No one would have thought 15 to 20 years ago that drilling a hole on the ice and fishing for what lurks below would be a popular winter sport in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. But that’s exactly what happened, and ice fishing for whitefish has become the primary favorite. With less commercial fishing and improved water quality protections, the Green Bay whitefish numbers have exploded in recent decades.
The introduction of exotic species like zebra mussels and round gobies were carried in by Great Lake ships ballast water from overseas. Whitefish thrived in deeper parts of Lake Michigan until zebra mussels littered the bottom and disrupted their food sources called diporeia (freshwater shrimp). Starving and adapting to a new ecological change, whitefish began feeding on a few new food sources like round gobies and planktons that live on zebra mussel shells.
Green Bay ice fishing guides started catching whitefish by accident while fishing for walleye and perch. Eventually, these whitefish became the targeted fish.
Whitefish ice fishing has become a multi-million dollar business in the Door County, Wisconsin area, bringing tourist dollars to restaurants, hotels and tackle shops.
Whitefish are commercially fished and have a sought after mild white flaky meat that is desired by upscale restaurants and can be cooked in a variety of ways. Broiled, deep fried, boiled, and smoked are the most popular amongst other ways. [Tips for ice fishing for whitefish range from a variety of tactics used by local anglers].
The famous Green Bay whitefish rig is one of the most popular choices when targeting these finicky biters. A ¼ ounce gold spoon is tied on the bottom of the main line with a number eight red hook tipped with a wax worm, generally 12–16 inches above the spoon with a small two-way swivel used as a stopper. Another fishing lure that is popular is a Keitech plastic swim bait attached to a ¼ jig lead head.
When it comes to picking the right ice rod, there’s no doubt that a 28-34 inch medium action rod paired with a good ice fishing reel sporting a smooth drag, that won’t freeze, is perfect for bringing whitefish out of deep or shallow water.
Jigging techniques vary from angler to angler. A slow methodical tapping of your jig on the bottom and lifting slowly works well along with an aggressive pounding at the bottom depending on the fish’s mood. One thing is for sure, constant contact to the bottom with your jig is crucial.
Whitefish move in schools and their appetite depends greatly on the weather. Using a fish locator is a good way to find fish and move when you’re not marking fish to stay on the hot bite. Weather plays a huge role in catching whitefish and being able to adjust your fishing locations to rising or dropping barometric pressures, storms, and high pressure systems is key. Understanding whitefish behaviour and patience also play a huge role when targeting this species.
Whitefish are very intelligent and adaptive fish and have been around for hundreds of years. Hiring a guide service like Trophy Ice Fish who specializes in targeting whitefish is highly recommended to increase your odds of having a successful day on the ice. This is especially true if you’ve never fished Green Bay or this is your first time ice fishing for whitefish. The expert team at Trophy Ice Fish is happy to help you have a great experience.