Wadeoutthere Philosophy

In Defense of Whitefish.

My indicator slipped past the brown I was sight fishing to, but I set hard on a take four feet downstream and immediately my brain began a familiar back and forth.

There it is. 

Great fish.  Alright!

Wait a minute.  Wait a damn second here.  

A bright flash at the surface and I accepted what I already knew.  Whitefish…

But hey, nice whitefish.

Whitefish get a bad rap.  They seem to find our flies at the least optimum times.  More specifically, any time we are fishing for trout.  Catching whitefish can be a let down because it is not what we are expecting when our attention is so singularly focused in targeting trout.  The more I fly fish though, the more I appreciate the different experiences that this sport brings us.  Whitefish may not be a beautiful, colored up rainbow, but that difference makes them special.   

Like many trout fishermen my dislike for whitefish began at an early age. 

Although I can’t remember exactly when or how, it was ingrained in me to be disappointed with a whitefish in the net.  My enjoyment of these fish has been a gradual one.  The irony is not missed on me that the better I get at catching trout, the more I seem to enjoy catching these fish and appreciate their unique qualities.  

Here are a few things that changed my mind as I spent more time on the water.

Damn Hard Fighting

You have to give it to them.  Whitefish pull hard with a hook in their mouth.  They may not jump or splash around much but they will definitely take the line off your reel and put a bend in your rod.  This is excellent practice for fighting fish and makes for a fun time as well.

Unique Beauty

Whitefish have a beauty of their own.  The sun glistening off a thick, silver whitefish flank can be impressive.  The more I encounter them, the more I appreciate why some jokingly refer to these fish as Rocky Mountain Bonefish.


Whether you like it or not, when you catch a whitefish, it belongs there.  Whitefish are native to the Rocky Mountains and that is not something that can be said about all  the species of fish that we catch on a trout stream.  There is something special about catching fish that have been in their home waters for thousands of years.

I’ll be honest (by the way that’s the way it will always be at WOT), I don’t know if I will ever be equally excited to catch a whitefish as a trout. But I can see them for what they are now: hard fighting, beautiful, native fish whose biggest similarity with trout may be that they are different. 

When you think about it, every fish is a new memory and a new connection with the river.  I’ll happily take that experience however I can get it.  Even if it comes from “mighty whitey.”

If you still aren’t convinced these noble creatures are valuable… I hear smoked whitefish are delicious.  Wadeoutthere.

What’s your take on whitefish?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments. 


Jason Shemchuk

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  • Reply
    Drew Shemchuk
    December 20, 2021 at 9:55 pm

    There was a fancy pants restaurant in my old neighborhood that used to sell smoked whitefish as an appetizer and for a while I felt like
    I could have been there sole supplier and made a fortune. But joking aside I’ve had many hard fights on an angry whitefish that were tons of fun. Nothing wrong with that and usually a funny story at the end if you land them!

    • Reply
      Jason Shemchuk
      December 22, 2021 at 10:27 pm

      Mr. White! Yup. Good fighting fish and good for a memory or laugh with your friends… or your brother… Thanks for reading and for the comment Drew. Cheers.

  • Reply
    Mike Leigh
    December 29, 2021 at 4:52 pm

    I don’t like catching Whitefish. Never have, never will. They’re slimy and just won’t stop flopping in the net when I’m trying to get my fly. I’ve lost way too many flies to whiteys. Very frustrating. Having said that, I do respect them and appreciate them. They fight hard, and have saved a slow day more than once. I’ll never target them. And, if I catch more than one in a spot – I move. But even a whitey tug is better than no tug at all.

    • Reply
      Jason Shemchuk
      January 5, 2022 at 1:43 am

      Gotta respect a hard fighting, native fish is where I’ve landed on the subject. I also don’t target them but I like your philosophy of a whitey tug being better than no tug at all. Optimistic in the end.

  • Reply
    John Schneider
    March 18, 2023 at 2:13 pm

    “You’ve heard” that smoked whitefish are excellent? Oh Jason. Come fishing up here. We’ll catch a few, brine them overnight. The next afternoon, around happy hour, fresh out of the streamside smoker built from dry-stacked river rock, with a nice single malt. Then you’ll more than hear about it. One of my favourite target species.

    • Reply
      Jason Shemchuk
      March 21, 2023 at 5:01 pm

      Oh John. I’d love to someday. And I do love scotch. You nailed it. Thanks for reading and the great comment.


  • Reply
    June 15, 2023 at 5:00 pm

    Just last night, I was out at Milo McIver Park at dusk and there was a mayfly hatch on. I put on a dry-dropper and came upon a group of very hungry whitefish. I caught one after the other in quick succession while the only trout to be found in that particular hole were really small smolts. It was different, but just as enjoyable as any fly fishing experience I’ve had. The whitefish is one of the reasons I feel connected to Pacific Northwest streams and was one of the first catches I made on rivers like the famed Metolius. I really respect and enjoy these fish.

    • Reply
      Jason Shemchuk
      July 5, 2023 at 11:32 am

      It’s always fun to get into some fish! Thanks for reading and commenting Keaton. I feel the same way.

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