I don’t think there is a freshwater fish on the planet that can’t be fooled by a green jig.
Sure, the size of that jig is relative to the size of the fish, in most cases, but fish eat small morsels as often, if not more often, than they do big meals. And in the Flathead River (and Lake) system, just about anything that swims can be fooled with a small green jig. Today, I am specifically addressing the Lake Superior Whitefish as they enter and hold in the river for their fall/winter spawning run.
In the summer, when we are fishing the lake for them, the lake Whitefish like to hit a green lead spoon that is more of a vertical presentation. The lead spoon is a vertical jig, meaning the lure or spoon has a long slender body with the line tie on the top, and the hook (most often a treble hook) on the bottom. We typically vertically jig this lure, dropping straight down to the bottom, and utilizing a “lift-fall” technique.
In the river, about the only thing in common is the color! Anglers will use a “horizontal” type lure that represents a minnow, crayfish or other long profile bait. The hook tie is typically towards the front, on top of the head, where the bulk of the lures weight is, and a single hook makes up the rear of the lure. In between, there is typically a hook shank, and this is a basic “lead head jig.” Often, the angler will add a plastic body in between. This plastic body might be a crayfish or minnow imitation, a hollow tube, or maybe even some marabou hair, plain or colored yarn or thread that adds some bulk and color to the jig.
Technique changes as well, as the angler makes casts through a pool or section of the water, then retrieves the lure in a series of hops. The lure may need to be bouncing up off the bottom each time, or it may be just below the surface, depending on if the fish are actually feeding, or just striking at it out of aggression. Most times, keeping the lure close to bottom produces Whitefish, and keeping the lure closer to the surface or in the middle of the water column can produce any of the trout species in the river.
Savvy anglers will use a longer, seven- to eight-foot light or ultra light rod and a smaller series of reel, nothing bigger than a 30 size is necessary. Proper balance is most important for the feel of the jig and the subtle take of the Whitefish. Spool the reel with your choice of line, anywhere in the four- to eight-pound range will suffice. Many river anglers have gone to the single strand superlines like Berkley Nanofil for the extra casting distance, and then adding six feet or so of monofilament leader. That is my preferred set up, long casts and incredible feel is the name of the game!
Whether in a boat or on the bank, look for areas where the current slows down, or even eddies back into a pool, where there is clean bottom. Gravel areas are where they like to spawn and sandy, mucky and snag prone bottoms will just make for a long day. Eight to sixteen feet of depth is great, but water speed and bottom content to me is most important because you should be using jigs in the 1/8 ounce to 1/4 ounce size. If that jig can’t get down to the bottom, you aren’t going to be in the strike zone.
Of course, that is a very basic explanation of the technique and gear required. Spending a day on the water with us here at Howe’s Fishing will ALWAYS up your skill level, and we would love to show you all the skills needed to be successful. We guide Whitefish anglers from an 18’ outboard jet powered river boat and will have you fishing like a Pro in NO time! And we will bring all the little green jigs you need! Let’s go fishing!
Howe is the owner and outfitter of Howe’s Fishing, home of A Able and Mo Fisch Charters. Contact him at 406-257-5214 or at howesfishing.com