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Ice fishing for whitefish: A question on southern Lake Michigan, a few answers

A Green Bay scene of vehicles on the ice for ice fishing for whitefish is not going to happen on southern Lake Michigan, one reason ice fishing for whitefish here is less likely.
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

Fran Connelly wondered, ‘‘Is it possible that we could have an ice season for whitefish?’’

The Des Plaines man is an avid ice fisherman and a rare person who sharpens auger blades.

A few years ago, his question would have been silly. It’s not anymore.

Illinois fisheries chief Dan Stephenson signed the paperwork Monday for Kevin Deram’s 8¼-pound lake whitefish as the Illinois record, the sixth change since 2012. Indiana also has had six record changes in the same time.

As to an ice season, something similar to the winter fishery on Green Bay, I checked with people smarter than I am.

‘‘Interesting question,’’ emailed Vic Santucci, the Lake Michigan Program manager in Illinois. ‘‘While I hesitate to say never because lake whitefish might be caught through the ice anytime during our winters, I really don’t foresee whitefish ice fishing in our waters at the level they have up in Green Bay. Whitefish densities are much higher up in Green Bay, and natural reproduction is occurring in tributaries and the bay itself.

‘‘Movement of whitefish into our waters from more northerly parts of the lake has contributed to our fishery, but we don’t see young whitefish in our surveys. Young whitefish would suggest natural reproduction is occurring, which I believe would be necessary before we see population increases that would support an ice fishery like they have in Green Bay.’’

Will southern Lake Michigan ever see a scene like this, Jeff Norris drilling a hole for ice fishing whitefish on Green Bay?<br>Dale Bowman/Sun-Times
Will southern Lake Michigan ever see a scene like this, Jeff Norris drilling a hole for ice fishing whitefish on Green Bay?
Dale Bowman/Sun-Times

The second big question is the ice. Ice on Green Bay thickens enough to drive vehicles on; that’s part of the adventure. Not so on southern Lake Michigan.

‘‘I don’t really ever foresee consistent safe ice in the main lake proper, where most of these fish are hanging out,’’ emailed Ben Dickinson, the assistant Lake Michigan fisheries biologist for Indiana. ‘‘As far as I know, the only areas consistently ice-fished are the harbors on the west side of the lake. So I guess the most realistic possibility would be if large numbers of whitefish started utilizing those harbors in the future. I haven’t heard too much about that happening yet, and I suspect that perch fishermen would have been catching them in decent numbers if that was the case.’’

He’s right. You don’t hear of it often from perch fishermen in winter.

Dickinson also gave a pointer for fishermen.

‘‘They are caught by lake-trout jiggers in the fall and early spring by accident,’’ he said. ‘‘So if they were specifically targeted using smaller gear, I think folks would be catching quite a few.’’


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