Tag Archives: whitefish

Lake Whitefish – Coregonus clupeaformis

General: Lake Whitefish, Coregonus clupeaformis, commonly called the Great Lakes Whitefish, are freshwater fish found in northern parts of the United States and much of Canada, inhabiting cold, deep lakes, including all of the Great Lakes. This pale, reclusive member of the Salmon/Trout (salmonidae) family is known for its exceptional flavor and tendency to school, resulting in its huge popularity amongst commercial and sport fisherman. The Lake Whitefish is also considered the most economically valuable species native to the Great Lakes, a mainstay of commercial fishers since this area was settled1.

Description: A member of the Salmon/Trout family, Lake Whitefish can be identified by the signature torpedo shape and adipose fin (a small fin located on the back in front of the tail)2. Lake Whitefish also have two dorsal fins, a blunt nose, and a forked tail. This species is deep-bodied with a relatively small head. Older fish sometimes develop a “fleshy bump at the shoulders”3. Features unique to the Lake Whitefish include a sub-terminal mouth (meaning the snout overhangs the lower lip) that is small and delicate compared to trout and salmon4, and larger scales than other members of the salmonidae family. Adults typically reach lengths of 17” to 22”, but may exceed 30” if conditions allow. Typically, adult Lake Whitefish weigh between 1.5 to 5 lbs. but may reach upwards of 15 lbs5. Historically, Lake Whitefish lived approximately 25 years and grew to over 20 lbs. However, due to changing fishing trends, Lake Whitefish now have diminished life expectancies, and therefore, reach smaller sizes6.

Lake Whitefish are greenish-brown in color, shading to silver on the sides and belly. Fins are often clear or nearly clear7.

Habitat: Lake Whitefish are a reclusive species, schooling in deep, gloomy waters of the Great Lakes. Lake Whitefish may live in depths up to 200’ (seeking these depths when summer temperatures climb,) feeding along lake bottoms and often escaping the reach of sport fisherman.

Location: Lake Whitefish are found in deep, cold waters in northern parts of North America, most notably in the Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron, Ontario, and Erie.) They school in these well-oxygenated waters and are abundant in many areas, despite their steady popularity amongst commercial fishers.

Diet: Lake Whitefish feed near or on lake bottoms and have limited diets due to the petite size of the mouth. These fish feed on insects and larvae, small fish and fish eggs, freshwater shrimp, mollusks, and other small bottom organisms.

Reproduction: Lake Whitefish spawn during early winter in waters less than 25’ deep. These fish may spawn in the fall if water temperatures drop below 50°F8. Females spread their eggs across reefs or in shallow basins on rock, gravel, or sand beds. Thick winter ice protects spawning areas from being disrupted by winds, increasing spawning success9, allowing the eggs to hatch the following spring. Some eggs will be lost due to predatory species including yellow perch, ciscoes, and other whitefish. Young fish may fall prey to predators including lake trout, northern pike, and walleye. The surviving young grow rapidly, and leave the protective waters for deeper areas by early summer10.

Fishing Facts: Lake Whitefish have always been popular amongst commercial fishers, but only recently have they caught on with sport anglers due to their reclusive, deep-water living habits that require special fishing techniques11.
Lake Whitefish have been a staple of the Great Lakes commercial fishing industry since settlement. Over the last four decades, over two million pounds of Lake Whitefish have been commercially harvested annually in Green Bay and northwestern Lake Michigan alone12. Commercial fishers use trapnets and gillnets to troll deep waters for schools of Lake Whitefish while sport anglers have found success using small hooks (appropriate for this species small mouth) baited with fish eggs13.
This species is known for its mild, sweet, light flavor which lends itself to many preparation styles. Fresh, this fish may be refrigerated and used within two to four days, and frozen, this fish is known for its flavor and nutritional retention14.

This flavorful fish is a high-quality, low cost, nutritional powerhouse, packed with:
More Omega 3 fatty acids than both pink and sockeye salmon
Vitamins A, E, B6, B12, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and folate
Minerals, including phosphorus, selenium, potassium, calcium, iron and zinc15

Notes of Interest: The largest recorded Lake Whitefish weighed 42.67 lbs. and was caught from Lake Superior in 191816.

Because of its mild flavor, Lake Whitefish offer an excellent alternative to those who do not like that “fishy flavor” of other species.
The Lake Whitefish is known by several alternative names, including: Sault Whitefish, Gizzard Fish, Attikmaig (Native American,) and Grande Coregone (French)17.

1. http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10364_18958-45680–,00.html
2. http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/Home/species_a_to_z/SpeciesGuideIndex/lakewhitefish/tabid/6670/Default.aspx
3. http://www.greatlakeswhitefish.com/
4. http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10364_18958-45680–,00.html
5. http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/Home/species_a_to_z/SpeciesGuideIndex/lakewhitefish/tabid/6670/Default.aspx
6. http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10364_18958-45680–,00.html
7. http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10364_18958-45680–,00.html
8. http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/Home/species_a_to_z/SpeciesGuideIndex/lakewhitefish/tabid/6670/Default.aspx
9. http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/Home/species_a_to_z/SpeciesGuideIndex/lakewhitefish/tabid/6670/Default.aspx
10. http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10364_18958-45680–,00.html
11. http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10364_18958-45680–,00.html
12. http://www.seagrant.wisc.edu/greatlakesfish/lakewhitefish.html
13. http://www.greatlakeswhitefish.com/
14. http://www.greatlakeswhitefish.com/
15. http://www.greatlakeswhitefish.com/
16. http://www.greatlakeswhitefish.com/
17. http://www.seagrant.wisc.edu/greatlakesfish/lakewhitefish.html