November 10, 2008


I got word last week that the whitefish are running. Lake whitefish to be exact, Coregonus clupeaformis. I have yet to add one of these delectable species to my lifelist. What is even more unique is the opportunity to catch one on a fly.

The lake whitefish is a coldwater fish (salmonid to you blueline pukes), native to much of Canada and northern Michigan and Minnesota, including the Great Lakes. The inland variety found in Minnesota (excluding Lake Superior) are pelagic fish which exhibit schooling behavior. These fish are fall spawners; they'll seek areas of high current, often between narrow points in a lake, and even display potamodromous behavior. These fish are moving out of the deep lakes and in to the area river systems to spawn on gravel beds that are utilized by walleyes in the spring. Definitely within reach of the fly angler.

Lake whitefish, Coregonus clupeaformis, image courtesy of

While mostly ignored by non-commercial fisherman, these fish are tasty table fare and are excellent prepared in almost every manner, including smoked. Due to their small, delicate, subterminal mouth, these fish are somewhat difficult to catch on hook and line, even harder to land. Wet flies and nymphing are two of the most effective manners to catch these fish, short of the gill net. Since these fish hug close to the bottom, use of my dredging equipment normally reserved for redhorse and other sucker species should prove effective. This includes, heavy sinking tips or full sink lines, heavily weighted flies, and lead*. Fly selection shall include hare's ear and PT nymphs, soft hackled prince nymphs, antron special, and red san juan worms.

Water temps for next week will be in the upper 30's to low 40's. Air temps will be hovering right around the freezing mark for highs. A greased up fly line and rod guides will help to minimize ice build up. Much like winter steelheading conditions, but with tastier results. I confirmed in the field last week that the whitefish are indeed running. Unfortunately, I saw several anglers snagging fish. Some "sportsmen" they are. One angler was utilizing a spotter overhead on a bridge to locate fish to snag. What was even more unbelievable was the fact that they were so obtuse, that they admitted they were snagging fish, while I was in my work vehicle! That's akin to someone sparking up a doob and blowing smoke right in the face of a law enforcement officer. Brazen.

I'll be watching the weather this week. With a mid-week holiday, I have some time available to run up and get on the stream for some whitefish action. Hopefully all those wood ticks will be in the field chasing bambi and off the stream snagging fish. My next report should hopefully be showing you some fish headed for the smoker. Mmmmm. I can't wait.

*You blueliner types can use tungsten or whatever 'eco-friendly' weighting system you choose Just remember that lead is easier to extract from the earth than tungsten mining.

1 comment:

  1. I had to look it up to keep abreast - migration from fresh to fresh is potamodromous. You learn something every day...

    These sound like a MN version of Shad. Silver, runs up tributaries, you have to fish deep, and as they school - you hit one and you might get 50.

    I'm totally jealous.