For a family of 4, you will need a pound and a half of smelts. The smaller the smelt, the better. Smelts can be bought at your local grocery or fish store.
Prepare smelts by cutting off tail and fins. Sometimes when you buy them, the head is removed and they are already gutted. If not, you will need to do this yourself.
Take 1 cup flour seasoned with salt and pepper and roll smelts so they are completely coated. Let them sit 10 or 15 minutes so the flour has a chance to stick. Fry them for about 5 minutes in hot vegetable oil. You could also use olive oil. Blot them with paper towels.
Before you eat them, you need to remove the backbone. It should come out pretty easily.