For those of you who live in areas more prone to hurricane damage than frostbitten fingers, you may not have ever heard of the whitefish. It’s a cold water species closely related to the chub and found in deep water lakes and river systems of the north. Whitefish can easily grow to 2 feet in length, but a typical catch is in the upper teens to low twenties of inches. The old size limit for commercial fishers on Lake Michigan was set at 17 inches. Whitefish fillets are a very delicate flavor that accepts a variety of seasonings extremely well. It’s commonly used in the classic fish boils that take place on the Door County peninsula area near Green Bay, WI.
Whitefish numbers seem to be on the rise in Lake Michigan and state game biologists say that they’re now equal to the yellow perch as a wintertime target species. They can be fished anywhere from 5 to 50 feet deep. Their original forage was a small organism that closely resembles a scud, but that food source has all but disappeared because of the incursion of the exotic zebra mussel – brought to the Great Lakes years ago by ocean going vessels emptying their bilges that were infected with the zebra’s juvenile stage. With the native food source depleted, whitefish populations decreased dramatically, but there’s good evidence that they’re making a comeback by converting over to another species – ironically, another non-native exotic: the European Goby. These small minnow-like fish are increasingly being found in the stomach contents of caught whitefish. Because of this, fishing for whitefish with small jigging spoons in gold or silver finish that mimic the Goby or minnow-tipped lead jigs works well. Whitefish tend to feed very near the bottom so drop the lure all the way down into the sand or mud every now and then. In fact, stirring up the sediment may serve to attract the curious fish, as was shown with underwater cameras on a recent trip to Sturgeon Bay, WI.
Whitefish now rival yellow perch for interest amongst Great Lakes ice fisherman.