Saturday, February 21, 2009

Whitefish lips sink ships

Red Lake whitefish
We have two species of fish that look almost identical in Red Lake. You need to tell them apart because one is good to eat and the other is not.

The two species are whitefish and tulibee.

Both are silver with large scales.

Whitefish are good to eat while tulibee are very bony and wormy as well.
The easiest way of discerning between the two is to look at the mouth. Whitefish have an overbite -- their upper lip protrudes over the lower jaw. Tulibees have lower jaws that are longer than their upper lip, just like most fish.

Both fish prefer cold water but will be near the surface during the first month of the fishing season. Some tulibee, however, will stay in shallow bays that are only 30 feet deep all season.

In the summer tulibee have a habit that makes them easy to spot on a fish finder. They are always half way to the bottom, no matter what the depth, until evening when some of them at least come to the surface to eat bugs.

Whitefish stick right to the bottom. By mid-summer they will be in 50-60 feet of water.

Other differences: tulibee are weak fighters and will almost race to the boat when hooked. They often shimmy like crazy when you lift them from the water. Whitefish are powerful fighters and will take awhile to bring in.

Tulibee lose their scales incredibly easy. After handling them you will have scales all over your hands and in the boat. Whitefish scales don't fall off.

Both fish have very delicate mouths. If you pull too hard when fighting them your hook will rip right out.

Tulibee get as large as a couple of pounds. Whitefish can weigh up to 8 pounds.

The best way to catch these fish is to use lead-head jigs either with bucktails or plastic twister tails. On Red Lake you need to pinch down the barbs on these jigs because you will also tie into some lake trout fishing like this and government regulations require you to use single hook barbless lures when fishing for trout. Use jigs that are 1/4-ounce to 1/2 ounce, depending on the depth. White is probably the best color.

Cast the jig as far as you can and either let it freefall to the bottom or let it swing on an arc on a tight line keeping your rod at right angles to feel the tiny little hits as the fish pick up the jig.

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