Mountain Whitefish and Why They Matter

Mountain Whitefish and Why They Matter

You indicator dips and you set the hook, is this the trout you’ve been waiting for? Nope… It’s a whitefish. It’s natural to feel disappointed after such an event. Even though you wanted to catch a trout, at least you caught something. You know you’re on the right track if you’re hooking into whitefish. Hooking a couple whitefish helps fill in the gaps on a slow day. Take a second to enjoy the fight and the beautiful iridescent scales on the whitefish you catch.

Whitefish are totally edible. They have more bones than trout, but otherwise there is not much difference between them. An added bonus is that there is often no bag limit for whitefish. These fish taste great, especially when fried or smoked. 

A lot of people think that whitefish directly compete with trout. It is true that typically, when whitefish populations are lower trout populations are higher and vice versa. However, whitefish will feed on the bottom of a river, while trout will feed on aquatic invertebrates drifting through the water column. Competition between trout and whitefish is minimal and you shouldn’t blame whitefish for poor trout populations. 

Ecologically, whitefish are very important. They serve as a prey buffer between trout and their predators. If whitefish weren’t present in rivers, ospreys and eagles would only eat trout. The presence of whitefish means that trout are not the only fish on the menu for terrestrial and aquatic predators. Whitefish are also excellent indicators of the water quality in a river. Polluted rivers do not support healthy whitefish populations. 

Next time there’s a whitefish at the end of your line, take a second to appreciate that you’ve hooked a native fish on a fly rod. 

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