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My other car is a fly rod.
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello. I'm looking for information on the year-long migration/travel patterns of whitefish. Not just when/where they spawn, but where are they in the stream throughout the year, and how they travel. (In fact, I'd like know this about all fish).

Anyway, can someone provide some education here on whitefish, or suggest books on the subject?
 

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I'm certainly no authority on the subject of travel patterns but I do know they have a faster metabolism than trout in cold water. That's why they are a more active winter fish. I used to have 30 to 40 fish afternoons in Idaho and Utah fishing choppy rifles 2 to 3 feet deep. Bead head pheasant tails under and indicator were deadly. I haven't fished for them in WA but I've heard the Tieton, Naches and upper Yak have good populations. The upper sno may also be good.:thumb::ray1:
 

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Like many of our fishes whitefish can make some complex migrations during the course of a year. Those movements are typically influenced by spawning and feeding needs.

They are late fall/early winter spawners; typically spawning when the water temperatures drop into the low 40s. Prior to spawning the fish collect in large pools and hold until they are ready to spawn when they move into the riffles to spawn. Post spawn they tend to move downstream and collect in large over-wintering pools. Such pools can hold most of the fish for reach of river that is measured in miles; not uncommon to find most the population in say a 10 mile section of river in single pool or two. Post winter the fish once again spread out over the spring and summer feeding areas. Duirng the summer the fish are typically found in riffles and glides rather than the slow water used in the winter

However as with most fishes there are numerous exceptions to the "typical" behavior. For example on many of our anadromous rivers the fish's movements to pre-spawn and over wintering pools can be interrupted by detours to take advantage of the feeding opportunities provided by spawning salmon.

Tight lines
Curt
 

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My other car is a fly rod.
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks, Curt. I take it on an anadromous river like the Sky, they could be less predictable during the winter because of the salmon spawn.

One question: do they spawn in small feeder streams, or in the riffly area of same river they feed in during the summer?
 

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They spawn in the main rivers; generally just upstream of the pre-spawn staging pools.

BTW -
The young fry the first summer (less than a couple inches long) spend most of their time along the stream edges in relatively shallow water - less than 2 feet deep. That second year the whitefish parr hang out in much the same water as trout parr. Don't know if many have noticed coloration of the whitefish parr - they are bright silver with black parr marks (blotches) along thier sides; quite striking. Those parr are bull trout candy; something to keep in mind in streamer selection for you bull trout chasers.

Tight lines
curt
 

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My other car is a fly rod.
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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thanks again, Curt. Next to rocky cutts and the redsides in the Spoke, whitefish are my perferred fish. One last question for you: Do whitefish travel far from their regular summer water to their main-stem spawning ground? I mean, are their migration routes long? I suspect they don't travel far to spawn, unlike trout and their cousins.
 

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Thanks from me also, Curt helps put more understanding to why I've caught whities in some places and go back to not find'em there again.
Open season starts tomorrow in my local water.
With this warm weather whitie fishing should be good.
 

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Toney -
Regrding migration lenghts.

While it is generally true that in river mountain whitefish don't migrate far to reach spawning areas, or to find over-wintering pools or going back to summer feeding areas there are exceptions. I have seen at least one tagging study where those migrations were as much as 50 or 60 miles.

On the streams that I haunt it seems that they don't migrate all that far; I would guess less than 10 miles. And as I mentioned post spawn it seems that just one or two pools in 10 mile stretch of river will end up with nealry all the fish. The good news for those that chase them in the winter is that unless the river changes (floods) the pools that held fish last year will hold them this year.

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Curt
 

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On the east side, they migrate a long long ways. I helped out on a study where whitefish were radio tagged in the Wenaha. The White fish that migrated the farthest moved out of the wenaha, down the Grande Ronde, and up into the snake, swimming way upstream near the Imnaha confluence with the Snake. They migrated back to the Wenaha the following year. This is way over 100 miles round trip. There is quite a bit of large scale migration pattern data determined through radio telemetry and fine scale data from snorkeling in this paper. It includes other species such as bull trout, large scale sucker, steelhead, and Chinook. This was the Phd work of Colden Baxter at Oregon State. Great study. and a great read. PM if you want to have a look at it. I have a pdf. Here is an excert regarding large scale whitefish movements in the Wenaha, Grande Ronde, Snake River system (Quite amazing little fish with herkin snoots):

From C. Baxter. 2002 . Title: Fish Movement and Assemblage Dynamics in a Pacific
Northwest Riverscape. PhD thesis, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR.

3.3.1 Seasonal, Large-scale Movements: Mountain Whitefish

Seasonal migrations by radio-tagged adult mountain whitefish were perhaps the most
complex of the three species tracked. Annual home range size varied dramatically among
tagged adult mountain whitefish (Figure 32), ranging from 0.2 to 190 km, with an
average of 61.4 km (SD = 62.2). Sizes of the 25 fish tagged were fairly consistent,
averaging 39.7 cm (SD = 3.6). I observed no significant association between fish size
and the total distance moved by a fish, nor was size correlated with any other aspect of
whitefish movement (Pearson’ s correlation, P > 0.05). In addition, there was no
association between the distance moved by a fish or suspected mortalities and any factor
associated with capture or tagging surgery (e.g., duration or quality of surgery).

The behavior of tagged mountain whitefish appeared to reflect five different types
of seasonal behavior. The first two types remained in the Wenaha River throughout the
year (Figure 33). Two fish that were tagged in the lower Wenaha River (rkm 10.9)
moved very little, remaining in a single reach throughout the entire year. Four fish that
were tagged in the upper reaches (rkm 23-33) also stayed in the Wenaha, but exhibited a
pronounced seasonal migration (avg. annual range = 10.6 km). All four of these fish
remained in the reaches where they were captured until September, when they moved
downstream 3-10 km to over-winter in the reach near the confluence of Butte Creek. The
following spring (April-June), each of these fish moved back upstream to the same
reaches (and in two cases the same channel unit) they had occupied the previous summer.
Most of the radio-tagged mountain whitefish (16) spent part of the year outside the
Wenaha drainage, and of these there were three distinct types. The first group (Figure
34) consisted of 4 fish that were tagged in the upper Wenaha between rkm 23 and 35,
spent the summer in these reaches, and then made a rapid downstream migration of 25-54
km to the Grande Ronde River in October or early November. These fish spent the
winter months in the Grande Ronde and exhibited little movement (< 0.5 km) during this
time. However, in March and April, all four of these individuals made the return
migration to the same reaches (three of them to the exact channel unit) of the upper
Wenaha River they had occupied during the previous summer.

The second group of fish that left the Wenaha drainage (Figure 34) consisted of 9 fish
that were tagged in the mid to lower reaches of the Wenaha. Following their tagging in
June and early July, these fish either 1) spent the summer in the reach where they were
tagged (4 fish), 2) dropped downstream slightly (0.5-1.0 km) and held for the summer (2
fish), 3) moved up-river during July and August (2 fish), or 4) moved 100-200 m into the
lower reaches of a nearby tributary in July owinter in the Hell’ s Canyon reach, and one fish migrated 95 km down the Wenaha and up the

Grande Ronde River to over-winter near the confluence of the Wallowa River. These fish also
exhibited little movement (< 0.5 km) during the winter months, but starting in March or April,
began a migration back to the Wenaha River. This migration was more gradual than the other
group’ s, and these fish (including the 2 that migrated only short distances from the Wenaha) did
not actually re-enter the Wenaha River until late May, June, or even early July. Though tracking
during June and July 2000 was limited to aerial surveys that allow only reach-scale spatial
resolution, it appeared that at least 6 of these 10 fish had returned to the reaches where they were
found the previous summer.
The third group of fish that left the Wenaha drainage consisted of two fish (Figure 33) that
were tagged in the lower Wenaha, spent the summer in the reach in which they had been
captured, and then migrated into the Grande Ronde during September or October. Though these
fish were confirmed (via observations of small-scale diel movements) to be living in March
2000, they had not undertaken any significant movement when we ceased tracking in July 2000.
Finally, of the remaining 4 mountain whitefish we tagged, an angler captured 1 in the lower
Wenaha just weeks after tagging. The other 3 dropped downstream after tagging and remained
in a single location throughout the year. After several unsuccessful attempts to view them
underwater and/or detect movement, I presumed that these three fish had either died or their tags
had been shed. Other than these, we were able to confirm the live status (through underwater
observation or tracking of diel movements) of all of our tagged mountain whitefish. In numerous
instances, we observed active feeding by our tagged fish. In several cases we were able to make
close observations of the surgery wound site on fish, and always found that the fish appeared to
have healed well.
 
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