How To Fish For Whitefish

The term “whitefish” can refer to several species of fish, typically characterized by their light, white flesh, mild flavor, and low oil content. These species belong to various families and are found in both freshwater and saltwater environments. Most commonly known groups and species referred to as whitefish are Lake Whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis), Mountain Whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni), European Whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus), Haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus), and Cod (Gadus morhua).

Fishing for whitefish requires specific strategies, as they have a preference for small baits and tend to feed off the bottom. This guide will explore the key aspects of whitefish fishing, including the appropriate fishing setup, the best baits and lures, effective fishing techniques, the optimal times for fishing, and where to catch them.

Whitefish Fishing Setup

The optimal setup for Whitefish fishing combines light tackle with a specific rig designed to target these fish effectively. For the rod and reel, a light to medium-light action rod paired with a spinning reel is ideal. This combination offers the sensitivity needed to detect the often subtle bites of Whitefish, while also providing enough strength to bring them in. The rod should ideally be in the range of 6 to 8 feet in length, which allows for precise casting and control over the lure or bait.

When it comes to the best rig for Whitefish, the slip sinker rig is highly recommended. This setup involves threading a slip sinker onto your line, followed by a small bead, and then tying a swivel to the end of your line to prevent the sinker from slipping off. From the swivel, attach a 2 to 3-foot leader (light fluorocarbon works well due to its low visibility underwater) and finish with a small hook, size 6 to 10, depending on the bait size. This rig allows the Whitefish to pick up the bait without detecting the weight of the sinker, increasing your chances of a successful hook set.

Best Bait For Whitefish

Whitefish primarily feed on a diet that includes small fish, aquatic insects, and various larvae, making their preferences quite broad and adaptable to different bait types. Understanding their diet is key to selecting the best bait for a successful catch.

The best live bait for Whitefish includes small minnows, wax worms, and pieces of nightcrawler. These baits effectively mimic the natural prey of Whitefish, making them irresistible. Small minnows replicate the small fish Whitefish might hunt in their natural habitat. Wax worms and pieces of nightcrawler, on the other hand, imitate aquatic insects and larvae. When using live bait, hook it in a way that allows it to move naturally in the water, increasing its attractiveness to Whitefish. For minnows, hooking them through the lip or back without impairing their ability to swim is effective. For worms, threading them onto the hook ensures a natural presentation.

For anglers preferring artificial lures, small jigs and spoons are among the best choices for targeting Whitefish. These lures, especially when tipped with a piece of live bait, can be particularly effective. The key with jigs is to use a light jigging action to mimic the movement of prey, making them appealing to Whitefish. Spoons work well due to their reflective surface and erratic movement, simulating a wounded baitfish. The use of these lures requires a bit of technique; a steady retrieval with occasional pauses or jigging motions can trigger strikes from curious Whitefish.

Whitefish Fishing Techniques


Jigging is one of the most effective and common techniques for catching Whitefish. This method involves using a vertical motion to mimic the movement of prey in the water. The setup for jigging includes a light to medium-light rod paired with a spinning reel, rigged with a small jig or spoon. The lure is dropped to the bottom or near the bottom where Whitefish are feeding and then lifted and allowed to fall in a rhythmic pattern. This technique is most effective in deeper waters where Whitefish tend to gather, especially during winter months when ice fishing. The jigging motion attracts the attention of Whitefish by resembling the erratic movements of their prey, making it a highly effective method for enticing bites.


Trolling is a productive technique for catching Whitefish in larger lakes and reservoirs. It involves moving the boat slowly to drag lures or baited lines through the water at varying depths. The setup for trolling can vary but typically includes a light to medium-light rod and a reel capable of holding a good amount of line, as well as a variety of lures such as small spoons or spinners. Trolling is most effective in covering large areas of water to locate schools of Whitefish, especially during the summer months when they might be scattered. The movement of the boat adds action to the lures, making them appear as swimming fish, which is attractive to Whitefish. Depth finders or fish finders can be particularly useful in this technique to locate the depth at which Whitefish are holding.

Best Time To Catch Whitefish

Whitefish spawn in late autumn to early winter, a period that significantly influences their availability and the best times to target them. During this spawning season, Whitefish move into shallower waters or specific river stretches, making them more accessible to anglers.


In spring, the best time to catch Whitefish is during the early morning hours or just before dusk. As the ice melts and water temperatures begin to rise, Whitefish move closer to shore to feed, making them more accessible to anglers. During this season, drift fishing becomes a highly effective technique. Using live bait such as wax worms or small minnows allows you to mimic the natural prey that Whitefish are searching for in shallower waters. This method capitalizes on the fish’s increased activity levels and feeding behavior during the transitional period of spring.


During summer, early morning and late evening remain the prime times for catching Whitefish, especially in deeper, cooler waters where they retreat to escape the heat. Trolling is the best technique in this season, as it allows anglers to cover a wide area and target Whitefish at varying depths. Using light spoons or spinners that mimic small fish can be particularly effective. As Whitefish tend to be deeper during the heat of the day, focusing on dawn and dusk can yield the best results when they are more likely to come closer to the surface to feed.


Fall offers an excellent opportunity for catching Whitefish, particularly in the late afternoon to evening when water temperatures begin to cool down. This is when Whitefish start moving back to shallower waters or river mouths to spawn and feed aggressively. Jigging becomes a highly effective technique in fall, using small jigs or spoons tipped with live bait. The vertical motion of jigging in areas where Whitefish are known to congregate can entice bites from fish eager to feed before the winter months.


Winter, especially during ice fishing season, sees Whitefish moving to deeper parts of lakes and rivers. The best time to catch them is mid-morning to early afternoon when the slight increase in water temperature makes them more active. Jigging through the ice with small, bright-colored jigs or ice flies tipped with bait such as wax worms or pieces of minnow can be highly effective. The technique relies on attracting Whitefish in the quiet, under-ice environment, making the most of their tendency to search for food in deeper waters during the colder months.

Where To Catch Whitefish

Whitefish are popular targets for anglers across North America, known for their presence in cold, freshwater lakes and rivers. Some of the best locations for Whitefish in North America include the Great Lakes, the northern United States, and parts of Canada, where they thrive in the clean, cold waters.

Great Lakes

The Great Lakes offer some of the most prolific Whitefish fisheries in North America. Here, Whitefish can be found in significant numbers, especially in Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron. Trolling and jigging are the most effective techniques in this region. Trolling with small spoons or spinners works well during the summer months when Whitefish are deeper. In contrast, jigging with small jigs or ice flies is highly effective during the winter, particularly for ice fishing enthusiasts.

Northern United States

In the northern United States, states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and parts of Montana boast excellent Whitefish populations in their lakes and rivers. Drift fishing is particularly effective in these areas, especially in rivers or streams with a moderate current. Using live bait such as minnows or worms and allowing them to drift naturally can yield great results, especially in the spring and fall when Whitefish move into shallower waters to feed or spawn.

Canadian Waters

Canada is home to vast stretches of ideal Whitefish habitat, especially in the lakes and rivers of British Columbia, Alberta, and the Yukon. Jigging and ice fishing are the techniques of choice here, with anglers finding success through both methods depending on the season. During the open water season, jigging in deeper waters where Whitefish congregate can be very productive. In the winter, ice fishing using jigs or spoons tipped with bait proves to be the best approach, capitalizing on the fish’s tendency to gather in specific areas under the ice.

Species Related to Whitefish

Fish that are related to whitefish fall within the family Salmonidae, which includes not only true whitefish (genus Coregonus) but also several other species and genera that share evolutionary and biological characteristics. Here are some of the key relatives of whitefish within this family:


Salmon (Genus Salmo and Oncorhynchus) are perhaps the most well-known relatives of whitefish, belonging to the same family, Salmonidae. Salmon species inhabit both the Atlantic (genus Salmo) and Pacific Oceans (genus Oncorhynchus). Salmon fishing is popular due to their challenging fight, extensive migrations, and highly prized, flavorful flesh.


Trout (Various Genera), including species within the genera Salmo (such as the brown trout) and Oncorhynchus (such as rainbow trout), are closely related to whitefish. They share similar habitats in freshwater lakes and rivers, and some species also migrate to the sea. Fishing for Trout is popular for their accessibility in diverse habitats, spirited fight on light tackle, and delicious taste.


Char (Genus Salvelinus), including species like brook trout, lake trout, and Arctic char, are members of the Salmonidae family and are closely related to both whitefish and trout. Char are known for their ability to thrive in cold, northern waters and are sought after for both recreational fishing and their delicious flavor.