For as long as I can remember, the possession of smelt on Lake George has been strictly prohibited by the NYS DEC. You couldn’t harvest the fish, and you certainly were not allowed to use them for bait for some of the bigger sport fishing species in Lake George. The Department of Environmental Conservation recently changed their ruling on the matter, by adding an open and closed season for smelt on one of the best fisheries in the area.
You are now allowed to fish for smelt on Lake George with a hook and line only (no dip-netting) during the open season. Smelt season is open from May 16 until March 31. During the season, each licensed fisher is allowed a limit of 25 smelt per day. Once the smelt are caught and are in your possession, you’ll also be allowed to use the small fish to bait bigger fish, namely northern pike and lake trout.
Smelt are pretty good eating on their own, so many people will probably bring their catch home and cook it up for a snack. Smelt are good eating for bigger fish too, and schools of smelt will likely attract predators like lake trout, making them a useful baitfish. Plus, if you have a bucket full of smelt and can’t seem to find any lake trout, you can head home and eat your bait!
Good news for ice fishermen that try to imitate smelt with lures and jigs all winter, now you can use the real thing!