Whitefish can be an aggressive predator under the ice, however they can also be a finicky target. Finesse tactics may be required to catch fish when the bite is a bit off.
When you know you’re on fish but they won’t chase baits, change gears by slowing down and fishing smaller presentations.
The speed you’re fishing your baits is the biggest factor. Subtle jigging movements can trigger strikes but dead-sticking can be even more effective.
I’ve twitched and lifted baits in front of inactive fish before without any luck, but as soon as I set my rod in a holder, they hit. There’s something about a motionless bait that can drive whitefish crazy. It’s worth noting that dead-sticking a bait 10- to 15-feet off the bottom will sometimes catch more fish than one dead-sticked close to the bottom.
Having said that, I’ve also had days where the only place you can get bit is directly on the bottom. Being a natural bottom feeder, whitefish are very adept at picking up baits off the bottom of the lake.
You can do this with a set-line with a small jig and live minnow but I prefer to use a rod and reel in my hand to detect the subtle hits.
I’ve had great success with 1- to 2-inch spoons fished on the bottom with just enough action to lift the end of the spoon up, then set it right back down. When done right, you’ll see your line go from slack to tight, then back to slack as the spoon rests on bottom. A lot of the time the hit will come on slack line and as you go to lift your bait again you’ll feel the weight – then set the hook.
Whitefish often take a backseat to more popular species like walleye, panfish and trout. A day of tangling with big winter whities however, should be enough to change anyone’s mind.
Ben Beattie is an outdoor writer and fishing guide based in Sioux Lookout, ON. For more information visit benbeattieoutdoors.com