Thursday, February 18, 2010

Smelt Fishing

Smelt fishing is a lot harder than dipping netfulls out of the stream.  I recently wanted to try smelt fishing as there were two good lakes around that had smelt.

First there is Crystal Lake in Benzie County between Benzonia and Frankfort.

Max. length 8.11 miles (13 km)

Max. width 2.5 miles (4 km)

Surface area 9,854 acres (40 km2)

Average depth 70 ft (21 m)

Max. depth 165 ft (50 m)
This is a big lake and I found out that the boat launch off Lobb Road is where some people fish or you can go to the North side near Herdman's Point.  You want to get out in 40-60 feet of water but the easy way is to just go where the shanties are.  You can see that they line the area effectively.  I try to get there about 6:30 pm so it is still light out to see where you are going. Crystal only has about 6" of ice so you don't need a power auger.
Three important items for fishing for smelt.  One is a lantern to see by.  The propane lantern works great as you don't get fumes on your hands and it isn't smelly. Second is a underwater 12V light. You have to use your trolling battery.  Don't try the smaller Vexilar battery, they don't last over 2 hours.  Third is the Vexilar to see where the fish are staging.  You can just fish over a wide range of depths to find the fish and they move following the zooplanton.  In 45 foot of water, I have found smelt in from 20 to 40' depths.  See how the Vexilar helps pinpoint where to fish.
I'll get back to fishing for smelt but thought I would cover the next lake; Green Lake is in Grand Traverse County near Interlochen.
There are three launch sites for parking.  One on the North, one at Interlocken State Park, and one on the Southwestern point off Betsie River Road. All are good for smelt.
Surface area: 2,000 acres
Maxium depth:  102 feet
Ok, back to fishing for smelt. When I first decide on a spot near the shanties, I drill three holes in a triangle pattern, with the point hole near the direction of the wind.  Then I set up my shanty so the point hole is close to my portable shanty and the wind is to my back.  The hole closest to the shanty  gets the Vexilar and the underwater light, so my fishing lines in the other two top base holes don't get caught in the wires from the Vexilar and light.  Then I am usually ready to light my lantern and place it above the light hole and between the fishing holes.  Are you with me?  Getting set up is important so when the biting starts, everythings works out for land the fish.
Then I get out my lightest ice fishing rods.  I still use a small spring bobber because they smelt bite very lightly.  I tie on a plain size 12 wet fly hook about 1' up the line and tie a Hali jig on the bottom.  The Hali jig is weighted and has the small single hook handing down on a very light chain.  I use wax worms and/or spikes for smelt.  They seem to last all night with only one or two replacements.  Since I fish with two rods, I usually put spikes on one rod and wax worms on the other. I am checking what is working best.
Here is a picure of only using two holes and I quickly decided I needed a separate hole for the Vexilar.  I lost a few fish by hitting the cord or transducer. You can see the orange, green and red lines on the Vexilar.  The heavy green is the bottom and the red and yellow are fish.  I can turn the gain up so it highlights the small fish and I can tell what depth they are at.
I can see on the screen as my jigs are going down the hole.  If I am marking fish, I usually put one jig on top and the other rod below the fish.  Or, I fish one rod higher and one rod down in the next layer of fish.  Then you just wait and jig. Sometimes the fish want a little action and sometimes they want it on a deadstick.  When the smelt are moving you can see whole swarms of color on the Vexilar.  When you pull the portable shanty cover down over you and onto the ice, it is nice inside.  You have cut the cold & wind and the lantern keeps the shanty comfortable.

The smelt aren't big but they are tasty fried up fresh.  These were from Green Lake.

These are the smaller smelt from Green Lake. I think they are tastier than the larger smelt.

These are the larger Crystal Lake Smelt. I keep hearing about guys getting a bucket load of these guys but I have progressed from getting 0 fish one night to 4 fish and recently getting 18 smelt on two different nights.  I fished Tuesday night in a slight freezing rain from 6:15 pm to 10:30 pm. before I gave it up.  I think I have to rest my sore neck and try to stay out longer.  Usually there are only a few guys left fishing when I leave around 11:30 or 12:00, but will try it later when my neck feels better.

I know, I didn't have any green or yellow vegetables on my plate but I was hungry and chowed down.  It is fun to eat these little guys.  The frying softens the bones and spine so you eat the meat, bones, tail, and spine right down.  Yummy!

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