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Fresh Smelts--have they dissappeared from New England?

I'm very fond of pan fried smelts. But these days I never see local smelts on menus or in the grocery stores or fish markets (except frozen from Canada). Shouldn't they be in season? Where have they gone? I'm in Southern New Hampshire, but travel frequently to Boston. and with less frequncy as far south as Providence as far east as Portland. Anybody know where fresh local smelts are available these days?

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  1. I get them at a supermarket named Hannaford's. It is based on the Portland, Maine area, but has stores all over NH.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rabbijohn

      i haven't been shopping at hannaford as much lately, having converted to market basket a few years back. i'll have to check it out. thanks for the tip. have you noticed if what hannaford carries is "fresh" or "previously frozen"?

    2. It is very easy to net smelt on nights w/ a full moon like tonight. A gallon of smelt per person per day.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Passadumkeg

        You can get them very fresh and local, and without hipboots and nets, at Joe's Lobster Mart on the Cape. It's at the end of the canal on the Sandwich side. BTW, it's also the bestfish market for miles with great lobster and fish prices. They even sell live crabs for $2.00/lb. http://www.joeslobstermart.com/

        1. re: Passadumkeg

          i have fond memories of smelting with my family as a kid. at this point, i'm a little too far inland for that to work (nashua area), alas!

        2. we've been seeing less and less in LI Sound, likely due to the dramatic increase in the striper population over the last 10-15 years.

          Bump this post in august and I'll bring you a few pounds fresh caught. you'd have to meet me at mohegan or foxwoods though, I'm down new haven way.

          1. I just saw some at Market Basket in Londonderry NH but can't remember where they were from - but seafood department, looked great, almost got some but the haddock was calling me.

            2 Replies
            1. re: lexpatti

              interesting, i've been looking in market basket (nashua and concord area stores) all fall/ winter and have only seen frozen or previously frozen from canada. did you notice if the ones in londonderry were fresh?

              1. re: qianning

                I didn't, sorry. If I'm in there this week, I'll check adn report back.

            2. I smelted in the Finger lakes for many years and the North East Smelting really begins around the middle of April when the water warms up enough to breed. It should run until mid May. Anything in stores now is likely from the south or previously frozen.
              Keep your hopes up, the local stuff should be in store soon.

              1. Fisherman's Catch in Wells Maine always has them on the menu. They are only open for the summer season- not sure when they will open but it is a very good place- lots of fried seafood , lobsters etc.

                1. Ashland MB had em today fresh. $4.59 #

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: trufflehound

                    thanks. i'll keep checking my local MB, they haven't had them, but i'll have to ask if they can get them, somethimes they'll order bluefish for me.

                    1. re: qianning

                      Market Basket at exit 38 of 495 in Tewksbury had FRESH Canadian smelts this week.

                      1. re: bagelman01

                        unfortunatly most of the canadian smelts are fresh smelts from the great lakes, and taste quite different than the salt and brackish water smelts from new england that i grew up with and have been looking for (i've checked market basket, hannaford and shaw's, no luck with local product at any of them).

                  2. I dont know about fresh but Price Chopper in Worcester Ma has them fried to order.
                    My kids absolutely love them.

                    1. i'm thinking this may be a case of disappearing smelt eaters.

                      5 Replies
                        1. re: ScubaSteve

                          After a fair, but unscientific, amount of investigation, it seems that this is more a case of dissappearing old timers who catch smelts rather than smelt eaters. I guess one has to travel down east or to the cape to find such types any more.

                          1. re: qianning

                            Check your local/state regs. Smelting is very easy and a lot of fum. Here in Maine, one needs only a hand net, bucket to put the smelt in and a flashlight (head lamp gives 2 free hands) to see to have a great time smelting on a moonlit night. Some beer helps too.

                            1. re: Passadumkeg

                              although i did plenty of smelt fishing as a kid, these days its not so pactical due to geography, schedule & etc.....wish some "old timers" would start selling local smelts to courthouse fish market again, the owner says he hasn't been able to get local smelts in three years or more, not due to alack of smelts, but due to a lack of smelt fishing....

                              1. re: qianning

                                Fresh smelts I've seen lately do not look fresh at all, but rather as if they "smelt" indeed. I have given up on finding good fresh smelts in stores, but just a week ago we had a special of golden, simply sauteed, very large (8"-10") smelts at Bella in Glendale, RI. They were surprisingly delicious: sweet, very fresh flesh with no hint of fishiness; even the heads were delicious. The maitre d' told us that they were hand-caught through the ice in Maine and delivered that day. Keep looking; somebody's hooking 'em!

                        2. I know that Red Arrow diner has them on the menu!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: momofdougie

                            hmmmm, makes sense, but come to think of it i've never had anything but breakfast there!

                          2. I had fried smelts at Horton's in E. Providence a week or so ago. Tasty.

                            1. Isn't there still some smelting between Wiscasset and Augusta, seems like I pass some sort of advertising on that road (route 28??)......

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: jspear

                                Well, if you want to catch them yourself, get going before the ice starts to thin! Jim Worthing's smelt camp in Chelsea (over the bridge from Gardiner, ME) is still operating.

                                1. re: mainemal

                                  Alas, Gardiner, Wiscasset & Augusta are out of my range these days. One of the things that got me to right the original post was a stop at Harbor Fish Market in Portland week before last, while they had many wonderful things, no local smelts. I was surprised & disappointed (well, not too disappointed as the atlantic halibut, monk fish and lobster bodies we got more than made up for the missing smelts)

                              2. S&S Seafood in Fitchburg had them fresh a few weeks ago. You could call and ask, if it is close enough to you.

                                1. Hi Qianning:

                                  Check out the Maine shrimp posting (Shrimp Boat's A-Coming...) on this board; one of the last posts mentions fresh smelts in Maine. Good luck!

                                  1. Our Shaw's circular for this week lists fresh wild smelts on sale. :) (central vermont)

                                    1. They have them pretty frequently at The Causeway in Gloucester. Call before you go.

                                      1. Route 1A in Winterport Maine has a place that sells them now. I know that's too far north ofr you, but I thought someone might be intersted

                                        1. I just bought some yesterday at the hannaford's in Buxton Maine they were Canadian Smelts.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: snick14

                                            i got some last week from Free Range Fish in Manchester NH (Branch of the store on commercial st in Portland Me), they claimed they were Maine smelts, and they were quite good.

                                          2. Well, I saw this at our local Shaw's in central Vermont. It's a fish head eating a dressed smelt in the fish case. :)

                                            1. Smelt fishing off A street in Nantasket as a teenager in the 60's eating them butterflied at the Legal Seafood Bar for 75 cents each in the 70's and 80's the best memories...had a great order for lunch last week at Venda's Cafe Federal Hill Providence (not 75 cents!!)

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: bakerbrosshoes

                                                smelts from nantasket....we used to get ours off the peirs in wareham....a much nicer flavor to the brackish water smelts than the fresh water version....

                                                1. re: bakerbrosshoes

                                                  My Mom grew up on Nantasket beach. When I was growing up, for a treat, she'd buy a load of frozen smelts, butterfly them out, and fry em up. Didn't realize until I moved to Maine that the butterfly treatment was a MA thing.

                                                  1. re: the_MU

                                                    Jeesum Crow, Bub, how do you Mass depressions turn a smelt into a butterfly? Just wonderin'.

                                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                      Magic, and a little teensy paring knife. My brother and I were super-disappointed after we ordered smelts at a place up here and received them fried but otherwise practically intact.

                                                      1. re: the_MU

                                                        I like butterflies too. I think they run up the Camden mill stream.

                                                2. I am catching my limit of large smelts every day in augusta. just at first light on front street the water is black with them. the limit is 2 qt s and they are large. simply cast out a line with 3 or 4 small treble hooks and a weight on the end and you can snag your limit in a 1/2 hour or less. they are so tasty i have to go back every day. while they can be caught at any time during the day....first light is best... good luck!

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: hozer61

                                                    Lucky you, hozer!

                                                    Does anyone know if any of the rivers in the Nashua area have good smelting? Has it warmed up too fast?

                                                  2. There is an all-you-can-eat smelt fry in Columbia Falls on 4/16 at 5 pm, at the town hall, for $5 per head to benefit The North Atlantic Salmon Federation. Home made side and desserts too. A fun time if you can get to downeast Maine.

                                                    1. I haven't taken the time to read all the posts so I'm not sure where you are - however, I just saw fresh smelts at Cranston Whole Foods yesterday....

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: harryharry

                                                        OK, now I have to go find myself some smelts. And then what? Are they so small you sorta don't think about what you're eating, like sardines, and just eat the whole thing? Breaded? Batter dipped? What? I've obviously been deprived...

                                                        1. re: beethoven

                                                          Roll in flour, fry in butter until crisp and "I can't believe I ate the whole thing!". Great w/ fries and slaw, baked beans too. Don't forget a cold brew.

                                                      2. January 30 2012

                                                        This statement was published back in 2009 by a person who lives up north where they catch smelts . Read below and then think where the smelts have gone ? You do not have to be a brain surgeon to figure this one out.

                                                        There were so many rainbow smelt in Lake Superior, just about anyone with a sturdy net, or even a big plastic bag, could be guaranteed a huge catch. In all-night parties, smelt were scooped into buckets and cooked; garbage cans were filled; even whole pickup loads were hauled away. Smelt were so common they were used as food and fertilizer.