Whitefish inhabit the Great Lakes and deep, cold, clear inland lakes and rivers of the UP Yet, although I've caught them incidentally for more than 25 years, only during the last seven have I come to respect this aggressive, challenging, tasty, silver bullet as a gamefish.
Standard whitefish tactics include chumming an area several days before fishing it. Salted or fresh minnows, chopped fish or meat, cooked rice, barley, sago, or wheat have all been used effectively. Chum attracts and holds whitefish in an area. Current drift can present problems placing chum precisely in deep water below an ice hole, but anglers have designed methods using funnels and bait cans. Whitefish will hit a small live or salted minnow set on or just above bottom on balance-style tipups and multiple-hook spreaders. Whitefish are a schooling fish; when you find one, you usually find others.
Vertically jigging spoons on light line, will catch numerous whitefish that hit hard. Spoons through the ice, are excellent for whitefish. A common perceptionis that whitefish are light biters and only nibble at a bait. While true sometimes, these silver shadows can be aggressive. They slam spoons and take repeated sizzling runs. A variety of jigging spoons work, including Hopkins, Swedish Pimple, Kastmaster, Crippled Herring, Pilki Minnow, Hawger Spoon, Rocker Minnow, and Stingsilda. Best success has been on 1/3- to 1/2-ounce hammered nickel or silver finishes, although green, blue, and gold also produce.
Use a 36- to 42-inch jigging rod with a small spinning reel filled with visible, limp 6- or 8-pound-test line. Fused and braided poly lines are effective for deep water, but I still prefer monofilament on extremely cold days.Place a small in-line swivel 12- to 18 inches up the line to reduce twist or to attach a mono leader to poly lines. Attach the spoon to the leader by a small cross-lock snap; a swivel is not recommended. If whitefish are abundant or suspended off bottom, sometimes attach a second lighter spoon several feet up the line with a triple surgeon's knot.
When searching for winter whitefish, use a power auger and a portable flasher (a portable LCD is another option). Look for steep dropoffs and feeding shelves leading into the main-lake basin, or feeding shelves andflats between lake basins. I've taken more on shelves and flats tha on the drop-off adjacent. Pattern ice holes to cover various depths, and then jig from hole to hole to find fish. They can be in less than 10 feet to almost 100 feet (3 to 30 m) of water, but 30- to 80-foot (9 to24 m) depths seem most productive.
Start jigging aggressively several times with two- to four-foot (1m) lifts and drops just off bottom, then let the spoon sit motionless, almost quivering at bottom, before repeating. Sometimes a more subtle small-hopor jiggling approach works better. And every now and then I reel the spoon up from bottom and let it flutter down again to attract fish from upperdepths. Occasionally they'll even hit the falling and fluttering lure on its way down. Watch fish approach on the sonar, and if they're suspended, quickly move your spoon up to the strike zone.
Keep your reel's drag tight while jigging; the instant you hook a whitefish,loosen the drag and fight the fish smoothly to the surface. Whitefish have small, soft mouths, and you'll likely lose almost as many fish as you land.
When fish are in a neutral mood, subtle jigging and finesse set-lines can still produce nice catches. Various 1/8- to 3/8-ounce walleye jigs work well for whitefish. Undressed ball-head jigs tipped with a small minnow or minnow head also catch fish. Pay-off jig colours include pink, white,chartreuse, root beer, silver, and lime green.
Another non-standard tactic is to use a small bead or a floating jighead and a steelhead-style octupus hook and egg sinker to rig a live ordead minnow on or above bottom from a balance tipup or other sensitive set-line.
Identifying characteristics: Two dorsal fins including one adipose fin, blunt nose, fins clear or nearly so, greenish brown back, silver sides.
Lake whitefish, a pale, shy member of the trout/salmon family Salmonidae, has long been a mainstay of the commercial catch in the Great Lakes because of its exceptional flavor, convenient size, and habit of schooling. Until recently, few sport anglers had discovered the special techniques required to catch lake whitefish, but this situation is changing, and any angler who has learned to fish whitefish successfully will find it well worth the effort.
The reclusive lake whitefish prefers to swim in the company of a school of fellow whitefish in the gloomy, cool water of the Great Lakes at depths of up to 200 feet and deeper as summer’s heat climbs, the main reason it requires extra skill to catch one. The whitefish spawns in early winter in shallow rock or sand bottomed lake waters less than 25 feet deep. The young hatch the following spring, and grow large enough to leave the protective shallows for deeper waters by early summer. Whitefish generally grow rapidly, but this varies by region and food supply. Lake whitefish can reach a size of more than 20 pounds and an age of over 25 years, although this was more commonplace 50 years ago. Although depletion of whitefish stocks by over-fishing and environmental deterioration had drastically reduced commercial yields, environmental cleanup and careful fishery management of the late 1960s has largely remedied this.
Unlike its large-mouthed trout and salmon cousins, the lake whitefish has a small, exceedingly delicate mouth (another challenge for the angler) and it is therefore confined to dining on insects, freshwater shrimp, small fish and fish eggs, and bottom organisms. Most feeding takes place on or near lake-bottoms. Whitefish eggs are consumed by yellow perch, ciscoes, burbot, and even other whitefish. Young whitefish fall prey to lake trout, northern pike, burbot, walleye, and probably other fish-eating predators. Adults are taken primarily by man.