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Fisheries Management

Fishing WisconsinSmelt runs on lakes Michigan and Superior

smelt in net

Small but tasty

Lake Michigan

The Lake Michgian smelt run is typically between late March and the end of April. Smelt in Lake Michigan have declined dramatically since their peak in the mid-1980's. A half-full pail has been considered a very good catch in recent years. Last year, the catch was spotty, varying from evening to evening.

Most smelting in the Milwaukee area is currently done at Jones Island. At times, McKinley Pier is also good. The fishing is done with frame dip nets. Please consult the Wisconsin spearing and netting regulations for more information.

The Lake Michigan Fishing Hotline at (414) 382-7920 will contain information on the smelt run. It is updated on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Lake Superior

The smelt run usually takes place during the last two weeks of April. The runs are not large making it difficult to hit the short peak of the run, especially if you are not local to the area. The timing of the run typically peaks just after the ice leaves the bay. Try calling the Ashland Chamber of Commerce at (800) 284-9484 in mid-April to keep track of the run. Typically, the run is seen first in the Hot Pond on the Ashland side of Chequamegon Bay.

Briefly, to help keep smelt out of inland waters and from harming native fish communities, please follow these tips:

  • Do not transport or use live smelt for bait.
  • Do not dispose of smelt entrails, or clean buckets that once contained entrails, in Wisconsin waters.
  • Do not seine or collect minnows from waters that contain smelt.
  • Always drain your livewells, bilge water, and transom well before leaving the water access.
  • Never release unused bait fish into any body of water.

Frequently asked questions

For additional information on Wisconsin fishing, (e.g., maps, fish consumption advisories), please see our list of frequently asked questions.

Last revised: Friday August 31 2012