Lake whitefish
Coregonus clupeaformis (Mitchill, 1818)

member of the Salmon Family (Salmonidae)

St. Croix River, St. Croix County, Wisconsin October 1967

photo by Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources












What's In a Name?
Lake whitefish: "lake" refers to its habitat and "whitefish" is borrowed from the name of a European fish

Coregonus (co-regg´-on-us) means "angel eye" in Greek
clupeaformis (clue-pee-ah-form´-iss) means "herring shaped" in Latin


    Where Do They Live?
Lake whitefish occur in Lake Superior and in many deep, cool water lakes east of the prairie in northern Minnesota. They are present in many lakes in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (for example, Burntside, Vermillion, and Snow Bank) and in lakes of the Upper Mississippi River drainage (for example Ball Club, Cass, Leech, and Ten Mile). Like the cisco, they require cool, well-oxygenated water in the summertime. That usually means the lake cannot be eutrophic (it can't have a lot of nutrients). So, lake whitefish usually do best in deep, clear water lakes.


How Big Do They Get?
How Long Do They Live?
Lake whitefish that inhabit Minnesota range in weight from 1.8-2.7 kg (4-6 lbs), and in length from 400-450 mm (15-20 in). The lake whitefish that inhabit Lake Superior often weigh 9 kg (20 lbs) or more. They can easily reach the age of 6 to 8 years, but they have been recorded as old as 14-16 years.

    What Do They Eat?
The lake whitefish is a bottom dweller. So, it eats things that it finds at or near the bottom of the lake. Young whitefish eat waterfleas at first and then begin to include small bottom-dwelling insect larvae. Adult whitefish eat a lot of sideswimmers, fingernail clams, snails, opossum shrimp, midge larvae, and small fish.

What Eats Them?
While small enough, lake whitefish are eaten by lake trout, northern pike, and burbot. As large adults in Lake Superior their main predator besides humans is the sea lamprey. They also fall prey to their own species. Sometimes a lake whitefish will eat the eggs of another lake whitefish.


How Do They Reproduce?
The spawning season for the lake whitefish is in the fall (usually mid-October to early December) when shallow water temperatures fall below 7° C (45° F). Spawning usually occurs at night over gravel, rubble, or small rocks near the shores of the lake or around islands. The fish swim up to the surface of the water and back down in two, threes, or greater numbers releasing eggs and sperm. The fertilized eggs fall to the bottom and settle between the rock crevices. The eggs receive no parental care. A single female can lay 10,000-130,000 eggs depending on her size. The embryos develop through the winter and hatch in early spring. Unlike newly hatched trout and salmon, whitefish larvae swim up within a few days and start feeding. It takes several more weeks for them to fully develop all of their fins.


Conservation and Management
The lake whitefish is one of the premium freshwater fish to eat. At one time it was a very important commercial species in the Great Lakes and some inland lakes. Overfishing and predation by the exotic sea lamprey have greatly reduces it commercial importance in Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes. Most lake whitefish available today in restaurants and grocery stores comes from inland lakes in Canada. There is a small sport fishery in Minnesota for this species. Anglers fish for them in the fall, and a few spear fishers go for them after the ice forms.




Permission is granted for the non-commercial educational or scientific use of the text and images on this Web document. Please credit the author or authors listed below.

Photographs by Konrad P. Schmidt
Text by Nicole Paulson & Jay T. Hatch in cooperation with
the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' MinnAqua Aquatic Program

This page developed with funds from the
MinnAqua Program
(Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Division of Fisheries)
and the
Sport Fish Restoration Program (Fish and Wildlife Service, US Department of the Interior)

Maintained by Jay T. Hatch
General College and James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis/St. Paul

Last updated 16 January 2002