Late ice-fishing season best time to reel up whitefish

Many folks probably don’t know it but one of the most sought after fish by commercial fishermen in Ontario also is one of the least sought after by sport anglers.
The lake whitefish is widely available across the region—and there is no better time to catch “whities” than during the latter part of the ice-fishing season, which we have to look forward to.
Whitefish are a fine-eating fish and a tough fighter. Their aggressive attitude during the cold-water period is what makes them such an ideal target for ice anglers.
On waters with good populations, catching more than 50 fish in a day is common.
Although commercial fishing has dwindled across the region, something that had very positive effects on many fisheries when it was still going strong, whitefish were one of the fish species that was the most harvested.
When it comes to finding whitefish, the first thing you need to do is get on a body of water that has a good population. Ask around the local bait shops to find out where the best bite is.
Most of the big lakes in the region have good populations. The first ones that come to mind for me are Rainy Lake and Shoal Lake, where I have had good catches in the past.
When you think about the nature of the fish, they are similar to a lake trout (although on waters that have both species present, lake trout seem to push whitefish around a little bit).
There are populations that live with lake trout, but the fishing always seems to be better on lakes that have both species if you get into the shallower basins close to where the trout live.
Look in deep water, but not in the super deep stuff. Generally 35-50 feet is the zone you want to spend your time in.
When I say whitefish are similar to lake trout, they are comparable in the sense that they always are on the move looking for food. They don’t lay on the bottom like a walleye; instead, they usually are suspended in the water column hunting food.
Food comes in the form of several baitfish species, as well as any kind of small aquatic invertebrates. The fact they spend so much time looking for food is beneficial to the angler.
In most cases when we drill holes across a flat or piece of structure, if we don’t catch a fish within a few minutes, we keep moving until we make contact with fish. Then it’s all about figuring out which depth is most productive and the bait that they want the most.
Covering the entire water column is important because whitefish can be found right under the ice, mixed in with schools of bait, or right on the bottom (I’ve had successful days catching fish in all these situations).
Having a flasher to tell you how deep the fish are showing up really will speed up this process.
The reason that the late-ice period seems to be the best time to catch whitefish is, I believe, that when the snow melts and more light starts to penetrate the ice, whitefish really start to move into deeper holes, anticipating the upcoming warm water period.
Throughout much of the winter, they really seem to spread out in all parts of the lakes they live in. For instance, I have caught them in shallow weedy bays and while fishing humps for walleyes in the 20-foot range.
When choosing lures, you want something that has some flash so it will be able to call in fish from long distances. One of the new Northland Live Forage baits, the Moxie Minnow Spoon, is a light, flutter spoon that has been a really good bait this year.
Otherwise, any type of flashy spoon will work. I like to tip them with a small piece of plastic or a minnow head on days when they are not super aggressive.
One thing to keep in mind is not to use too big of a bait because they have a small mouth. The large lake trout baits will get their attention, but they are hard to hook on baits that are too large.
One thing that has to change is the liberal daily limit that people are allowed to harvest with a sport-fishing license. The daily limit of 12 is far too many.
The average whitefish is in the three- to five-pound range, and a limit will more than fill up a five-gallon pail.
Shoal Lake has become a popular destination in the Kenora area and I see too many people keeping too many fish out there. People need to realize that these are a relatively slow-growing fish that can be exploited easily in the winter.
It’s okay to keep a few for dinner, because they are great eating, but release the rest.

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