Hooligan (Thaleichthys pacificus), otherwise known as "eulachon" or "candlefish", are a type of anadromous smelt that makes its way into a number of rivers in Alaska during the spring spawning run. They arrive in some river systems in the hundreds of thousands, and are an important forage species for eagles, gulls, bears and other species. The fish is found from the Pacific Northwest to Alaska, and the name "eulachon" is thought to derive from the Chinookan language. "Hooligan" is thought to be a derivative of the Chinookan name.
Hooligan are of interest to subsistence fishermen, who net them out of rivers in the spring. The fish are eaten dried, smoked, canned or pan-fried. In years past, they earned the name "candlefish", because when dried, the oil content of the fish was sufficient to allow it to burn like a candle. Hooligan were formerly harvested and rendered for their oil, which can comprise 15% of their body weight during the spawning run.
Life History / Biology
Hooligan make their spawning run in May, with the males usually coming in first, followed by female fish a few days later. Males develop two fleshy ridges along their sides, and most hooligan die after spawning. They lay their eggs in sand or gravel, and the eggs hatch in roughly a month. The fry make their way to saltwater immediately, where they live for four to six years. They do not always return to the same stream where they were spawned, but they do return to the general area. They prefer slower rivers without a lot of current velocity, as they are fairly weak swimmers.
Hooligan average between eight and ten inches in size.
Dipnetting for Hooligan
Hooligan are typically caught by dipnet, a long-handled net with a bag that has fine mesh in it. The fish school up in deeper pockets, and in these places hundreds of hooligan can be caught. At this writing, a dipnetting permit is not required, and anyone with a valid sport fishing license can catch hooligan. There is no bag limit on hooligan.
The Hooligan Page
Want to learn more about how to catch hooligan? Visit our Hooligan Page for details on the history of hooligan fishing in Alaska, together with the tools needed for dipnetting them, and a list of locations around the state where hooligan can be found.
Hooligan as Bait
Hooligan are sometimes frozen and used later as bait for halibut and rockfish, however their flesh softens during freezing and thawing. They don't stay on the hook very well, and do not seem to be as effective as dead bait.