The Wild Whitefish of a Welcome Spring!

I had a choice, spring had finally sprung after a long cold April here in Yellowknife. It had been the coldest April on record, which was both a blessing and curse. The ice had held out allowing for some interesting adventures as I explored many of the small lakes surrounding the city and was able to get out on a ice road leading to the alluring waters of Great Slave Lake’s famous East Arm. However the combination of cold air masses and a beaming sun left me with some serious toque tan lines, which apparently  is not the hottest fashion style of the day. Late Saturday night, I sat pondering my options for fishing the next day, with the warm weather making a welcome appearance, all the access points to Great Slave Lake were quickly melting away. It would be my last chance to easily take the skidoo out on the ice in search of the lunker lake trout that had eluded me all winter. Alternatively, one of the small lakes close to town was known for a spring whitefish bite, and it's clear shallow water would lend itself to a fun time with my underwater camera. After much self deliberation, my mind was made up for me, when other social commitments came up for sunday afternoon. Early morning whitefish was what was going to be the name of the game.

I have fished this lake in the past and my best success always occurred during the first few hours of daylight so with that in mind, my alarm was set for the crack of dawn. With temperatures predicted to be around 6 degrees, it felt strange only relying on one pair of long johns and a waterproof shell pant after the mini ice age this past winter has been. I collected my two fishing partners, which in the time of covid-19 are my furred four legged companions. Quick shot of coffee and gas and off we went. 

The morning was as nice as one could ask for, the sun was shining and not a whisper of wind. I decided to do a little exploring on the lake and try a point I had not fished before. Every indication from the satellite imagery indicated that it would be a high production spot. The point was well defined, dropping off into what seemed deep water. After a quick ski doo ride some old holes indicated that I was not the only person to think that this spot was ideal. Using the old holes as a guide, I drilled a few exploratory holes to get a feel for the transition between shallow and deep water. Early morning whitefish tend to be cruising shallower areas on their hunt for breakfast and I wanted to fish the drop so I could catch fish coming and going from the feeding flat. A small jigging spoon tipped with a shiner was dropped through the nearly 3 feet of ice that covered the boreal lake, and I watched my sonar, hoping to confirm my assessment of the habitat.  A few jigs later I had a red mark appear on the screen with such speed that I thought it was a pike, but the gentle nudge of my spoon led me to believe that I had found my target species. Even though the sun was beaming and I desperately needed to even out my tan lines, I decided to pop up my shelter so I could easily see my camera screen. As soon the camera was in the water and revealed what laid beneath, my suspicions were confirmed, I had found my whitefish!

Whitefish have always been more incidental catch for me, the few times I had targeted them prior to moving to the Northwest Territories always led to limited success. The most important lesson that I learned from fishing for these crafty critters is just how valuable an underwater camera is for learning their behaviour. On outing earlier in the year, I had discovered that the whitefish would come in and eat the minnows I had jigged off my hook and that were laying on the bottom. They would readily vacuum up bait off the bottom but only make the briefest of swipes at my jigging spoons. It wasn't until I dusted off an old Blue Fox- foxee jig that held the bait horizontally on the bottom did I get bites that actually connected. The two lessons I took from that outing was the value of a few sacrificial attractor minnows laying on bottom and the value of horizontal hook presentation. So this morning I came prepared, I rummaged through the back of my truck box and found a few half empty containers of recently thawed shinners from previous outings that had been hiding in the snow. Every 15 mins or so I would drop four or five of these old minnows down my hole and watch the whitefish come speeding in to eat them off bottom. Multiple fish would be on my camera at the same time, stirring up the bottom. I was able to deceive a few of these fish into taking my jig but even with the foxee jig I watched a number of fish come in, giving the quickest of taps and decide not to take it. Not to be outsmarted by a fish, I decided it was time to play the last card in my arsenal. The whitefish had no problem gorging themselves on the minnows I dropped down the hole but seemed to know that the minnow tipped jig spelt a trip to my smoker, even if it was deadsticked on the bottom. To solve this conundrum, I tied on a small single hook with no weight and tipped it with a shiner. Letting it slowly free fall the 15 feet to the bottom was a bit of an exercise in patience as my fishing partners tend to slush up my hole on their attempts to drink the lake dry and I had forgotten my scoop. Slowly the line went down and I watched it descend on my sonar screen. As soon as it got near bottom a fish flashed across my screen and without hesitation sucked the bait in. I had cracked the whitefish code! After that it was short work to fill out the limit and I got a bonus pike to turn into some fish tacos. 

I always come away from whitefishing learning something, today was all about a finesse presentation and the fact that my fishing companions are finally earning their keep guarding my fish from hungry returning gulls. My record for latest ice fishing is May 11th, I think I may be breaking it this year. Now comes more choices, where to fish next weekend...