On the Fly: Wipe away those whitefish blues
April 15, 2018
Rocky Mountain whitefish get a bad rap, and I’m not sure why.
When the trout are in a bad mood, the whitefish can save your day. If you’re not already catching them, look for these hard-pulling fish on the Colorado and lower-to-middle Roaring Fork River, as well as the Crystal River. They rarely, if ever, rise to a dry fly, but they consider a deeply fished prince nymph a delicacy.
Many consider them to be our canaries in the coal mine, giving us a glimpse into the health of the river. Whitefish don’t tolerate super-cold water, so they are never found on the upper Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers. Whitefish are one of the two native salmonids still found here in Colorado, and numbers have been in decline for years now. Pike seem to be thinning the herd on the White River drainage, and the lower numbers here in the Roaring Fork Valley are most probably caused by declining water quality and ill-informed yet well-meaning anglers tossing them on the bank to take competition away from the trout of the Roaring Fork Valley.
Many longtime local anglers remember the days of literally thousands of whitefish on the Fork, shoals of fish gliding under drift boats over the course of a fishing day. Studies are underway to determine whether whirling disease can affect native whitefish. But, fear not, there are still plenty of whitefish here to catch and play on your fly rod. Oftentimes you can tell you’re fighting a whitefish because they are glued to the bottom until you tire them out. I’ve never seen a whitefish jump, but I’ll bet they get acrobatic on occasion.
So, be sure to deeply fish a prince nymph the next time you are out on the Fork and get ready for a good fight, and perhaps you could give that whitefish a pat on the back instead of an under-your-breath grumble. The tug is the drug, and they pull pretty hard!