Last modified: February 19, 2021

Fish Misc.


Silversides: Family Atherinidae

Species: Atherinopsis californiensis (Girard, 1854); from the Greek words ather (a spike or arrow) and ops (like), and californiensis (in reference to the geographic area).

Alternate Names: Smelt, California smelt, horse smelt, blue smelt, silverside, pescado del rey, Peixe rey and Pesce rey. Called pejerrey mocho in Mexico.

Identification: Smelt-like shape and very similar to the topsmelt. They have two dorsal fins; the anal fin begins below the first dorsal fin. Their coloring is grayish-green above with a bluish tinge, silver below. A metallic band tinged with blue and edged with bright blue extends the length of the body. The cheek has a yellowish blotch.

Size: To 19.1 inches. In southern California, anglers catch both jacksmelt and topsmelt and most of the fish are small. Occasionally a few larger fish do appear, with almost any fish over 12 inches being a jacksmelt. In northern California, the majority of smelt appear to be over 12 inches in length. The California angling record fish weighed 1 lb 8 oz and was caught near San Nicholas Island in 1998.


Range: From Bahia Magdalena, southern Baja California, and the Gulf of California, to Yaquina Bay, Oregon. Common from Bahia Magdalena, Baja California, to Coos Bay, Oregon.

Habitat: Bays and nearshore, shallow oceanfront water, especially near rocky areas like jetties where there is a good current to sweep food near the fish. Recorded to a depth of 95 feet.

Piers: Jacksmelt are caught at virtually every pier in California. Larger jacksmelt are especially abundant at piers in bays, and even more so at bay piers adjacent to rocky points. Best bets: Oceanside Pier, Newport Pier, Huntington Beach Pier, Redondo Beach Pier, Hermosa Beach Pier, Gaviota Pier, Pismo Beach Pier, Port San Luis Pier, Santa Cruz Wharf, Pillar Point Harbor Pier, San Francisco Municipal Pier, Berkeley Pier, Elephant Rock Pier, Fort Baker Pier, Lawson Landing Pier (Tomales Bay), Tides Wharf (Bodega Bay), Commercial Street Dock (Eureka) and the “B” Street Pier (Crescent City).

Shoreline: Sometimes taken by inshore anglers fishing near rocks or jetties.

Boats: Sometimes taken by boaters, especially those fishing Morro Bay and San Francisco Bay.

Bait and Tackle: Two main outfits are used. First is a simple snag line made with several small hooks, either left bare or to which colored yarn or cloth has been attached (like a Lucky Joe rigging). This is commonly used in southern California and the angler simply jigs the leader up and down trying to attract and snag the fish. In northern California, a leader is usually made up with six to eight small hooks spaced every six inches apart. A float or large bobber is attached above the hooks. Each hook is baited with a very small piece of pile worm, bloodworm or shrimp and the outfit is allowed to drift with the current. The result is often 3-6 fish caught at one time.

Food Value: Given their size, fillets are typically small. The flesh is mild flavored and soft textured with moderate fat content. Typically pan-fried although there are a lot of bones and usually quite a few worms in the flesh. The worms are harmless after cooking but seem to prevent many from eating the jacksmelt.

Comments: For their size jacksmelt put up a terrific fight. Many anglers have been startled to have a jacksmelt hit a bait at full throttle and come to realize that a fairly small fish has put up such a terrific battle.

Mike Granat and jacksmelt from the Port View Park Pier in Oakland

19 Responses

  1. I want to know when is the best time on the year to fish for topsmel or grunion on california,and where are good piers or places to cach them,than you

    1. What time of the year, do the jacksmelt fishing is good in the SFO bay, thank you for your information.

        1. Or winter. We caught 6 today on a high low rig baited with cut sardines.

      1. Can I use cut-up jack Smelt as bait off a.boat?

        1. Jacksmelt can be used for bait. Small ones make good live bait while the larger ones can be cut up for bait. However, they are rarely as good as more oily baits like anchovies, sardines or mackerel.

  2. Are their any regulations on sabiki rigs when making your own, like how far the hooks have to be spread out?

  3. Yes in the sf bay you can only have 3 hooks one one line.

  4. Hey Andres the best time for me is for usually the summer time

  5. Best time is usually the summer for me and the ort view park or seventh street pier is a good place to fish at.

  6. Catching a bunch of them today in my SF bay marina. Had to google search to ID them. Fun little fish to catch on light tackle. Fun for the kids, too!

  7. Had a run on giant jacksmelt today at San Simeon pier, must be breeding time because nearly all fish landed were very large females, 15-16+” long, terrific fun on light spinning tackle. Used high/low rigs with bloodworms or mackerel strips.

    1. Once saw a guy catch a massive one on Oceanside Pier, must’ve been at least two feet long

  8. I used to catch them in Monterey with a strip of squid on a bobber at the end of wharf #2 or in my inflatable in July 

  9. My brother and I got 18 today ranging in size  from 10” to 12” on anchovies at the Santa Cruz Pier.  We caught them in a 3  1/2 hour period.  Nobody was catching anything on the pier except us. 

  10. I catch those all the time on just about every pier I’ve fished, sometimes they are all that’s biting on many days.The big ones are terrific fighters on light tackle, but terrible eating in my opinion.

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