Post date: Monday, March 5, 2012 - 20:50
Updated date: 2/6/17
Mountain Whitefish Prosopium williamsoni


The Mountain Whitefish is a native salmonid that is found in Western North America, living in both lakes and streams in the Rocky Mountain region. Although despised by many trout-loving anglers, the Mountain Whitefish is an elusive, hard-fighting, and tasty angling target in its own right, and deserves more respect from fly and spin anglers alike. Large, predatory trout gorge on young-of-the-year whitefish, and young trout feed heavily on whitefish eggs, giving them a key boost of energy in the otherwise difficult fall season. Rivers with robust whitefish populations tend to produce more and larger trout than those where this fish has declined or been extirpated, so anglers should release these fish unless keeping them for a meal. As far as eating goes, they're every bit as good as the other members of their tribe - that is to say, they're delicious. Smoked whitefish is a rare treat, and baked in lemon and butter, they're even better.




The mountain whitefish is an overall silvery metallic coloration, with a white belly and darker greenish to bronze back. Its most distinctive feature is its curiously pointed, upturned snout. The Mountain Whitefish has a small mouth, a nearly cylindrical body, and an adipose fin. It has larger scales than most salmonids. Mountain Whitefish can reach several pounds in weight and over 20 inches in length - and a 20-inch whitefish is a staunch fighter on light tackle.



Mountain Whitefish, contrary to their name, are not really a "mountain" species. They don't live at high elevations or in the cold, sterile waters high in the Rockies. However, they do populate the lowland rivers in and around the Rocky Mountains, so the name is at least partially appropriate. Mountain Whitefish typically live in larger streams, where slow or still water is available. They also frequent lakes connected to the major river systems. They aren't able to traverse major rapids, so look for them in the lower reaches of mountain streams, downstream of any fast-water barriers like rapids and waterfalls.




Mountain Whitefish have very small mouths, and they typically feed on small insects and crustaceans. Although they do key in on emerging and adult insects when such morsels are plentiful, they feed most often beneath the surface on scuds and aquatic insect larvae. This is one of the reasons "dry-fly trout purists" eschew nymph fishing - nymph fishermen catch more whitefish, and some dry-fly fishers are too squeamish to be able to land and unhook accidentally caught whitefish. When they do take to the surface to munch on dries, the whitefish is something of a clumsy surface feeder, often missing the target on the first pass. However, its sharp vision, sense of smell, and innate wariness makes it a tough catch where food is plentiful. Mountain Whitefish can be maddeningly selective at times, refusing to eat anything that doesn't match some natural form that is not readily apparent. In addition to flies, whitefish can be caught on small spinners, jigs, and live bait in the form of small worms, larvae, or maggots. Maggots are a popular winter bait for whitefish, and would probably work just as well in the summertime. Such baits are usually drifted along the bottom with the current or suspended under a float. In both cases, light line and a sensitive bite detection system is in order.



Range Map

Notable Catches

Mike B 4/25/16

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