The first reported introduction of Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax) to Lake George was in 1918. Approximately 2.5 million smelt were released to enhance the lake trout fishery. Five Million more smelt were released in 1921. Smelt have historically been stocked into bodies of water throughout the Adirondacks as prey for larger game species such as lake trout and land locked salmon. Within Lake George, smelt are replacing ciscoe as the primary prey species. Many organizations around the lake have taken an interest in the smelt population.
In 1988 The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation banned the collection or possession of smelt within the Lake George Watershed, in response to concern over the stability of the population. This ban remains in effect today. In 2002 the Lake George Fishing Alliance collected 1 Million eggs from Indian Lake and stocked them into Smith Brook and Jenkins Brook on Lake George. In 2009 the Lake George Waterkeeper, in cooperation with the Lake George Fishing Alliance and the direction of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, initiated a scientific survey of the smelt population and factors that may be inhibiting the spawning migration. This study was continued in 2010 and will be conducted again this spring.
Rainbow smelt are a small, dark torpedo shaped fish, that have fang-like teeth and have an adipose fin. Smelt reach sexual maturity between 2 and 3 years of age. They can live up to 9 years and can grow as long as 9 inches.
Smelt will begin their annual spawning migration within the next 4 to 6 weeks. Hundreds to Thousands of fish will be seen swimming within streams tributary to Lake George and other bodies of water within the Adirondacks, once the water temperature reaches 42 degrees. The spawning migration will generally last two weeks depending on the weather. During this time, smelt will return to their birth streams to spawn. Spawning takes place at night, however fish can still be seen within the streams during the day. The eggs will hatch in early to mid May depending on the water temperature. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae smelt will drift out to the lake.
Many factors could be affecting the annual spawning migration of the smelt, these include; structural impedance, siltation, foraging pressure, habitat alteration, lack of riparian cover, and excessive nutrients.
For more information on the Rainbow Smelt, visit:
For more information on the status of the Rainbow Smelt in Lake George, visit:
To watch an interesting video from the 2010 smelt survey, visit:
This year the Lake George Waterkeeper and the Lake George Fishing Alliance are asking for volunteers to help monitor the annual spawning migration of the Rainbow Smelt in Lake George streams. If you are interested in assisting, please contact Corrina at: [email protected] or Chris Navitsky at: [email protected]
Photo’s: Smelt within streams tributary to Lake George, NY. Courtesy: Blueline Photography, Jeremy Parnapy.
Corrina Parnapy is a Lake George native and a naturalist who writes regularly about the environment and Adirondack natural history for the Adirondack Almanack.