Night smelt are often referred to as "fries with eyes." Most cultures eat them whole, since they're so delicate, but you can also cut the heads off before frying them.
Night smelt are caught using a dip-net to scoop up spawning smelt as they reach the shore. Smelt, like salmon, are anadromous fish which means they migrate from freshwater to saltwater. The dip-net technique goes back to a Native American practice that has been used for thousands of years. It's non-invaseive, and a hyper-sustainable practice that ensures no bycatch and no overfishing.
You can tell your smelt is fresh by using your nose, fresh smelt smell like cucumbers! Some say never rinse a smelt before cooking it, or you'll lose it's natural flavors. Others can't stand the scratchy sand that tends to build up in their gills when they're caught and prefer to give them a quick rinse or cut their heads off all together. We recommend no rinse, just a pat dry with a paper towel before frying.
Much like squid and sardines, making a market for smelt means fishermen get paid more for their hard work. It's an abundant, incredibly healthy and sustainable fishery and should be sold as more than just bait. Additionally, smaller fish in general have shorter life spans and are lower in the food chain. Meaning that there are less toxics in their systems!
Check out this video below to watch Sea Forager Kirk Lombard fishing for Night Smelt