Ironically there are few smelt at Smelt Sands today and smelt for Yachats Annual Fish Fry (formerly the Yachats Annual Smelt Fish Fry) have to be brought in from elsewhere. As recently as the 1980s, people would come down here with nets, buckets, birdcages minus the bottom, and anything else that could hold fish, and in minutes have mounds of smelt.
Native Americans used dip nets to catch smelt, also known as eulachon. Some theorize that the word "Oregon" is derived from Native Americans' pronunciation of "eulachon."
In 1806 Meriwether Lewis said of eulachon, "I find them best when cooked in Indian style, which is by roasting a number of them together on a wooden spit without any previous preparation whatever. They are so fat they require no additional sauce, and I think them superior to any fish I ever tasted."
Native Americans extracted the eulachons' oil and traded and used it much the way we use olive oil today. It is an acquired taste.
There is so much oil in a smelt that when dried and a wick put through one, you can light it and use it as a candle; thus another name for them is candlefish.
ABOUT THE OCEAN IS A TREACHEROUS WONDER PLAQUE
Signs along the ocean warn of sneaker waves, yet visitors often are caught by surprise by one. Most simply get wet. Some die, though. The families and friends of Connor Ausland, 18, and Jack Harnsongkram, 17, who drowned in 2011 hope the blunt message on a memorial near the Smelt Sands parking lot will make people more aware of the danger of the ocean.
Ausland and Harnsongkram were with four other South Eugene High School students on a retreat for the Mr. Axeman Pageant, a benefit for the Children's Miracle Network. The ocean was rough, and the tide was coming in when a sneaker wave crashed over the stone bridge they were standing on, knocking them into frigid water.
Fire Chief Frankie Petrick arrived six minutes after receiving the emergency call. "As I pulled in off of the highway, there was a wet young man standing in the road, frantic," Petrick said. He and another young man had been with Ausland and Harnsongkram, but managed to stay on the rocks. Their fellow students took off clothing and tied them together to to make a rope of sorts. “It was trying to do something when really there was nothing we could do,” one of them later said.
Ausland and Harnsongkram drowned within three minutes. Ausland's body was recovered that afternoon, and Harnsongkram's the next morning.
In addition to the plaque, the memorial has six basalt columns, one for each of the friends at the site, and waves fashioned out stainless steel that are the height of the waves that knocked them over.
The full text of the plaque:
The Ocean is a Treacherous Wonder
On February 5 2011 Jack Harnsongkram and Connor Ausland, two strong young men from Eugene, OR drowned when a nearly waist-high sneaker wave swept them off of a rock bridge into the narrow chasm 100M North of here. The force of the freezing, churning water and the shape of the rocks made it impossible for Jack and Connor to climb to safety and equally impossible for their four friends to save them without losing their own lives.
Jack and Connor drowned within 3 minutes
Respect The Immense Power of the Ocean
Know the Tide Level
Face the Ocean at all Times
Enjoy the beauty of the coast safely. SPEAK UP to others who may be in danger. To those taking risks along the shore: LISTEN.
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