Although common around the coast of northern Europe, the smelt is rarely seen by anglers. For most anglers, the first time they are likely to encounter this fish is in the freezer cabinet at their local tackle shop! In fact, one of the main areas where this fish is found in the UK is in the screens of power stations, where the strong flow of water lures many fish to their doom.

Although only a small fish, rarely reaching more than 30cm in length, the smelt is a voracious predator and has a formidable set of teeth. Adult smelt feed on larger invertebrates and small fish, which form the basis of it's diet during the summer months. During the winter it generally switches to mainly invertebrates, which are more available than fish.

We only normally see smelt in freshwaters when they move upstream between March and May to spawn. At this time of year, huge numbers enter tidal rivers and will move upstream until their passage is blocked by weirs. The females lay around twenty thousand eggs on stones and loose weeds, where they take almost a month to hatch. The young fish then drift back to sea, where they spend the next two years until they reach maturity and repeat the journey. Other species of European smelt not found in the British Isles have become adapted to life in freshwater and even some land-locked forms exist. Although of little economic importance in the UK, in more northerly countries the smelt is considered a good eating fish and it is harvested commercially. This is where most of the fish which find themselves used as bait originate from.

Paul Garner