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Sturgeon Bay, the Whitefish Capital of the Great Lakes

Mark Romanack


The lake whitefish are perhaps the most unique species that are targeted by ice fishermen in the Great Lakes. The best place to find world class fishing for this member of the trout family is Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.


For those who are avid ice fishermen, now is the ideal time to be planning trips for the winter of 2022. One of the most unique ice fishing experiences the staff of Fishing 411 TV have enjoyed is found in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. An appendage of Lake Michigan, Sturgeon Bay actually bisects the Door Peninsula. This unique fishery connects to Lake Michigan on the East through a narrow shipping channel and opens up into Green Bay on the west.

Over the years Sturgeon Bay has become famous for the world class smallmouth bass fishing it provides, but it’s the winter fishery for lake whitefish that brings us back year after year. Massive schools of whitefish roam Sturgeon Bay providing both a vibrant sport and commercial fishery.

What makes this fishery unique is that the whitefish population is very large, the fish are healthy and limit catches are common. Anglers can keep a generous limit of 10 whitefish daily.

The way these fish are caught is also unique. A number of “rod in hand” jigging tactics produce best on whitefish which are a member of the trout family. Generally these fish are most often caught in 70 feet of water or more, so a hooked fish gives the angler lots of time to enjoy the fight.

The same rods/reels designed for jigging winter walleye are ideal for whitefish jigging. The reel should be spooled with an eight to 10 pound test low stretch super braid or fused line. At the terminal end a three to four foot leader of eight pound test fluorocarbon line provides an invisible connection between line and lure.


SWEDISH PIMPLES

A Bay de Noc Lure Company Swedish Pimple baited with wax worms or the head of a minnow is the traditional jigging lure anglers use to target lake whitefish through the ice. Many anglers on Sturgeon Bay use a variation of this classic winter presentation by threading a small 60 degree eye tie jig such as a Bait Rigs Slo-Poke onto the leader. A swivel or small bead is used to position the jig about 12 inches above the pimple.

When the pimple is lifted and dropped, the jig that is also tipped with a wax worm is free to slide up and down the line a few inches, tempting strikes.


GLIDE BAITS

Glide baits like the popular Jigging Rapala or the Shiver Minnow produced by Moonshine Tackle are also popular among anglers who target whitefish in Sturgeon Bay. These baits are dropped down, then jigged a couple feet off bottom and allowed to glide back to bottom. Most of the bites occur a few seconds after the lure has crashed into the silt.

Glide baits can be fished clean or the bottom treble hook tipped with wax worms to add extra enticement.


NED RIGS

In recent years a new twist has become popular among Sturgeon Bay’s army of ice fishermen. The NED Rig so popular with smallmouth bass fishermen has found a niche on Sturgeon Bay among ice fishermen.

For those who may not have used a NED Rig, it’s little more than a stand-up style finesse jig dressed with finesse style soft plastics. The larger 1/5 and 1/6 sizes are typically needed for the deep waters of Sturgeon Bay. Round goby, an invasive species, have become the dominate food sources for whitefish on Sturgeon Bay and the NED Rig does an excellent job of imitating these bottom hugging minnows.

A few of the most popular plastics include the Z-Man Finesse TRD, TRD TubeZ and the Trick ShotZ 3.5 inch model in blacks, browns and green color shades.


SCENT IS IMPORTANT

Whitefish are members of the trout family and they depend heavily on their sense of smell to find food. Because the schools of whitefish are constantly on the move, adding a natural scent product such as Pro Cure’s Super Gel helps tremendously.

A few of the scent formulas that work well on Sturgeon Bay whitefish include Alewife, Gizzard Shad, Emerald Shiner and Crayfish.

It’s best to re-apply these scent products every 30 minutes or so to keep a strong scent stream working to attract fish.


HARD SHACKS

Most of the whitefish action on Sturgeon Bay happens from hard shacks the local guides provide. Ice conditions on Sturgeon Bay are constantly changing and exceptionally difficult to read. It’s a very wise idea to book the services of a guide who has many years experience navigating the chunk ice fields so common on Sturgeon Bay.

Fishing 411 TV uses Captain JJ Malvitz of JJ’s Guide Service. JJ grew up on Sturgeon Bay and knows these waters as well as anyone. His heated hard shacks are very comfortable and JJ also provides transportation on and off the ice with a fleet of UTV’s.


Guided trips and hard shacks are the best way to experience the whitefish of Sturgeon Bay. Local guide JJ Malvitz does an excellent of job of putting his clients on fish, making sure they are warm, comfortable and safe during their stay.


TIMING

The whitefish bite starts as soon as safe ice forms on Sturgeon Bay. In some years the ice locks in during January and in other years it’s February before it’s safe to venture out. The month of February and early March are typically prime times to be on the Sturgeon Bay ice.


IF YOU GO

If Sturgeon Bay is on your ice fishing radar, JJ Malvitz offers a turn key experience and he can be reached on Facebook or at his web site. It’s wise to book early because when the whitefish are biting, slots fill up quickly.

One of the most enjoyable ways to experience the Sturgeon Bay fishery is to get a group of guys together and plan an ole fashioned road trip to share expenses. The town of Sturgeon Bay has plenty of motels and watering holes that stay open all winter to serve the ice fishing community. There is even a local commercial fishery that will fillet and package your fish for the trip home.

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