Whitefish are a Montana Native. When many anglers catch them, they feel like they caught a trash fish or a sucker. This silver sided strong fighter is far more than an after catch. Whiteys are in the same family as trout and char.
This ancient fish has been around Montana a long time. They tend to be found in schools. Where you catch one, there are more. These game fish are perhaps the most abundant fish in Montana. The Lewis and Clark expedition readily caught, gigged, and trapped whitefish. They then smoked them for safe storage.
Winter may be the best time to catch whitefish. They tend to group up in the tail outs of long pools. Once you catch one, you can repeat the same cast and land many more. These tiny, mouthed fish can grow over 20 inches and 4 plus pounds. For a fisherman that is going to Catch and Release, they offer wonderful sport.
Whitefish are Fall spawners and stay active all winter. They feast on midges and nymphs. Bead head patterns work well for Whiteys. My favorite is a silver Lightening Bug nymph. The shine and flash seem to get their attention.
Whitey winter fishing is rarely crowded. You can often locate schools of fish near where you can park and easily access the river. Most fly guys are fair weather fishermen. Winter fishing is tough. The cold can be challenging if you are not equipped.
Here are some tips!
Coat your fly rod guides with Chap stick, or Vaseline, to keep them from freezing.
Wear a pair of thin polypropylene liner socks against your feet. Now add a comfortable heavier sock. Use a sock that fits and allows you to wiggle your toes. A stick-on toe warmer is nice.
Hand warmers can save the day. Use one that will not fail when it gets wet. Reusable gel pack style warmers are quick to activate and work on wet hands. Carry several and activate as you need them.
Carry a walking stick. Winter means slick, icy rocks. Montana already is filled with round rocks that are slippery. The walking stick gives you extra support and confidence.
Use wading boots that do not leak! Wet and frozen toes will limit time in and on the river.
Carry a dry towel to dry your hands. Coating your hands with a thick hand cream is also helpful.
Using a net helps to manage the fish for a quick and safe release.
Once you locate a school of whitefish, swing your flies from an upstream angle. This wet fly style of fishing can be crazy good.
Whitefish are great fish to teach fly fishing. You can often catch dozens of fish. The only way to learn to catch fish is to catch fish. Whiteys can make the learning curve smoother.
As a fishing guide, I was always proud to say that none of my clients ever went fishless. The whitefish saved many a day!
For more Montana Grant, find him swinging whitefish at www.montanagrantfishing.com.