It has been a long wait for anglers and maybe, just maybe this will be the year that the whitefish bite returns to Flathead Lake and the wait will be over. Anglers like Bob Culp of Frenchtown, Jim Swanson of Polson, and Alan Tabish of Missoula have reported that the yellow perch up to 2 inches in length have been populated around the docks and boat slips on the south end of the lake. These are the young of the year perch that the whitefish are suppose to go crazy over later on this month and into the month of August. The “Bite” as it is known has not happen for over 8 years now and anglers including myself are anxious to see if this will be the year. Jim Vashro the retired fish biologist for FWP out of Region One and an avid whitefish angler makes a prediction every year if the bite will materialize or not and this year is no exception. Vashro sent me an e-mail last month not only did he make his annual prediction but his also added some interesting facts about whitefish that were gathered by the Idaho Fish and Game, “The June issue of In-Fisherman summarizes a paper on lake whitefish in Lake Pend Oreille by Hossack, Hansen and Horner in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management (2014). Idaho Fish and Game is getting a lot of lake whitefish as by catch in their lake trout netting so they analyzed 19,650 of them. Otolith (ear bone) analysis revealed 37 year classes of lake whitefish ranging from age 2 to age 47! Males and females didn’t reach full sexual maturity until age 11 and 12 respectively. I assume Flathead Lake fish are similar. Cold water species tend to be slow growing and late maturing but I had no idea lake whitefish were that ancient. The oldest ones almost qualify for AARP!
Lake whitefish have made me look bad before but I’m going to stick my neck out and say the stars are aligning for a good whitefish bite on Flathead after an 8 year lull. There was a good perch spawn. More importantly, there were no cold fronts to drop temperatures with strong winds to dislodge perch eggs. So there should have been a good perch hatch. There will be no big run-off to flush perch fry and water temperatures seem to be warming up to produce zooplankton. If we don’t get perch fry schools and a subsequent lake whitefish bite this summer then I don’t see how it can ever happen”.
So according to Vashro this year is now or never when it comes for the whitefish bite to turn on. Let’s hope his prediction is correct and we will be reeling in whitefish like we did 8 years ago. The whitefish bite should start anytime after the 15th of July. The peak is usually around the first week to second week of August. Te bite normally begins in the Big Arm and Elmo Bay area on the west side of the lake. From there it moves north to other parts of the lake particularly the Woods Bay area on the east side of Flathead Lake. In the past when the bite is going strong anglers will typically catch them while jigging in 40-50 feet of water.
So keep your fingers crossed, your jigging rods ready, and hope for the best, as the lake whitefish watch is officially on for Flathead Lake.
(Written by the Captain)