Smelt Fishing Report

Smelt Fishing Report for Ashland County

We hope you have a great time during this year's smelt season!

Smelt Season 2024

Smelt Report for May 6, 2024
We think smelt season is done.  See you next year! 

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Visitors and locals alike love the short but sweet smelt season here on Chequamegon Bay. Smelt don’t typically start their spawning run until mid April. The run usually commences shortly after ice-out on the bay and lasts only 12-14 days.

Contrary to what some folks may have heard, the smelt do not run under the ice, They have to have open water to spawn.

Frequently, the smelt run is seen first in the Xcel Energy power plant’s “hot pond” on the Ashland side of the bay. The smelt usually run late at night and are brought in with a seine net or dip net. The seine net is used on the shores of the big lake and some smelters use a dip net in the creeks.

Smelting is always a fun time with the smell of the clean air of Chequamegon Bay. Smelters enjoy the outdoors as they wait for the run to come in heavy.  At times, the smelt may start running at 9pm or they may be running at midnight or later. They are unpredictable little fish (approximately 4 to 5 inches in length) that only answer to Mother Nature.

Smelt were planted in the lake many decades ago and are not a native fish to Lake Superior. There is an old tradition that you bite the head off the first smelt brought in. Of course, you don’t actually eat the head, but you would be a brave smelter for sticking with the custom.

Campfires are allowed during smelt season.
Campfires must be built within 20 feet of the Lake Superior shore on snow or ice or before June 1

Please follow these guidelines:
Use only “clean wood,” which means natural wood that has not been painted, varnished or coated with a similar material, has not been pressure-treated with preservatives, and does not contain resins or glues as in plywood or other composite wood products.
The fire must be “open burning,” which means kindling or maintaining a fire where the products of combustion are emitted directly into the ambient air without passing through a stack or chimney. Lastly, the fire needs to be confined by a controlled device or structure such as an enclosure, fire ring or fire pit, no more than three feet wide at its widest point.

For more information on smelting season in the Ashland area, call us at 715-682-2500. We have a smelt hotline set up during the month of April. Please keep checking back for updates!
Click here to read our weekly fishing report!

2022 Smelt Fishing Camping Rates (includes sales tax)
Smelting/Spring Special Event Camping Rates                                     

  • Bayview Park parking lot Camping/Overnight Parking:                   
         Daily Rate                                                   $20.00
  • Hot Pond Camping/Overnight Parking:                                  
       No overnight parking

From May 1- May 15 and Oct 15 until the snow flies, Kreher RV park is also available, the off season rate is $25/night. Cost includes electricity, fire ring, picnic table, but no water or dump station.

Important 2022 smelting rules and regulations from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources:

• For harvesting smelt, no fishing license is required for Wisconsin residents.

• However, non-residents must possess a valid Wisconsin non-resident fishing license. (These can be obtained at any licensing agent such as Walmart or the DNR building.) The cheapest option for non-residents who wish to harvest smelt is to purchase a two-day outlying license.

• Anglers CANNOT have both dip nets and seines used for smelt AND sport fishing tackle in the same boat or on their person.

• Anglers CANNOT possess both smelt and game fish or they will be in violation.

• Make sure you have permission from the current property owner before walking out onto a private beach to harvest smelt. (For example, Culver’s.)

• The smelt CANNOT be kept alive. The water must be emptied out of the buckets before leaving the beach.

ALL other fish, including suckers and bullheads, CANNOT be kept. They must immediately be let go.

Fires should be attended to at all times or put out when leaving the location.

The 2015 smelt harvest was plentiful with hundreds of pounds being hauled in on some nights. (Photo by Luke Kavajecz of Anglers All)
The 2015 smelt harvest was plentiful with hundreds of pounds being hauled in on some nights. (Photo by Luke Kavajecz of Anglers All)

Dip Nets: Not exceeding 8 feet in diameter or 8 feet square, may be used only from April 1 to May 25 for taking smelt in Lake Superior and all streams flowing into Lake Superior in Bayfield, Ashland, Iron counties and the Brule River in Douglas County from a point beginning at their mouths and extending inland for a distance of one-half mile measured in a straight line. In Douglas County, smelt may also be taken on Bear Creek, Bluff Creek, Nemadji River, the St. Louis River and the other non-trout streams. In the waters of Ashland County, smelt may also be taken from streams not inhabited by trout, or on streams where active sea lamprey control structures are located.

Seines: Not more than 75 feet in length and not more than 6 feet in depth may be used from April 1 to May 25 for taking smelt in Lake Superior, St. Louis Bay, Superior Bay, Allouez Bay and from the mouth of the St. Louis River upstream to the North 28th Street landing in Douglas County.