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

Essential tips and tactics for catching whitefish all winter long


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


Lake whitefish commonly feed on bottom organisms such as insect larvae, clams, snails, freshwater shrimp and zooplankton. Larger whitefish will also feed on minnows. Knowing this, it’s important to choose terminal tackle that matches the forage. It’s also important to select small lures, keeping mind that whitefish have a small sub-terminal mouth, found below the snout and facing down.

A wire worm (left), and a San Juan Worm fly

When it comes to sight-fishing in shallower water, the lures of choice for most seasoned whitefish anglers in western Canada are arguably wire worms, in an assortment of colours and sizes. I’ve had success with many different combinations, but I’ve seen the most consistent action using a dull copper wire worm with a red bead at the end. These worms, and even red San Juan Worm flies, resemble natural forage. Tipping a wire worm or a similar lure with a couple of maggots makes it particularly appealing to whitefish. I’ve also had good success with other lures, including Russian hooks, Deadly Dicks and even smaller Len Thompson Yellow & Red spoons.



The Deadly Dick (top left), Len Thompson Yellow & Red (bottom left) and a Russian hook

In deeper water, my go-to terminal options include an assortment of freshwater shrimp fly patterns tied in greens, greys and pinks, with a light lead weight about 10 inches above the fly. If the fish are in a positive feeding mood, they can’t resist these offerings.

A freshwater shrimp fly

Most often, I’ll tie one fly to the end of the leader and a second a couple of feet up. The most important thing is to attach them with the hook sitting horizontally for a more realistic presentation. Remember, you need to make it as easy as possible for a whitefish to suck in your bait, considering its sub-terminal mouth.


As for my ice rod and reel, I like a medium-action rod and spinning reel spooled with Berkley’s six-pound Trilene Micro Ice monofilament, complete with a four-foot leader of four-pound Trilene Fluorocarbon Ice.