Winter fishing is over and I thought I would go into more detail about the fish we caught this season. It turned into a two part season due to unseasonably warm spell right after I started fishing. The warm weather wouldn’t allow the fish to freeze, and we had some coastal flooding from a strong storm system several hundred miles west pushing up through the Bering straights into the Beaufort Sea.
Last Day Picking At The Net
The day I pulled my net I had to wade through 14” (35.5 cm) of sea water in the shallow river areas to get out to my net. After six days of thawing temperatures and even a few rain showers, a strong wind storm moved in and gave us 4 days of snow and blowing snow. For two of those days, we had blizzard conditions with visibilities down to an 1/8 of a mile (.2 km) at times.
As soon as the storm had pasted, I reset my net and was able to finish getting the amount of fish needed for the winter in just five days.
A Nice Fat Arctic Cisco
It would have been nice to have caught a few more Arctic Cisco than we did, as they are the preferred fish for the table, a nice fat fish with firm white flesh. Unfortunately their population numbers are in a down cycle this year and not many are in our area.
Whitefishes family Coregonidae are related to salmonids (trout,char and salmon)
Broad Whitefish Coregonus nasus
Only a small number of immature fish are caught in the winter fishery and weigh between .75 - 2.5 pounds, (0.3-1.1kg) but a large mature individual can reach 18 pounds (8.2kg). However, 4-8 pounds is more norm. The broad whitefish can be distinguished from the humpback, even when small, by its short, blunt snout.
Hump-back Whitefish Coregonus pidschian
Our catch runs from 1-3 pounds (0.5-1.4kg) and includes immature and mature fish. This year hump-back whitefish made up about 30% of the catch.
In both of the above species the mouth is inferior, an adaptation for bottom feeding. Their diet consists mainly of small clams, snails, aquatic insects, larvae, and freshwater shrimp. In both species, the head is small and the body deep or wide from stomach to backbone.
Least Cisco Coregonus sardinella
Least Cisco are a slender herring-like fish with a superior mouth, which means a weak lower jaw projecting beyond the upper. They are anadromous, spending the summer open water season in the coastal waters (brackish lagoons)of the Arctic Ocean, feeding primarily on amphipods.
Our catch averages .75lb and around 12" (31 cm), but a large individual can reach 16.5" ( 42cm) and 2.5 pounds. (0.3-1.1kg) Least Cisco made up 69% of our catch.
Arctic Cisco Coregonus autumalis
These are also anadromous, spending part of the year in brackish waters of the Arctic Ocean feeding on invertebrates and to a lesser extent on other small fish. They are distinguishable from the least cisco by smaller eyes and scales, more silver color, white pectoral and pelvic fins, and terminal mouths (at the tip of the body).
The majority of our catch is made up of immature fish age 5-8, with a few older fish to age 11. Once Arctic Cisco in our area reach maturity, they migrate back to the Mackenzie River drainage to spawn and after that they stay in that general area. Our catch runs from 3/4 pound to 3 pounds (.03-1.4kg) and average around 13" ( 33cm) with a large specimen reaching 18" (46cm). This year our catch was about 1% of the total, but in a good year Arctic’s will run 50-75% of the catch.
The following two species are caught in low numbers and incidental to the fishing operation.
Boreal Smelt "Osmerus eperlanus"
Size up to 16" (40 cm) are anadromous in our area coming into fresh water in the spring to spawn.
They have a very sweet tasting meat and are called sugar fish by some of the local inhabitants.
Fourhorn (Deepwater) Sculpin Myoxocephalus quadricornis
These are incidental catch when they are around the net feeding on spent eggs from ripe fish heading up river or larger individuals feeding on smaller fish caught in the net. They are mainly a food source for other fish and birds during the open water season.