Photos: Smelt Dippers Drop Their Nets Along the Cowlitz River

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A five-hour opening for recreational smelt dipping along the Cowlitz River brought Snow Bai and her 11-year-old daughter Jessica nearly an hour north Saturday.

The pair from Camas dipped for the thin, silvery fish from the banks of Gerhart Gardens Park in Longview during the state-allowed season from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. along with hundreds of others.

Saturday was Snow Bai’s second time dipping and her daughter’s first. Snow Bai said they planned to feast on the smelt that evening, either by frying them in an egg and flour mixture or making soup.

Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife said the 2022 smelt run is expected to be larger than the year before. Dipnetters caught about 90,750 pounds in the five-hour fishery window in 2021, the state reports.

Fish and Wildlife says they will monitor the run to see if another recreational dipping day will open later this season. Saturday marks the third consecutive year of recreational dipnet fishing in the area. Recreational smelt fishing was banned in 2018 and 2019 due to poor runs.

Columbia River smelt are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act due to declines in run size in the last decade, which is why recreational fishing is limited to years in which the run size is exceptionally large. Smelt have a range from Long Beach, California to Chignik Lagoon, Alaska, but the Columbia River has a specific kind of smelt, also called hooligan or eulachon.

A very oily fish, eulachon used to be dried and burned as candles, which is why they’re sometimes also called candlefish.