Ice Fishing for Whitefish, Technical Tips

Ice Fishing for Whitefish, Tips to Succeed!

This article will cover ice fishing for whitefish. Whitefish are prized by anglers for several reasons. They grow fairly large, a 15 pound fish is not uncommon. Whitefish thrive in the cold water conditions under the ice. Since they are quite active in the cold water, they put up an excellent tussle for anglers using light spinning tackle. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, whitefish are fantastic eating!

ice fishing for whitefish

Many anglers associate whitefish with deep water fishing. While this is true in the summer, anglers ice fishing for whitefish will find them shallower in the winter than they do in the summer. They will generally be found on flats near deeper water that are around 30 feet deep. Seldom will anglers have to fish deeper than 50 feet for whitefish.

Best tackle for ice fishing for whitefish

ice fishing

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Whitefish grow fairly large, especially by ice fishing standards. The best rods to use are medium to medium heavy rods 28 inches long to 36 inches long along with a matching reel. Heavier rods allow anglers to control the larger lures that are most often used when pursuing whitefish. The same outfits that anglers use for pike and lake trout will be fine when chasing whitefish.


Anglers who would like to read more about ice fishing can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “A Complete Guide to Ice Fishing” by clicking on the title link.

Line choice is a personal matter. Specially designed fluorocarbon ice fishing lines work well for anglers who mostly fish 25 feet or shallower. Braided lines are usually the choice for anglers fishing deeper. Anglers can read more about ice fishing tackle and gear.

Braided line has no stretch and excellent sensitivity. 10 pound test is a good choice. Anglers using braided line will need to tie on a 2 to 3 foot fluorocarbon leader between 6 pound test an 8 pound test. Anglers can spool their real up with six or 8 pound test fluorocarbon ice fishing line as well. However this can be a bit more challenging when fishing for whitefish in deeper water.

Winter whitefish habits

Whitefish are similar in habits and location to lake trout. They like cold, clear water and are usually found between 20 feet deep and 50 feet deep. However, generally speaking, whitefish are easier to locate and to catch than are lake trout. They also do not really relate to structure like many other game fish. Whitefish cruise soft bottom and muddy flats in search of food. They also school up more often and in larger numbers than lake trout.

ice fishing for whitefish

One look at the mouth of a whitefish will tell an angler how it feeds. Similar to a saltwater bone fish, the whitefish uses it’s nose to root around in the bottom. They are searching for larvae, zebra mussels, aquatic worms, and crustaceans. However, they also feed on larger live bait fish such as gobies and ciscoes. Flats with gravel and small rocks are also prime spots to find feeding whitefish.

ice fishing auger

Click to shop Amazon for ice fishing augers

Whitefish are not ambush predators. While they will use underwater structure as routes to get to the flats, whitefish cruise large open flats in search of prey. The best time to fish for whitefish is early in the morning, they will be actively feeding at this time. As the morning moves along, whitefish can be more difficult to find. They will often be found suspending 10 to 15 feet up off the bottom.

Sonar is important when ice fishing for whitefish

Anglers ice fishing for whitefish without a quality sonar unit are at a significant disadvantage. While they are not cheap, a good unit will pay for itself quickly in time saved. This is especially true when fishing deeper water. It is just so difficult to locate the breaks and flats as well as the fish without one. Also, anglers can quickly identify the depth that which fish are holding and watch their reaction to baits as they are presented to them.

ice fish finder

Click to shop Amazon for an ice fishing fish finder

Techniques for whitefish under the ice

Anglers ice fishing for whitefish must first locate them. As in most forms of fishing, this is the most important factor. Once anglers have decided on a flat to probe, a dozen or so holes are drilled throughout, with several on the structure breaks where it drops off into deeper water.

While whitefish do most of their feeding on the bottom, they will readily hit a larger artificial lure that is 10 or 15 feet off the bottom. Therefore, many anglers begin fishing for whitefish about 10 feet off the bottom. A sonar unit can be extremely helpful in helping to locate both fish location and depth that which they are holding. If fish are spotted on the sonar unit, it is best to work the lure a few feet above them. Novice anglers ice fishing for whitefish are often surprised to see how aggressively a whitefish will streak up and attack the lure!


The best approach is to lower the lure down to the desired depth. Then, the angler should lift the lure up several feet and allowed to fall, just barely keeping up with the slack. Then, the lure should be shaken gently, but not too much. And overaggressive motion will turn the fish off. If this does not produce a strike, anglers should drop the lure all the way to the bottom and jiggle it a bit. This will stir up the mud and forage on the bottom, and hopefully attract a whitefish to the bait. This is a very basic form of chumming.

More tips and techniques

If no fish appear on the sonar screen, there is another technique that anglers use when ice fishing for whitefish to draw a fish to the bait. The lure is allowed to fall to the bottom. Then, it is quickly reeled up 15 feet or so and allowed to fall to the bottom again. This is done several times. If no strike occurs, the lure is allowed to rest on the bottom for a few moments. If no strike occurs, it is time to move onto the next hole.

Anglers ice fishing for whitefish will find that by mid morning the bite often slows. One tip from the experienced anglers is to rig up a drop shot style rig. With this the angler ties on a heavy lure then attaches a small jig a couple feet above it. The jig can have a soft plastic trailer, scented soft plastic bait, or even a chunk of fish. The rig is allowed to fall to the bottom, then is jigged very gently. It is important not to overdo it! Sometimes when whitefish are finicky and not feeding actively, this will elicit an extra strike or two.

Best lures for catching whitefish through the ice

Most anglers ice fishing for whitefish do so using artificial lures. Whitefish are aggressive and when encountered on the submerged flats are usually in a feeding mood. Heavier lures get down to the bottom and into the strike zone quickly. Anglers can certainly tip their lures as well. This is mostly done with live or cut bait fish of some sort. Some anglers tip their lures with a small soft plastic tube. This adds flash and color as well is a receptacle for holding some type of sense such as Pro Cure.

The top three artificial lures used by anglers ice fishing for whitefish are the Rapala Jigging Rap, Badd Boyz jig, and Meeks Jig. All three are very similar in that the line tie is in the center and they are really a combination of hard bodied plugs and vertically fished jigs.

Rapala Jigging Rap

The Rapala Jigging Rap is an ice fishing legend. It has been catching fish through the ice for many decades now. While it is a hard body plug, it is fished vertically like a jig. The line tie is in the center and it has a fin on the tail. These two combined to give the lure a very enticing action as it falls in a circular manner. Colors vary, but the old school black back silver sided baits still produce very well as they mimic ciscoes and shiners that whitefish feed on.

Badd Boyz jig

The Badd Boyz jig is a proven whitefish lure, for many experienced anglers ice fishing for whitefish, it is their go to bait. The large single hook on the rear easily allows for anglers to tip the jig, whether it be a soft plastic trailer or a cut minnow.

Meegs jig

The Meegs jig is similar to the bad boys jig and certainly has its share of followers. It does have the advantage of having a small barb which facilitates adding a soft plastic trailer or tube easier. Darker colored Meeks jigs seem to work best.

In conclusion, this article on ice fishing for whitefish will help anglers catch more fish!







Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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