The Smelt is a name given to three different fish. In the first place, the term is used locally instead of smolt—the young salmon, with which we now have nothing to do. There is also the atherine, or sand smelt, which naturalists do not call a smelt at all; and lastly there is the true smelt, also called sparling (Osmerus esperlanus), which many people will be surprised to learn is a member of the salmon family. This, the true or cucumber smelt, has two back fins, that near the tail being without rays and fatty or adipose, like those borne by salmon, trout, and grayling. The atherine also has two back fins, but the one near the tail is of the ordinary kind with rays, while the back fin near the head is small, spines projecting from the edge of it like the dorsal fin of the perch. If the posterior dorsal fin of a doubtful specimen is carefully examined, there need be no difficulty in settling the question.
Everyone, I take it, knows the general appearance of these delicate silvery-looking little fish. The true smelt, when freshly caught, gives off a peculiar smell, which many people have compared with cucumber (possibly because it smells it is called the smelt). Some say that the perfume is of violets ; others, again, being reminded of rushes. For my own part, I say a smelt smells of smelt and of no other smell whatever. The Germans less politely have named it the stinkfisch. Taylor, writing in the ' Hardwicke Society Gossip,' asserted that he had known smelts come up rivers in such vast numbers that the peculiar cucumber smell was apparent to those who walked by the water's edge.