With a nice stretch of above-seasonal weather, ice anglers are once again heading far and wide to try to catch a wide variety of species that make living in this part of the world so much fun. Over the last few years, more and more anglers have been targeting lake whitefish, a species that until 10 years ago was largely ignored by ice and open water anglers alike. With better ice fishing equipment and a wealth of information now available on how to catch this species in the winter, lake whitefish have suddenly become "in."
Tremendous sport fish
Lake whitefish could be the most spectacular ice fishing quarry that we have access to in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. Since the fish prefer cool clear water lakes with depths in the 20- to 50-metre range, the lakes of the Canadian Shield make for prime habitat. These aggressive winter predators are also more adaptable than lake trout, being more tolerant to warmer water temperatures. This expands their range to a wide variety of lakes in this part of the world. Hard to catch? Not in the least, as long as you keep a few certain rules in mind.
In the winter, whitefish can be found in a wide variety of locations.
On this particular day we keyed in on two different areas. One was an extended point off a lake island that dropped into deep water. Whitefish love transition spots between hard and soft bottom, preferring to feed off either insect larvae or small minnows in the winter. Mid-lake shoals and extended soft bottom flats also provide forage opportunities for these fish. In fact, at the first location, we found some beautiful hard fighting lake whitefish on a 12-metre sunken island that was also holding perch.
Situated in an ice tent on Shoal Lake in Ontario, I could watch the underwater world unfold below me on my Humminbird Ice 55 flasher. As I bent over the flasher I could see a fish streaking to my lure, a blur of blue on my five-colour display. As soon as the two intersected I braced for the bite. Sure enough my rod tip dipped enough to indicate that this fish had committed. Setting the hook, I hung on for what I knew would be a hard battle from another jumbo lake whitefish. Streaking and darting, this fish gave me everything I could handle on the tackle I was using. My four pound fireline was taxed to the limit with my medium light ice fishing rod bent over right to the hole.
I had started the fishing day by using a small Eye-Dropper jig by Northlands Tackle tipped with a small white one-inch Berkley power grub.
Almost all the whitefish caught that day came using the same technique, by dropping a lure to the bottom and reeling halfway up the water column. This would cause the whitefish to streak to the lure and slam the bait. Using electronics sure helped but is not an absolute necessity for this type of fishing.
Small silver spoons like the Williams Ice Jig, and the Northlands Eye-Dropper work well. Small jigs with Berkley one-inch power tubes or two-inch power grubs are also excellent producers. We also had excellent success tipping a one-quarter-ounce jig with a Berkley two-inch Realistix Minnow in chartreuse and glow. A small jigging Rapala can also be deadly along with Cicada's. Avid angler Darrin Bohonis likes to use a Rattle Snakie spoon and friend Steven Wintemute has had tremendous success using the Lindy darter ice jig.
An aggressive jigging action with artificial lures will call whitefish in from a distance, important considering that they can be scattered over a fairly large area.
If the fish do get finicky, rigging up a small hook below a couple of split shots with a dead shiner minnow can get you some jumbos as well.
The use of a hydrographic map, if available, will allow you to find in advance areas that are likely to hold whitefish. Since larger whitefish are usually very aggressive in the winter, it won't take long to determine if there are fish in the vicinity.
As the days get longer in March, whitefish tend to get into larger schools, meaning catching 50 to 100 fish a day is a real possibility.