HALE’S FORD, Va. (WFXR) — There is an old saying that big things come in small packages. Whoever said that may have had a tiny fish called the alewife in mind.

Alewives are a type of herring. Originally native to the Atlantic Ocean, they swim into freshwater streams to spawn. Some have become landlocked due to dams. One of those places is Smith Mountain Lake.

Alewives do not grow very large. A 10-inch fish would be considered a big one. However, the niche they fill in some ecosystems is huge. On Smith Mountain Lake they are primary forage for a number of game fish including striped bass, channel catfish, largemouth bass, and smallmouth bass. In addition birds like ospreys and herons feed on them.

You can find alewives spawning in the shallows from late April to early June. They prefer rocky shorelines to spawn, and they will invade the rip-rap along Smith Mountain Lake by the tens of thousands to drop and fertilize their eggs. That draws game fish into the same areas.

“Bluegills love to eat their eggs, and anything bigger than a bluegill loves to eat the alewives themselves,” said Smith Mountain Lake fishing guide Weston Hartman of Hartman Guide Services. “So, this is a huge ambush point for all predator species; striper, bass, and even catfish come on the rocks and eat these alewives, here.”

A Smith Mountain Lake striped bass that fell for a trolled alewife (Photo: George Noleff/WFXR News)

Anglers can take advantage of that by fishing rip-rap shoreline with stickbaits and flukes. Trolling live bait near those rocky shore structures can also produce fish.

Hartman says the majority of alewives spawn at night, so this is also a good time of year to fish after dark.