When selecting baits, consider the whitefish's downward-facing mouth 

Essential tips and tactics for catching whitefish all winter long

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These hefty whitefish were caught on central Alberta’s Sylvan Lake

WHERE & WHEN

Most diehard whitefish anglers know the first and last weeks of ice season offer the best, and most consistent action. Whitefish spawn primarily in October and November, and are ready to feed aggressively by early December. At that time of year, they also leave their summer locations in the colder, deeper regions of the lake, and begin cruising shallower, sandy-bottomed flats during the frigid winter months.

Whitefish commonly move in schools, and can be found in abundance for an hour or two, then seemingly vanish. When looking for places to set up, start with bays or shallow, wide-open areas. You can spot these areas by examining hydrographic maps, or by simply studying the landscape when you head out onto the ice.

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In Alberta where I do much of my ice fishing, I often start the season by drilling holes near visible weedlines in four to eight feet of water. With oxygen levels still decent for at least the first few weeks of ice-up, the bite is usually strong in these traditional shallower locations. While I can sometimes see the whitefish crossing weedy areas, I’ve also caught them by sight-fishing in just a few feet of water, setting up over sandy channels between the weed growth.

Other times, the search takes me deeper, depending on the structure, type of bottom and available weed growth. In larger waterbodies, whitefish linger at greater depths, especially as winter progresses. For example, I fish one lake that’s about six kilometres wide, with a deep trough running through the middle. I often find the whitefish in and along that trough. While I can mark fish on the bottom at 27 feet, it’s actually the suspended ones around the 17-foot mark that feed most aggressively. Another top location is a known burbot spawning area, where the whites vacuum the lake bottom, feeding voraciously on burbot eggs. As a rule, though, whitefish favour large, sandy flats during winter.