LAKE WHITEFISH (Coregonus clupeaformis)

See also: Yellow Perch, Lake Trout, Northern Pike and Burbot.

Lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) are highly regarded among anglers as a great catch in Lake Simcoe for several compelling reasons. First and foremost, they are known for their delectable, flaky white flesh, making them a prized target for those who enjoy a flavorful meal. Lake Simcoe boasts a healthy population of whitefish, offering excellent opportunities for both recreational and culinary enthusiasts. These fish can be found throughout the lake, particularly in its clear, cold waters, making them accessible to a wide range of anglers. Their relatively moderate size and willingness to bite on various baits and lures also contribute to their popularity. Overall, the combination of delicious taste, accessibility, and year-round appeal makes lake whitefish a great and sought-after species to catch in Lake Simcoe. 

 In Lake Simcoe, the MNR stocks approximately 100,000 to 150,000 juvenile whitefish annually and has been doing so for many years now (See the current stocking table).  Although stocking occurs, there is a healthy population of wild, natural reproducing fish as well. Recent MNR surveys show that more wild fish are being captured than stocked fish. 

Biology: whitefish are particularly renowned for their fall spawning ritual, which occurs when water temperatures drop to the 4-7 degrees Celsius (39-45 degrees Fahrenheit) range. During this time, typically from October to December, they migrate to shallow, rocky areas near shorelines or river mouths. Female whitefish release adhesive eggs onto the substrate, while males simultaneously release milt to fertilize them. The eggs adhere to rocks or gravel and develop slowly during the winter months, hatching in the spring when conditions become more favorable. This unique spawning behavior, synchronized with the seasonal temperature changes, plays a crucial role in the reproduction and life cycle of whitefish. 

Ontario Angling Record: The largest lake whitefish was taken on March 18, 1996 from Georgian Bay, Owen Sound area. The fish weighed 14.77lbs and was 29.5" long with a girth of 19.8". The fish was caught on a Mr. Champ jig.

Lake Simcoe Size Range: Lake Whitefish average 3-6 pounds but can weigh up to and over 10 pounds.

Lake Simcoe Diet: The Lake Whitefish feeds from the bottom on invertebrates, scuds, molluscs, aquatic insect larvae and small fishes. During the winter on Simcoe, whitefish have been known to feed on emerald shiners, smelt, sculpins, and even the invasive round goby.

Recommended Equipment: Opt for a medium to heavy action ice rod paired with a 2000 size spinning reel, appropriately loaded with 10-pound super line. To enhance your setup, include an 8 or 6-pound fluorocarbon leader, ranging from 18 to 24 inches in length. 

Female Lake Simcoe Whitefish feeding on Rainbow smelt and Round Goby

Recommended Baits: A diverse array of baits proves effective for ice fishing to target lake whitefish. Among the most favored options are:

Live Bait: Emerald Shiners (Small to Medium), best presented on a 3-way spreader, hook and split shot, jig head, or spoon. Maggots also make for a reliable choice.

Artificial Bait: Consider Bad Boys, Meegz, Jigging Rapalas, Nils Masters, and lipless crankbaits, along with spoons like the Williams Whitefish and Swedish pimple. Small tube jigs and pearls tied below spoons are effective additions to your arsenal. Soft plastic goby or minnow imitation baits can also entice whitefish.

Depth Range: Early in the ice fishing season, when lake whitefish have recently completed their spawning, they tend to linger in shallow waters, typically in the 30-50 foot range. As the season progresses, especially during the last ice phase, whitefish venture into shallower depths, within the magical range of 30-50 feet. It's not uncommon to encounter whitefish in depths of less than 20 feet or as deep as 100 feet. A useful strategy is to start fishing in shallower areas and gradually work deeper until an active school of whitefish is located. Look for transitions from soft to hard bottoms, as these are favored areas where whitefish swim and feed.

Current  Lake Simcoe Regulations: Lake Whitefish season is open from Jan. 1 to Mar. 15 and from the 2nd Sat. in May to September 30.

Sport License daily limit is 2 whitefish.

Conservation License daily limit is 1 whitefish.

Special Features:  Not only are lake whitefish great fighters, they are also great table fare. If you decide on keeping a whitefish, we recommend keeping “clipped” fish, these fish are stocked and are meant to provide a recreational harvest to anglers. Wild lake whitefish have not been clipped and provide a strong genetic stock of fish that will create a sustainable, naturally reproducing population.

Lake whitefish are commonly mistaken for cisco (lake herring) which also lurk the waters of Lake Simcoe. The key distinguishing characteristic between the cisco and lake whitefish – a whitefish has a pronounced underslung mouth as compared to the cisco. 

See also: Yellow Perch, Lake Trout, Northern Pike and Burbot.

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