"Frankly, if we got three smelt here, I'm going to be really happy, because this is brutal," Lombard says. Lowering the wide lip of his net to the surface of the water — wielding it like an enormous dustpan — he charges into the waves. As he prowls the surf, his weaving motions call to mind a one-line fragment of an old song of the Ohlone Indians who lived on California's Central Coast — also avid consumers of smelt — that is recounted in Malcolm Margolin's The Ohlone Way: "Dancing on the brink of the world."

"I've got one," Lombard cries. Then: "Two! Three!" On a good night, he brings in 100 pounds of smelt within a few hours. He hauls his meager catch to shore and displays them to a friend, Loren Wilson, who has joined him for the evening. The fish have a striking silver sheen, like freshly minted dimes. Lombard eagerly holds one to his nose. They don't smell like fish at all, but like fresh cucumbers. "Spirinchus starksi," he breathes, calling by its Latin name the trio of flashing night smelt that will, it turns out, be the sum of his haul for the evening.

"They're tasty," Wilson chimes in. "They're really tasty."

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Belov can afford to be draconian. His resturant is in upper class Sausalito, with a lunch sandwich running in excess of $20. His sponsor is a Microsoft founder. His view on sustainable seafood is the rich get to eat seafood, the poor must catch it themselves our their out of luck.His view on California Market Squid being fine, I do not support. Its a quotaless fishery. Anyone who observed the fleet do its best to remove every squid from Monterey Bay as I did would be hard pressed to call it sustainable. And they did a damnd good job. Yes they left enough to reproduce, but in the process raided the pantry for the entire food web of the area. Its akin to removing the foundation of a building. Also the damage to the struggling White Seabass population in the form of bycatch, by the seiners is disturbing.


Recently watched a PBS special 'Save the Bay', and it is hard to believe that this natural wonder was almost completely destroyed.

Thank you for your great article about San Francisco Fishing, it reminds those of us(including myself) that fish are not naturally frozen or come from a can. Good Old Fashioned Fishing can be a fun family outing while getting something healthy, tasty and sustainable for dinner.

the kid
the kid

The night smelt he referred to are called White Bait and were caught and sold all over the bay area in the 60's & 70's when I worked in the wholesale fish business. Just pull off their little heads and their intestines come out in one fell swoop! Deep fried they are like eating french fries.We used to ask our girl friends if they "wanted to go watch the Grunion run? We would takethem to the beach and make out. Simpler times for sure!

Phil Blank
Phil Blank

They eat smelt on the east coast and even sell them in a bag frozen at my local grocer just outside Cleveland.


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