husband for several years after moving to the region in 1977. She stopped after 1980, when the eruption of Mount St. Helens sent a mudflow down the Toutle and Cowlitz rivers and disrupted the runs.

Many say smelt dipping was mediocre throughout much of the 1990s. Servito tried dipping in 1994, but she had little luck.

This year, the numbers in the Cowlitz indicate the smelt are continuing their rebound. Servito said she is looking forward to trying again, and she hopes she makes her river trip on the same day the smelt make theirs.

"It's beautiful country. It's fun. It's good exercise," she said. "And we love to eat the smelt."

- - -

* Staff writer Skip Card covers outdoor recreation. Reach him at 253-597-8655 or

- - -

SIDEBAR: Smelt rules and tips

* Smelt dipping is legal from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The best fishing often occurs around dawn or dusk, when skies are still dark.

* Dippers typically stand on the shore or wade a few feet into the river. Fine-mesh at the end of 20-foot poles are held against the river bottom and swept downstream.

* No license is required, but dippers can currently take only 10 pounds of smelt per person. Ten pounds fills a five-gallon bucket approximately halfway.

* Smelt are often still in the Cowlitz River in February and even March, but runs of fish can be fickle. Small changes in the river's temperature or clarity can delay or reverse a spawning run. For recorded updates on conditions, call 360-696-6211, extension * 1010.

* Most people prepare smelt by rolling them in flour or bread crumbs and frying them over medium heat in shortening or vegetable oil. Fry one side until golden, then flip and fry the other side. The meat can be rich and soft but is rarely fishy, with a subtle flavor somewhere between trout and cod.

* Gutting and beheading the smelt is optional, but most cooks do it. Use kitchen scissors to snip off the head (and often the tail) and slit open the belly, then scrape out the guts with a small spoon.

* Smelt make excellent bait for catching Columbia River sturgeon, especially when the smelt are fresh.

The News Tribune