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Lake Whitefish photo.

Lake Whitefish

In each issue of the M*A*Y Club, we try to learn about a new species of Montana fish. However, besides just being divided into species, or different types of fish, people who study fish put them into many other groups.

Sometimes fish are grouped according to the temperature of the water that they prefer, like coldwater, coolwater, or warmwater fish. In past issues of the M*A*Y Club we have talked about NATIVE and NON-NATIVE fish too.

There are other ways that people group and classify fish. Sometimes people classify fish as a GAMEFISH , or a NONGAME FISH. A gamefish is usually a type of fish that is very popular with anglers (people who go fishing). A nongame fish is a type of fish that may not be very popular with anglers.

Often, fish are popular for a few reasons. They may be difficult to catch, or they may grow very large. They may be very good to eat, or they may live in very pretty places. All of these things make some fish more popular to catch than others.

Pygmy Whitefish image.

Pygmy Whitefish

Our feature fish for this issue, the WHITEFISH, is difficult to put into the category of a gamefish or a nongamefish. For some people, the whitefish is one of their favorite fish to catch, and for other people, the whitefish is a type of fish they would rather not see on the end of their line.

In Montana, there are three different species or kinds of whitefish: the Mountain Whitefish, the Pygmy Whitefish, and the Lake Whitefish.

Whitefish are in the same family of fish as trout and salmon. Just like trout and salmon, whitefish prefer to live in cold water. The mountain whitefish lives in many Montana rivers and streams, and is also found in some lakes. The pygmy whitefish lives in deep, cold lakes, but moves into streams when it is time to spawn, or lay it's eggs. And, just like it's name, the lake whitefish lives in deep, clear, cold lakes, where it spends most of it's time in deep water.

Whitefish are interesting looking fish. Although they may be in the same family as trout and salmon, they do not share the bright coloration of their cousins. Although they are not really white, as their name suggests, whitefish are usually silver or gray colored. They also have scales which are much larger than those found on trout and salmon.

Each of the three different species of whitefish each grows to a different size. The lake whitefish is the largest of the Montana species, and the largest ever caught in Montana weighed over 10 pounds and was more than 26 inches long. Montana's largest mountain whitefish weighed in at just over 5 pounds, and was about 21 inches long. True to it's name, the largest pygmy whitefish ever reported in the state was only 8 inches long, and weighed only 3 ounces!!

At times, whitefish can be very easy to catch. Many people fishing for trout in creeks and rivers get tired of catching whitefish. For some people though, catching whitefish is a great sport. With their small mouths, whitefish require a delicate touch to catch. Small hooks baited with maggots or worms seem to work the best. Although they have many bones, many people enjoy eating smoked whitefish.

But can we categorize whitefish as a GAMEFISH? That is a tough question. Maybe the best way to find an answer is to pick up a rod and reel, call a few of your fishing friends, and get out and catch a few whitefish for yourself. As soon as you feel one on the end of your line, you will have an answer to your question!