MATT SCHUBERT’S OUTDOORS: Smelt season on Peninsula beaches

KEEP AN EYE on North Olympic Peninsula beaches.

With the calendar days away from turning over into August, we’re getting awfully close to what is considered traditional surf smelt dip netting season.

The tiny forage fish — distinguished from other bait fish by their adipose fins — tend to pop up near Peninsula beaches in large numbers to breed during the summer.

Spots like Kalaloch, Ruby and Rialto beaches on the coast, and Twin and Lyre rivers, Dungeness Bay, Point Wilson or Old Fort Townsend around Port Townsend Bay, are all known smelt locations.

If you see large collections of feeding birds flying around one of those spots, there’s a decent chance smelt are there too.

“If the birds are out there diving, you can see [smelt] popping around in the surf,” said Bob Gooding of Olympic Sporting Goods (360-374-6330) in Forks.

“They come right up on the shore.

“Sometimes there aren’t so many, but sometimes I’ve been down there and there’s gobs of them.”

Anglers armed with dip nets — either long-handled aluminum ones or maple wood frames with netting — can scoop a few smelt during the right slack high tides.

A dip netter might wade out into water as high as their waist to get into the fish, according to Gooding.

“You usually go out get 6, 8, 10 or a dozen,” he said.

“Sometimes you dip in there and get 10 pounds.

“I think the biggest bunch I ever got was close to 80 pounds in one dip.

“They will kind of ball up you know. If you get into one of those balls, it’s solid smelt.

“If they are there you’re going to get them, you absolutely are.”

While reports of smelt have been nonexistent on the coast so far this summer, there have been some sightings inside the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Bob Aunspach of Swain’s General Store (360-452-2357) in Port Angeles said he’d heard of a few success stories out near the Twin and Lyre rivers a few weeks back.

“I’m assuming they are probably still there,” Aunspach said.

“They mostly gill net them [in those spots]. There are a few guys who use dip nets.”

The daily limit for smelt is 10 pounds throughout the Peninsula salt.

Hood Canal is closed to smelt fishing, while waters inside the Strait and Area 9 (Admiralty Inlet) are open to dip netting from 8 a.m. on Fridays to 8 a.m. on Wednesdays.

All smelt caught must count toward the daily limit, except for Columbia River smelt (eulachon), which must be released.

Of course, those who do run into their limit encounter a whole new problem once they get home — cleaning the little buggers.

As Gooding can attest, the more you get, the bigger a pain in the rear the entire enterprise becomes.

(Unless, that is, you eat them guts and all, which some unfortunate souls do.)

“Ten pounds of smelt is plenty, because you’ve got to clean every one of them,” Gooding said.

“The trick is you go down and get a dish pan full of them.

“It gives you enough for a couple of good feeds.

“It will take you a while to clean them, but it won’t take you until the next night.”

Some more stuff

■ River anglers desperate for some action have a couple of viable options on the West End.

The Sol Duc continues to churn out sockeye, the occasional springer and a few summer coho, and the Calawah has more than its fair share of steelhead.

There is one problem with the latter, according to Gooding.

“They’ve been worked over pretty good for a couple of months now,” he said.

“And they start figuring the game out. They aren’t positive what all the people up an the bank are doing, but they are positive it ain’t good for them.”

■ Washington Trails Association will soon begin its annual Hike-a-Thon fundraiser.

Hikers can raise money for state trail maintenance by collecting sponsors and pledges from friends and family, then spend the month of August hiking trails throughout the state.

Registration for the event is available online at Washington Trails’ website (

For more information, contact Kara Chin at

■ Speaking of trails, hikers can now drive all the way up Deer Park Road into Olympic National Park.

The road gives hikers direct access to trails that lead to Elk Mountain (6,764 feet), Grand Valley and the Gray Wolf River.

Here’s guessing a few of those hikes will be adorned with colorful wildflower blooms.


Matt Schubert is the outdoors and sports columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column regularly appears on Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at

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