Lake Whitefish From the Flathead
Fishing for Lake Whitefish
Lake whitefish have grown greatly in popularity in recent years as anglers have discovered how to catch these tasty, hard-fighting fish. Try them and you’ll find they’re very different from their cousins, the mountain whitefish. Whitefish usually hit as the lure/jig is dropping or right as it hits the end of the line or bottom. It is important to fish within inches of the bottom, occasionally bumping bottom. We recommend a light action rod and 4-6 pound test line to detect the subtle hits and get the most sport out of these hard fighters. Everyone is still learning about the fishery so don’t be afraid to experiment on times, locations, and techniques.
Lake whitefish are hard fighting fish with white, mild-tasting meat. They average about 2 1/2 lbs. but can run over 5 lbs. They eat zooplankton, snails, aquatic insects, and small fish. They are the most abundant gamefish in the lake although no one has figured out how to catch them consistently.
They are found throughout the lake, usually near bottom in 30′-150′ of water. In Flathead Lake, look for whitefish in 20′-60′ of water over sand and gravel bars and off points. They can be caught in 100′-150′ of water but it’s trickier. In general, you’ll need to be anchored or drifting very slowly. The most popular lures are a Kastmaster spoon or a leadhead jig with a 1 1/2”2″ Mr. Twister or Fuzzygrub body. Other popular lures are Crippled Herring, Swedish Pimple, Rattlesnakie, Krocodile Trilobite, and Leadagator. Start with 1/4 ounce lures and go to larger sizes as needed. The best colors imitate yellow perch. Chartreuse is the most popular color and green, silver, yellow, and gold can also work. Usually plain lures will work but occasionally a scent or a few maggots will help. A new method is a lure at the end of the line with a red or whitefish fly (Lake Mary Ronan Special) tipped with maggots tied 18″ above.
Short jigging motions are the best. The whitefish usually hit when the lure hits the end of the line. Be alert for a single, soft tap. Experiment. Try jigging continuously to a few second pause and bumping the bottom occasionally to bouncing it on the bottom. Early morning hours are generally the best.
River Mouth Delta: April, May, July, August.
Main Lake: February, March, July, August, October, November. Popular spots are Woods Bay, Gravel Bay, Finley Point, the Narrows, Big Arm Bay, Wildhorse Island, and Peaceful Bay.
Polson Bridge: October, November.
Ice Fishing: Somers and Big Arm bays. Use a fly tipped with maggots and watch the ice.
Whitefish take a little extra work once you’ve caught them but you’ll be rewarded with some mild, firm tasty fillets. To make it easier to fillet, we recommend cutting out the pelvic fins (the pair of fins in front of the anal vent) and slitting the fish from the vent to the gills. Fillet and skin the fish, and remove the ribs as you normally do. There is a layer of red muscle under the skin that has a fishy taste. We recommend removal of most of the layer by slicing it off with a fillet knife. It is especially important to remove the red meat if you are going to freeze the fillets. There are also a number of secondary rib bones that you can find by running your finger down the inside of the fillet. Remove these by cutting on each side of the bones with a fillet knife to take out a thin slice. The rib bones angle toward the fish’s back.
Your hard work can now be rewarded with a delicious meal. In this brochure, you’ll find some of our favorite recipes. They’re fairly simple and you’ll wow your friends and family with your culinary expertise and a delicious meal. You can also substitute whitefish in any recipe that uses walleye, yellow perch, sole, pollock or similar fish. Many people enjoy lake whitefish smoked or pickled.
Source: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks