Spirinchus Starksi



Nearshore, Rivers


3" - 9"

Night Smelt 

Also Known As: Nghtfish, White Bait, Candlefish

Night Smelt (Spirinchus starksi) Fish Description

Also known as Nightfish, Candlefish, and White Bait, the Night Smelt (along with the Surf Smelt) is a true smelt and member of the Osmeridae family. It is usually confused with the Longfin Smelt due to their similar appearance. 

The Night Smelt spawns at night whereas its sibling Surf Smelt spawns during the day. Both of them are common near the mouths of the river and in Monterey Bay. The two relatives are distinguished by the size of their mouths; the Night Smelt’s mouth reaches up to the edge of its pupil, while the Surf Smelt’s mouth does not.

The body of Night Smelts is generally silvery to golden in color; its back is brownish-green. It has no dorsal and anal spines but has 8 to 10 dorsal soft rays and 15 to 19 anal soft rays. Male Night Smelts have longer pectoral fins.


Diet and Size

Some of the favorites of the Night Smelt are plankton, and small crustaceans. 

On average, Night Smelts measure up around 3 to 9 inches in length. They live up to 3 years.


Interesting Facts About the Night Smelt 

  • Night Smelts give off an odor similar to that of a cucumber.
  • This species is one of the healthiest and most delicious fish for human consumption.
  • Night Smelt is very tasty; its flavor is rich and mild. It has a delicate flesh with some crunchy bones. It can be smoked, sauteed, or fried.
  • Some Indians use the fatty part of the Night Smelt in making candles.
  • The Night Smelt (S. starksi) was named after American ichthyologist E.C. Starks.


Fishing Techniques: How to Catch a Night Smelt

The best way for anglers to catch Night Smells is through using an A-frame dip net. This Native American method and design has been used for thousands of years in the California Coast. They can also be captured using seines.

Since only light gear i