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Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax)


The Rainbow Smelt or Osmerus mordax is a rather small fish that is found in many places in North America including the Great Lakes and many coastal rivers. Rainbow Smelt have slender bodies that have an iridescent look to them with shades of blue, pink and purple on their sides, a silver back and a light underside.  Like other Smelt, they are not particularly large only growing to about 12" in maximum length and weighing in at about 3 oz maximum.

These fish go by a couple different names including American Smelt, Leefish, Freshwater Smelt, and Frost Fish.  Rainbow Smelt fall prey to a few different species of fish including Walleye, Yellow Perch, Coho Salmon, Burbot and Trout. This species of Smelt will often dine on small invertebrates, zooplankton, Whitefish, sculpins and are even known to eat other Smelt!

Rainbow Smelt are caught both commercially and for recreation.  They are edible, but are often used as animal feed and are not considered to be one of the tastiest fish.  Rainbow Smelt are considered an invasive species that can cause serious damage when introduced in the wrong locations.  While they do provide food for larger fish, they also reproduce quite quickly and can easily become overpopulated in a rather short period of time.

Some Rainbow Smelt are anadromous which means that they can live in salt water as well as fresh water near the coastline.  This fish spends much of its summer around the coast line only a mile or so inside the ocean.  In the wintertime this fish has a special anti-freeze protein that helps it survive the harsh winters.  Once Spring comes Rainbow Smelt will spawn at night in small streams.     

You can check out these Rainbow Smelt with your own eyes in the video below...


If you have any additional information about the Rainbow Smelt please leave us a comment...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Actually, the rainbow smelt is considered to be of high eating quality and is available fresh for purchase, in northern New England fish markets, during the winter months. Recreational fishing for smelt is a popular activity here in Maine owing in part to the reward of mild, white and crispy smelt, fried over a smelt camp wood stove.

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