A lesson in patience and tactics while chasing whitefish

Joe Susi of Sault Ste. Marie with a 2-pound whitefish taken in the St. Mary’s River. (Photo by Tom Pink)

I write a fair amount about fishing for whitefish, but in spite of my many years of fishing for them, a whitefish excursion this week brought me a lesson in patience and tactics.

Whitefish can be difficult to hook, especially in late spring and early summer, when the water where we catch them is still quite cold. They bite very lightly, and even if you hook them, odds are only 50-50 that you’ll get them to the landing net.

My frequent partner, Joe, has a difficult time feeling the subtle hits, but in spite of how frustrated he might feel about missing them, he is still enthusiastic about getting out to try for a whitefish dinner. This week, he caught the first as well as the biggest fish that were put in the cooler.

We didn’t catch many, and it took a little more than three hours before we finally had the first fish in the boat. Thinking about other tasks that I needed to finish, I was ready to quit long before Joe caught the first, and I nearly suggested that we head for shore. I found myself growing impatient while watching anglers in other boats throw an occasional fish in their coolers while we were on our way to being skunked.

It turns out, I was glad I kept my mouth shut. For the next hour, after the first fish was hooked, we caught several more, and a few of them were dandies. Even small whitefish put up a great fight, but the big ones really test your gear.

Joe was happy to catch the biggest, but he was still having some trouble feeling the light bites. During the last half-hour of our trip, he suggested that I use his rod and he use mine. I noticed that Joe had a much longer leader tied on his rod – we use egg sinkers above a swivel and a light leader with a teardrop and wax worm at the end. I use an 8- to 10-inch leader, but Joe was using one at least two times as long. It made me wonder if it would be more difficult to feel bites with that length of leader, since the bait would be floating around in the current, as opposed to being directly below the egg sinker.

But within minutes of dropping my line down with Joe’s rod, I had hooked a fish. Unfortunately, it broke the leader. Minutes later, using my rod with a shorter leader, Joe also hooked and successfully landed a fish.

Joe still thinks that I’m the whitefish whisperer and that I can feel the fish even when they just swim closely to my lure. Who am I to argue?

But I also think that next time a shorter leader will help him put even more fish in the cooler.

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