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Jacksmelt or Jack Smelt, a Pacific Panfish

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A pair of Pacific jacksmelt

A pair of Pacific jacksmelt

Hank Shaw

Jacksmelt -- Good Times at the Pier:

The Pacific jacksmelt is neither a jack nor a smelt: It's the largest silversides in the Pacific, and it is one of the most commonly caught fish off docks, piers and jetties in that ocean.

Jacksmelt appear from Baja to Oregon, and are typically 9-15 inches long, with torpedo-shaped bodies and beautiful electric blue stripes on their backs.

While there was once a commercial fishery for them, now you may only find jacksmelt in Asian markets -- if at all. But they are ridiculously easy to catch off piers with light tackle and little bits of shrimp, or even shiny bare hooks!

Once you have some, the finest fate for a jacksmelt is to hot-smoke it like a teeny salmon. They are oily and full-flavored, so the smoke and brine really does this fish justice.

If you don't want to smoke them, jacksmelt would also be excellent split, scaled, gutted, stuffed with herbs and maybe mushrooms, then wrapped in a grape leaf and grilled over charcoal. Delish.

You could also fillet them and make a fine escabeche, which is a Spanish preparation in which you cook fish then marinate it in a vinegary sauce for a day before eating -- sort of a quick pickle.

One thing you should not do with jacksmelt is eat them raw: A few may contain tiny parasites, but these are killed by proper cooking. I caught a half-dozen the other day and found one with the parasite, which looks like a teeny coiled worm. I removed it, then cooked and ate the fish with the others.

Don't let the possibility of parasites ruin a day at the pier: Many, many fish (not to mention beef, chicken and pork) contain them. Simply cook the fish well and you are good to go.

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