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Open Water Lake Whitefish

When we think of lake whitefish, most of us envision sitting in an ice shack, peering down a hole in the ice, and anticipating the bite.  What a lot of people don't realize is that these gems can be caught fairly consistently throughout the open water season as well.  Between pike, walleye, lake trout, and even perch; lake whitefish seem to be the bottom of the order when it comes to the open water season.

I have to admit, I love the rush that spring pike and walleye bring on the fly, but the day I decided to go for lake whitefish on the fly, changed my perspective completely.  Not only do these fish love to take a fly, but they fight like a train flying off the tracks.

It was early spring, and I was out with Andy and Steven.  We had the boat anchored in our favorite spring location: six feet of water, surrounded by weed bed edges rich in forage for any species in the lake.  It was calm, and warm, and the pike and walleye were heavy on the feed.  All of a sudden, we noticed the lake whitefish begin to feed near the surface.


"This is my shot," I said to myself. Lake Whitefish Head Shot

I quickly rigged up a fly rod with a candy cane chironomid, and an olive chironie as a dropper, about 16" below.  I set the indicator for a depth of about four feet, as we were in shallow water to begin with.  I cast the rig out there, and began a slow retrieve.

It didn't take long, and I had a lake white of about 20" inhale the offering.  After a short battle won by the fish, I quickly got my flies out there again, although I had my doubts.  I mean, what are my chances of hooking another one? 

Two minutes went by, and the indicator slowly twitched, and pulled below the surface.  I pulled up, set the hook, and the battle was on.  Hard runs of peeling line, and nasty head shakes ensued.  The whitefish tore around, and under the boat, coming close to wrapping my line in the back anchor rope.  It was like battling a mix of smallmouth bass and rainbow trout.  Five minutes in, and the fish began to tire.  Andy got the net ready, and netted a fantastic fish.

Another hawg lake white on the chironomid

It was a 21" lake whitefish with a girth reflecting the amount it had been feeding.  Amazing!

After witnessing the exciting battle, Andy and Steven wanted a shot at these fat fish.  The rest of the trip went great, with many more whites being hooked.

That day out got us to target these fish more often, and we began to catch on to their locations, and what fly patterns to use.  It also became apparent how picky these fish can be at times.

When choosing a location for lake whitefish, it can be very easy at times, though other times it is a guessing game.  The first, and easiest way, is to look for whitefish surfacing in an area.  If there are consistent rise forms, then that would be a great place to begin (though most times it is not that easy).  Mostly, you have to be on the look-out for reed lines, with extending sand flats, and slight drop-offs.  The insides of points usually produce well.  And, if you own a fish finder, it can be useful for finding under water weed beds, which are where much food such as scuds, chironomids, shiners, perch minnows, and more, are available to the whitefish to gorge on. Lake whitefish offer up great fights, and also great table-fare

The most consistent seasons for lake whitefish are spring and fall, although summer can sometimes offer surprise dry fly action if you are lucky.  These fish can be fussy at times, and sometimes you either can't catch them, or you can't find them.  It is all part of the lake whitefish challenge.

If you fish at a body of water with lake whitefish in it, break away from your pike and walleye for a little while and try these fish.  Once you hook one, I am sure you will be targeting them more often.  Who knows, maybe more often than pike and walleye...


Rod: 5-8 wt (depending on size of lake whitefish)

Line: WF Floating

Leaders/tippet: 4-8 lb fluorocarbon


Streamers- #8-12 white wooly bugger, perch imitations, BH Mohair leech

Nymphs- #10-16 chironomid patterns, bead head nymphs

Dry Flies- chironomid emerger, Dave's Hopper, Elk Hair Caddis


Tim Tchir, WesternSportfishing.ca

Written by: Tim Tchir

Email: tim@westernsportfishing.ca