November in Michigan is when whitefish head from Lake Michigan into shallow waters to spawn.
To catch whitefish during the run into Michigan’s piers, there are five pieces of equipment you must have.
1. The Bait
If you’re going to try your hand at catching whitefish, you can either use lures or natural bait. Most folks use a small jigging spoon or some other type of small lure to reach the bottom of the water.
Popular natural bait includes salmon eggs, wigglers, maggots, and waxworms. The key here is to go small. Whitefish don’t have big mouths, so you’ll only need one egg or small worm on a small hook.
2. The Rod and Reel
The basic tackle for catching whitefish is a 7 to 10-foot long, medium action, spinning rod and reel combination.
The key to success is having a rod with a limber, sensitive tip. Whitefish don’t strike and hammer away, so that tip has to be able to show when something is going for your hook.
3. The Setup
A jigging setup for whitefish is straightforward. Attach the jigging spoon to your line, lower it to the bottom, and then jig it, slowly, from six inches to a foot off the bottom. If you jig too fast, you’ll snag more fish than you will have bite.
Using live bait involves a sinker/leader setup. One of the most basic strategies is to attach a slider sinker to the main line, above the swivel. Pyramid sinkers are preferred since the shape keeps your line from drifting into the lines of others. To the swivel, attach a four-foot leader line of 6-10 pound test, and tie a no. 6 hook (a small hook because whitefish have small, delicate mouths) to the end of the line. Bait the hook, cast it out, and wait for a bite.
4. The Holder
If you’re jigging for whitefish, you’ll be holding your rod. Using bottom bait is a waiting game, and often it isn’t easy or convenient to find a place to rest your rod on a pier. You’ll need a rod holder. You can buy one, but it’s just as easy to make one.
Some piers have holes drilled into the concrete or if there is a guardrail, there might be holes or holders available. The rod holder many folks make simply use 16 inches of PVC pipe attached to a long pole, like rebar or other metal rod, using duct tape. When fishing, the metal rod simply goes into the hole or holder so that you can cast out and let whitefish find your bait.
However, some piers don’t have a spot to put a rod holder. Many folks who pier fish have made carts (perfect for carrying all of your gear) with the rod holder attached.
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5. The Net
The last piece of equipment you’ll need for the fall whitefish run is a net. Yes, you’ll need a net because of those delicate mouths. You won’t successfully pull many up from the water on a hook.
You need a net, and since you’re pier fishing, you need one that telescopes out long enough to reach the water. How long? As long as you can find, upwards of 14 feet. Some folks make their own telescope net by attaching a net to a pool vacuum handle, a trim trimmer handle, or even a long piece of wood.
The name of the game is reaching the water to land those delicious whitefish. One word of caution: You’ll probably snag a lot of the fish. Those aren’t legal to keep. If you do catch a whitefish by the mouth and it has scars from being snagged before, throw it back. Better to catch clean fish than have a conservation officer ruin the fun.