Find The Food - Find the Whitefish
I spent the past week filming In-Fisherman Ice Guide television shows for next year with In-Fisherman Editor-in-Chief, Doug Stange and two good friends, Paul Grahl and Tom Gruenwald from H.T. Enterprises.
While we caught some gorgeous lake trout, up to about 14 or 15 pounds and some chunky northern pike, the highlight of the week for me was on Thursday when we shot a show I am certain viewers are going to find fascinating.
The reason is because it highlights when you find the food, you find the fish.
Well, Tom and Paul live in Wisconsin and fish Lake Michigan often for whitefish. When they do, they typically fish close to bottom, jigging HT Hawger spoons.
Fishing on or close to the bottom is the way I also grew up catching whitefish in Lake Simcoe, perhaps the most famous whitefish lake in the world, although back in those days we chummed heavily with salted emerald shiners and fished with spreader rigs on the bottom of the lake, our jigging sticks carefully balanced in a horizontal position inside our permanent ice huts. It was a hugely finesse system and man, oh, man was it ever deadly.
Over on Lake Huron, in southern Ontario, however, where the world record lake whitefish was caught, anglers typically use ultra-light ice fishing rods and reels, spooled with thin 2, 3 and 4 pound test line and tiny hooks baited with single rainbow trout or brown egg laying on the bottom of the lake.
Now, fast forward to a few weeks ago, when Doug was filming over on Lake Michigan, where he caught a score of whitefish. What was so neat about that adventure is that he met up with some of the Wisconsin DNR biologists who are studying the relationship between whitefish and round gobies.
It seems there are so many gobies in the Great Lakes now that the whitefish are forsaking all other food items, specifically targeting and sucking gobies up off the bottom.
Even more fascinating, Doug was introduced to a fishing method that employs a spoon at the end of your line and a couple of small free sliding hooks above it. The hooks are spaced apart and prevented from sliding down by a simple overhand knot in the mainline. From the sounds of things, Doug was mighty successful, but we're all just going to have to wait until next fall to see the show and get all the details.
(Paul Grahl with a nice whitie caught on an HT Hawger spoon tipped with a small Gulp! Minnow)
Which brings us back to last Thursday, up here in Northwestern Ontario. Our whitefish are mutants of sorts. By that I mean they sometimes function as whitefish are suppose to feed, sucking up mud off the bottom and filtering out the aquatic larvae - bloodworms and mayfly larvae. But our fish will also suspend high off the bottom, targeting smelt and other pelagic baitfish.
As a matter of fact, it is not uncommon to spot whitefish on your sonar unit swimming 20, 30 or more feet off the bottom.
Indeed, when we were filming on Thursday we caught a bunch of humongous whitefish relating to the bottom, several more suspending half way up in the water column, and even a few just under ice.
When I opened up the stomach of one of the whities we kept for dinner (did I mention whitefish are among the most delicious table fare) I found bloodworms and young-of-the-year smelts. Evidence indeed that they are opportunists, ready to devour just about anything.
Proving once again, that when you find the food, you find the fish!
(Tom Gruenwald caught this monster whitefish fishing with me last winter. It is one of the biggest whities I've ever seen)