Spring to me always means whitefish. For as long as I can remember, our family has fished for this little native fish and I couldn’t imagine springtime without our pilgrimage to the banks of the Similkameen River. No matter if you are a catch and release angler or if you like to take a few home for dinner, the mountain whitefish is a much underrated species to sport fish for.
The mountain whitefish belongs to the Salmonidae family of fish and is related to more popular sport fish like trout, char and salmon. The mountain whitefish, (whitefish) is mainly a bottom feeder who feeds off insect larvae and small invertebrates. We mainly fish for whitefish in the spring when the mayflies and stoneflies are hatching. In our part of the Similkameen, this usually happens near the middle to end of March, just after the ice has left the river and before the water gets muddy from the spring runoff.
The spring runoff usually marks the end of the spring whitefish season. Once the water turns muddy the fish either move or stop biting, so as soon as you see the water turning from clear to murky brown, time is up. This might be different in other parts of the river or other regions, but on the upper Similkameen, this is the case. You will want to look for deep holes to fish for whitefish. This is one of the reasons we usually visit Bromley Rock. You can fish from either side of the river depending on the ice and how high the water is.
Depending on the speed of the river, you will want to try and skirt the side of the current in the deep parts of the river or in the pools between currents. You will see them just watch the water for a few minutes and you will notice that there are a number of different currents going in different directions. For bait we have been using pink maggots. If fresh maggots are not available, you can use PowerBait micro power wigglers, but get the pink ones. Traditionally we would use what we called a helgramite which is actually a stonefly nymph. This is how my great grandmother taught my dad how to fish for whitefish. These little bugs get harder and harder to find in the spring but if you can find them under the rocks on the edge of the water, then you will know that the whitefish are biting.
Most anglers I talk to don’t care for whitefish. They say they are too boney or they are muddy, but what I think it really is is that you have to scale whitefish before you eat them. Don’t let this deter you from pursuing this little scrapper of a fish. It may not jump like a trout when you catch one, and you have to be a little gentler when reeling it in, because of the softer mouth, but they will fight you from the second you set your hook until you land it on the bank. This fish is a great little scrapper and makes the day worth it every time.
A couple notes for first time whitefish anglers:
- Whitefish have small mouths, so use a small hook. I use a #8
- They have a soft mouth, so even though your bobber goes under, don’t set it too hard or you will pull the hook right out of its mouth. Set it gently and keep tension on your line as you reel it in. Remember you have to use a barbless hook.
- If you are going to release your fish, please treat it with care. You can take a lot of the fish’s scales off if you are not gentle. If you think the fish is too small before you get it to shore, you can usually get it off your line well before you have to take it out of the water.
- Remember, although the Similkameen River is exempt from spring closure, bait ban does start April 1 and runs to Oct. 31.