I had a blast catching these Jack Smelt, They are the most prolific species on the West Coast, easy to catch, and super tasty. They are full of protein beneficial oils, calcium and lack the heavy metals and toxins larger fish contain. One of the biggest reasons people don't fish for them is they get a bad wrap for tasting fishy... For a fish I guess that is a "bad" thing. Jack smelt are oily with a consistency of herring or sardines. They take well to smoking, wrapping in grape leaves and grilling or frying simply like I will show you.
While we were still fishing I gutted and rinsed out the fish and put them on ice in the cooler. To enhance the flavor I like to brine most my fish. Kosher salt, water and a pinch of sugar, if I have time and reason to cook any fish just after it is caught I do it but if it has to wait a day or two I have never had bad results with a brine. From what I have heard you should never use fresh water to store your fish, it will make it mushy and could harbor bacteria. (hopefully I am not just promoting a rumor with that last bit of advise.)
I used the back of my fillet knife to scale them, followed by a quick fillet. It is not worth cutting the meat off the ribs, so just cut them out. I could see the relief in my daughters face when she realized I was not going to serve her fish heads. I gave them the shake'n fry treatment with some flour, black pepper, and Chipolata pepper powder. I fried them in some olive oil in a cast iron pan. It doesn't take long to cook them, They start with a blue tint and turn white as they cook.
I finished them off with a drizzle of lemon juice, the acidity really adds to the taste of the fish. My wife and kids ate them up, it was a quick and easy meal. One of best parts is teaching my girls where their food comes from. They got to catch it, see it cleaned and, eat it; So many people have no idea where their food comes from. The girls were more interested in the meal because they helped bring it to the table. If you dislike oily fish due to a past cooking travesty, give it another chance. The having fresh, well prepared fish can make a huge difference in taste and texture.