Smelt Fishing in Michigan City, Indiana

by Trish Jackson
Enjoy smelt battered and fried.

Enjoy smelt battered and fried.

Jupiterimages/ Images

Smelt fishing is a social affair in Michigan City, Indiana, spent with friends, family and neighbors. Fishing is a popular year-round sport on the 43 miles of Indiana's Lake Michigan shoreline, with a large selection of fish available. Smelt are small fish, considered a delicacy when battered and fried. The anglers wear hip boots or waders and catch the smelt with a net after dark in spring when the waters start to warm up and the smelt migrate in large schools.

Where to Fish for Smelt

Michigan City, Indiana, offers many public places for shore fishing for smelt, including the Michigan City Pier, the Port of Indiana in Michigan City, and adjacent to the Department of Natural Resources building in Michigan City. The 57-acre Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk Development, 12 miles west of the city center in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore area, opened in 2008 and also provides access for shoreline anglers.

When to Fish for Smelt

Fishermen can catch rainbow smelt in spring, from March 1 through May 30. The smelt run usually takes place in early April through May, but this varies with the temperature of the water and climactic conditions. Anglers bring seines or nets after dusk and set themselves up along the shoreline. Smelt fishing in Michigan City can take place on public access shorelines and in national parks, where closure hours are waived for smelt fishermen.


A fishing permit is required for all fishing in public waterways in Indiana. Permits are obtainable from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources . Anglers must carry the license at all times to avoid being fined. If they lose their permit, they can reprint a copy online at the DNR website.

Cooking Smelt

Frying is the most popular method of cooking smelt. Clean the smelt and remove the heads and entrails. Their bones are soft but some people like to remove them prior to cooking. Mix 1 cup of flour and 1 tsp. of fish seasoning in a plastic bag. Drop the cleaned smelt into the mixture and shake the bag to cover the fish. Fry in 1/8 inch of vegetable or olive oil over medium heat, turning after three minutes, and cook for another two minutes. Drain on paper towels. Fried smelt make good finger food. Eat them plain or dipped in tartar or seafood sauce.

Photo Credits

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