A few friends and I went to the Cowlitz River near Castle Rock, WA yesterday to try our hand at catching smelt. The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife set a one-day (actually 7AM to 1PM) season for dip netting for smelt. I’ve been wanting to try smelting for several years and hadn’t gone fishing this winter, so I was eager to go “fishing” or, more accurately, dip netting.
I was amazed at the huge numbers of people lining each side of the river as we passed the first area of bank access off the highway. My hopes at a successful day were stoked by seeing fishermen already leaving with full buckets.
Because of low numbers of returning fish in past years, the Washington smelt fishery is highly regulated with strict limits on fishing days and catch limits. Unfortunately, almost everyone I would see that day had kept more than their limit of 10 pounds.
We quickly suited up in our waders after we arrived at our access point and immediately saw some people with jumping fish in their nets. After some brief instruction from my friend, I netted my first smelt after a couple of dips. It took a few minutes to get used to the motion of quickly plunging the net and dragging it downstream along the bottom of the river. We often got no fish on dips while other dips yielded more than 10 fish. Being my first time catching smelt, it was hard for me to judge how good or slow the fishing was but it took only about an hour for us to net four limits of smelt. The fellow fishermen were friendly and cordial despite the hundreds of people lined up combat style along the banks.
That evening, after a couple of hours cleaning and freezing fish, I enjoyed a delicious appetizer of pan fried smelt, served with freshly made tartar sauce. A great meal and day.