March is Whitefish time!

Looking for a little different angling experience to end off the ice fishing season?  Then maybe you should consider trying your luck for Lake Whitefish. In Manitoba, we have a number of lakes that hold large populations of this great sportfish. Not to be overlooked, whitefish are also great table fare. I love my whitefish baked in an oven with just butter, salt and pepper. Cook at 425F for about 11 minutes, then get some fresh parsley and lemon zest on the top.
For shore lunch, dip in egg and flour and some corn flake crumbs. Cook quickly in some sunflower oil over a hot fire or cook stove. I sometimes like to add some Cajun spice to flavour it up a bit.
Cleaning these fish can be a bit tricky for the novice. First take off the anal fins, then slice up the middle from the anal cavity to the head. Cut down to start taking the fillets off, then work your sharp knife over the ribs bones as you take the fillets off. Whitefish have a Y bone like a pike, so make that diamond cut at the top of the fillet just like a pike. You also want to remove the red bloodline along their lateral line. This can give the fillets a bit of a fishy taste. Take your time and work this out and you will have some great firm white flesh that tastes great when cooked properly. Friend Jeff Gustafson shows how it’s done on one of his television shows. Check it out on YouTube

Lake Whitefish could be the most spectacular ice fishing quarry that we have access to in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. Preferring cool clear water lakes with water depths in the twenty to fifty metre range, the lakes of the Canadian Shield make for prime habitat. These aggressive winter predators, though, are also more adaptable than the lake trout, tolerant to warmer water temperatures. This expands their range to a wide variety of lakes in this part of the world. Hard to catch? Not in the least, as long as you keep a few certain rules in mind.
MANITOBA WHITEFISH LAKES: North Steeprock Lake in the Porcupine Hills is absolutely loaded with Lake Whitefish. Westhawk and Falcon lakes have abundant populations as does the entire Winnipeg River system, especially the Nutimik Lake section.
In the Duck Mountains many a master angler whitefish has come through an ice hole in March from Gull Lake. Cross Bay up at Grand Rapids, has huge lake whitefish which can grow to size of thirty inches or better, a challenge to any ice anglers equipment. Don’t forget Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park, a spectacular lake whitefish fishery. My first experience for this game fish occurred on this lake in a raging blizzard. While fishing conditions were tough, these fish were aggressive and the action was constant.

On this particular day we keyed in on two different areas. One was an extended point off a main lake island that dropped into deep water. Whitefish love transition spots between hard and soft bottom, preferring to feed off either insect larvae or small minnows in the winter. Mid lake shoals and extended soft bottom flats also provide forage opportunities for these fish.  
Since that time, a lot of my trips for whitefish have been to Shoal Lake, Ontario.  Unfortunately, a huge downturn in the smelt population on this lake has scattered the fish, making locating large schools of these fish extremely difficult.
 LURE SELECTION: Small silver spoons like the Williams Ice Jig, and the Northlands Eye-Dropper work well. Small jigs with Berkley one inch power tubes or two inch power grubs are also excellent producers.   A small jigging Rapala can also be deadly along with Cicada’s. An aggressive jigging action with artificial lures will call whitefish in from a distance, important considering that they can be scattered over a fairly large area.
If the fish do get finicky, rigging up a small hook below a couple of split shots with a dead shiner minnow can get you some jumbos as well.
The use of a hydrographic map, if available, will allow you to find in advance areas that are likely to hold whitefish. Since larger whitefish are usually very aggressive in the winter time, it won’t take long to determine if there are fish in the vicinity.
As the days get longer in March, whitefish tend to get into larger schools with fifty to hundred fish days a real possibility.