Coregonus clupeaformis
Lake Whitefish

Lake Whitefish

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The natural history of the northwoods



  • Coregonus, from the Greek, "angle eye"
  • clupeaformis, from the Latin, clupea, "a kind of very small river-fish"; and forma, "form, contour, figure, shape, appearance, looks"; hence, "herring shaped"
  • Common name from its preferred habitat and predominant coloration
  • Other common names include: Common Whitefish, Eastern Whitefish, Gizzard Fish, Humpback Whitefish, Inland Whitefish, Sault Whitefish, Whitefish, Grand Corégone (Fr), Attikumaig (Ojibwe)


  • Kingdom Animalia
    • Phylum Chordata, animals with a spinal chord
    • Subphylum Vertebrata, animals with a backbone
      • Superclass Osteichthyes, bony fishes
      • Class Actinopterygii, ray-finned and spiny rayed fishes
      • Subclass Neopterygii
      • Infraclass Teleostei
        • Superorder Protacanthopterygii
        • Order Salmoniformes, salmon and trout
          • Family Salmonidae, salmon and trout
          • Subfamily Coregoninae, whitefishes
            • Genus Coregonus, whitefishes


  • A
  • Length
    • 17"-22"
    • average length 18"
  • Weight
    • formerly to 20 lbs or more
    • now typically 1½-4 lbs, seldom more than 15 lbs
  • Color
    • generally white with a light olive green shading along the backpale greenish-brown to light or dark brown back
    • silver on the sides
    • silvery white below
    • fins clear or lightly pigmented
    • tail has a dark edge
  • Body
    • deep-bodied with a slight arch in front
    • large scales
    • Older fish often develop a fleshy bump at the shoulders which makes the small head look even smaller.
    • adipose fin is present
    • tail deeply forked
  • Head
    • small head
    • small mouth
    • blunt snout overhanging lower jaw
  • Lifespan
    • up to 10 years
    • formerly as much as 30 years


  • Identifiable as a member of the Trout/Salmon family (Salmonidae) by its body shape and adipose fin.
  • Distinguished from the closely-related Cisco by:
    • an overhanging snout (retrose condition)
    • few (usually 23-33), short gill rakers
    • Both features are adaptations to feeding on larger bottom organisms.


  • Cold lakes from Alaska to Labrador and south to the Great Lakes.
  • Still plentiful in Lake Superior and the northern parts of Lakes Michigan and Huron. Have disappeared from some areas where once abundant.


  • Prefers cold, deep water lakes, often the same waters as one of its primary predators, the Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush). Occasionally reported from rivers.
  • Typically bottom dwellers.



  • Minnesota Record: 12lbs 4oz, from Leech Lake (Cass County)
  • Largest individual on record was 41½ lbs, from Lake Superior, 1918.


  • Not generally considered a game fish, though highly regarded on the table.
  • Long prized for the quality and fine flavor of their meat since the days of the early explorers.
  • Caught commercially with gillnets set in open water during summer and below the ice in winter. Sold fresh and frozen in the round, headed and dressed, and as fillets. Roe is marketed as "golden caviar".


  • Spawns September through January in shallow waters at depths of less than 25', usually over a sand or gravel substrate
  • Female lays some 16,100 eggs per pound of fish, losing roughly 11% of her body weight. Eggs are shed randomly and abandoned, hatching in April or May of the following spring, depending on water temperature. Nests are not built, nor is parental care provided.
  • Young generally move from the shallows to deeper water by early summer.
  • Sexual maturity reached by age 6 or 7.



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Last updated on 6 November 1999