No matter what I’m chasing on the ice my Grandma Shmyr always made it very clear what fish she wants me to bring home for supper. She’s always patiently waited for the ice to freeze each fall because she knew that’s the best time to target her favourite, the lake whitefish.
Although it’s not my preferred species to eat there isn’t another fish to me that tastes better smoked.
As the September rolls around and the temperatures start approaching freezing, numbers of mature lake whitefish migrate to their spawning grounds. These areas are generally two to eight feet of water depending on the lake, but majority from what I have found to be on the shallow side of those numbers.
The spawning can start as early as the end of September through into early January. Shallow shoals with lots of rock and gravel are prime spots for whitefish to spawn leaving them very easy to target. Often when you find these areas you will drill holes and see hundreds swimming by under the ice, a sight to behold.
SHALLOW WATER BITE
Fishing for these critters can be very frustrating as the shallow whitefish spook easily. I have learned by trial and error to fish a very slow presentation with small lures. Using the assistance of a flasher can help when they are fussy and want to stare at your lure for awhile before striking. It’s usually not necessary in the long run as there are so many fish on your screen you see nothing but distortion. Many lakes well known for whitefish in Alberta are hit very hard at this time of year. Most places have up to a hundred anglers. Make sure you always use respect and have courtesy for your fellow anglers. There’s never any reason to start drilling too close or interrupt others. When a spot seems to slow down, I move 30 yards and try a new area and keep doing so accordingly.
Never underestimate the strength of these whitefish, especially in shallow water. We have also landed some very large burbot and pike while fishing in these spawning grounds. My belief is the burbot swim low to the bottom slowly and scoop their share of eggs and eat some smaller immature whitefish. As for pike we all know how none of those whitefish are safe anywhere in a lake with a giant pike around. It’s the perfect spot for them to ambush so I always make sure to have a tip–up nearby.
There are a wide range of lures you can this time of year but it’s important to pay close attention on what the fish are telling you. I have my favourites like everyone else, such as Acme’s Kastmaster Spoons, Pk Lures predator spoons and of course small tungsten jigs. The spoons I use are generally silver, gold, glow or fire tiger in colour and all on the small side anywhere from 1/16 ounce to ¼ ounce. Whitefish have small mouths so generally I stay on the small side. Even on a tough day they will still strike a small lure. The Acme Tungsten jig is by far my favorite, because it’s a small jig that has a pile of strength to it and will not bend or pop off on these fish very often. I tip my spoons with maggots and tip the Jigs with either maggots or a piece of Gulp angle worm.
Often these fish are aggressive enough that no bait is needed on the spoons, but I suggest you bring some just in case it’s an off day. Wire worms and many other spoons are all great options as well. Experiment with you jigging techniques from tapping the bottom to even jigging just below the ice. I like to run lighter line just to have a better feel for the light lures, usually six to eight-pound fluorocarbon. This size line seems to be perfect to feel and fight these fish effectively. Always keep your drag set on the looser side because of the explosive fights and long runs that could break off on the edge of the hole.
I must, once again stress ice safety, especially with this type of fishing. Often fishermen will cut 2-3 holes together sometimes ever bigger to sight fish better. This is especially dangerous if there was a fresh snow the night before. Many times I’ve witnessed people stepping in one, including myself last December. Not only could you damage your leg, but a small person could fall right in.
Make sure you take your time walking out with your sleigh so this doesn’t happen. Early ice is always a time to be extra cautious with ice conditions, but in whitefish spawning areas, even more so. While these whitefish are swimming around feeding and protecting their eggs, this creates a steady current in the water below the ice, diminishing ice thickness. Make sure you check to see the ice thickness before walking out too far. I always walk in these areas until the end of December or early January every year. Never take out a vehicle, use either a quad, side by side or skidoo. As always, it’s important to be safe because we all know how much we love this amazing thing called fishing.