Smelts (Osmeridae)

Smelt silhouette.

Smelt are a primarily marine or anadromous family of the Northern Hemisphere. They are relatively small, silvery fishes with a very slender, cylindrical shape. They are closely related to trout and similarly have one soft dorsal fin, an adipose fin, abdominal pelvic fins, and no spines. Unlike trout, they have no pelvic axillary process (small flap of tissue at base of pelvic fin is absent).

One species of smelt occurs in Connecticut. The anadromous form is native; whereas, the landlocked form was introduced as a panfish and to provide forage for large trout.

Click on the species name below to learn more.

Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax) - Native

14 cm rainbow smelt.


Rainbow smelt are difficult to keep in home aquariums. They are sensitive to warm water (above 60° F) and bright light. They are also active predators that require a larger tank and live food (preferably fish).


Text and images adapted from Jacobs, R. P., O'Donnell, E. B., and Connecticut DEEP. (2009). A Pictorial Guide to Freshwater Fishes of Connecticut. Hartford, CT. Available for purchase at the DEEP Store.