Gone Outdoors

Smelt Fishing in Boston

by Jon Dayton

Smelt are a small fish, usually seven to nine inches in length, but they are still a popular fishing option in Boston. Declining populations have made them a harder fish to catch, but fishermen still go to the shores of the Boston area during the fall and winter months to catch as many smelt as possible. Smelt can live in saltwater but breed in freshwater, making Boston a popular fishing location.

Smelt Season in Massachusetts

According to the Massachusetts Department of Natural Resources, the normal smelt fishing season in the state, including Boston harbor, runs from the middle of May to the last day of February. Smelt can be caught in all inland waters during this time, but they can only be caught with a pole and line; there is no net fishing for them. Catching or using smelt as bait outside of the set season can lead to fines and punishments. There are currently no daily catch limits or size limits set on smelt.

Fishing for Smelt in Boston

Smelt fishing brings numerous anglers to the North Shore, Plum Island and South Shore areas of Boston during the winter and fall months. Smelt can be caught at any time of the day, but most fishermen have more success fishing for them at night or during evening hours. Night time fishing during colder winter and fall months can be difficult, so it is important to dress properly and bring equipment such as a lantern for light and heat.

Smelt Fishing Equipment

In the Boston area, most smelt fishermanl use a bamboo pole that is between eight and 12 feet in length. A squidding line is used and a monofilament leader is tied to the end of the line. Small golden hooks should be used, since smelt are a small fish and will have a hard time swallowing large hooks. Minnows are the most popular bait of choice, but smelt will also take sea worms, jigs and shrimp. Smelt are an aggressive and fun fish to catch, which is why they are still a popular fishing option in Boston.

Dwindling Populations

There are many reports by smelt fisherman in the Boston area of dwindling smelt populations. Some rivers that used to be full of smelt are now devoid of the popular fish. The rainbow smelt was even named a species of concern due to their low population in 2004. A decline of spawning fish, pollution and a loss of natural habitat are all reasons why the smelt population has declined.

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