Get Reel in the North: Whitefish through the ice

When I think of fish and chips on a warm summer evening, I invariably think of the most sought-after tasty fish that swims through our waters, the whitefish.

When I talk to anglers about fishing and bring up these tasty creatures, I typically get one of two responses. 

Either they love fishing for them or hate it. Now, if you have ever caught one and witnessed the whitefish’s pure power and incredible fighting ability, you would be hooked. The hate comes from their finicky nature—whitefish is not your ‘drop a baited hook down the hole and wait for a bite’ type of fish. As a friend of mine so eloquently put it over the past weekend, whitefish are jerks. They will race in, carefully examine what you are offering, and just as they look like they will bite, they turn their nose up at your lure and casually swim away. It can be frustrating.

However, like any fish through the ice, whitefish are predictable and generally follow the same pattern day in and out. Once you know what to look for and how they feed the mystery of catching them soon falls by the wayside. 

The first thing you must learn is what they are eating. The whitefish locally have developed a taste for gobies. Several of the fish I cleaned on Sunday had a belly full of the invasive fish. Along with the goby, they feast on a variety of bugs, minnows and during the March ling spawn, ling eggs. If you can find spawning ling, the whitefish will not be far away; they go hand in hand.

Look for a shoreline that drops to deeper water. I find the fish tend to be in 30 to 45 feet of water and will patrol the sandy, silt bottoms looking for their next meal. Whitefish are transient and will never stay in the same place long, so don’t worry when they disappear. Be patient, and another school will be passing through the area.

I employ one primary technique to ice these great fighters. Bounce your lure off the bottom. Seldom if ever will I bring my bait more than a few inches off the bottom, and if fish are in the area, I will merely turn the lure over in the sand. Consistently move your bait in the sand/silt. Stirring up a cloud of debris in the area will often send the fish into a feeding frenzy.

Using a vibrato lure is a sure-fire way to ice a whitefish.

For my choice of lures, I will put on a dark coloured Vibrato (black back with a silver belly is my favourite), Meegs or tungsten microjig. The Meegs and microjigs both require a soft plastic tail, so when choosing your plastic, keep in mind what they are feeding on in the area and match the hatch.

A helpful little pointer is to double down on your presentation. With a Vibrato or Meegs on the bottom continually stirring up a debris cloud, run a micro tungsten jig with a soft plastic tail up about 12” on your line. The jig will appear as a bug that has been stirred up in the debris, becoming impossible for the whitefish to resist. 

Get outside while the ice lasts, try your hand at these “jerks” and hold on tight, the battle is fantastic, and the dinner value is even better.

Tight lines,

Dave