You can fish with crustaceans as bait; however most smelt prefer decapods (crayfish, crabs, lobsters, prawns and shrimp) and gammarids (a small invertebrate). Among decapods, shrimp deliver the best striking action, with mysid shrimp leading other shrimp species. The majority of shrimp species live in the ocean; however some also live in brackish estuaries and coral reefs. A few species live in fresh-water habitats, which is where smelt can be found. Add a sinker and a light weight to your monofilament fishing line, so it doesn't drop to lower depths. Fish your line along the coast, approximately 21 feet deep.
Use pieces of "sea worms" when fishing for large smelt. Sea worms are classified within the Nereis genus, which includes the sandworm (Nereis virens) and the common clam worm (Nereis succinea). Rig your fishing pole with whatever sea worm you choose. Set up your line near the coast, where the water is calm and the current is relatively still. Attach a size 4 snelled hook and thread the worm onto the hook. Add a bobber 2 to 3 feet forward of the hook and tie the tag end using an improved clinch knot (see Resources).
Small fish including mummichogs (a killifish found in brackish and coastal habitats), cunners, anchovies, launce, sticklebacks, silversides and alewives can attract smelt of all sizes. Other small fish varieties include shellfish, squid, annelid worms and crabs. For the best striking action, twitch your rod slightly and present the bait no more than a mile from the shoreline. Maintain a slow retrieve so nearby smelt have an opportunity to strike. A smelt will not immediately approach bait, but when it does, it swims close and then stops to observe the presentation before it quickly sucks it in. If you create too much water disturbance or retrieve the bait too quickly, the smelt will not have an opportunity to strike it.