Whitefish and Cisco Species of New York (Upstate)

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About Whitefish

Whitefish parts

Salmonids are highly popular sport fishes in the state of NY. Proper identification of Salmon species is important to ensure proper abiding of fishing regulations. Salmon share similar sizes and body shape, but vary greatly in color. Whitefish (including the Northern Cisco) are technically members of the Salmonid family, and are distinguished from other Salmon and Trout by their smaller mouths and teeth as well as a more distinctly forked tail.

What to look for: Streamlined shape; soft-rayed fins; adipose fin present; dorsal fin located mid-way along the back; tail is softly forked or squared; large mouth (except whitefish).

The details presented below generally represent adult specimens, not juveniles.

Click here for New York State sportfishing regulations

Fishing Books and Guides

New York State Whitefish, Herring, Cisco Identification Guide

Northern CiscoNorthern Cisco
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Northern Cisco (Coregonus artedi)

AKA: Lake Herring, Tullibee, Greenbacks

Identifying characteristics: Typical salmonid body-shape with visible lateral line and fatty adipose fin. The body is generally silvery-white in color, with a bluish tint to the back. The fins will be transparent, and older specimens will often have a dark, creamy tint to them. The eyes are large. The mouth is small (much smaller than a salmon or trout) with small teeth. The tail is deeply forked.

Size: From 10 to 14 inches in length and weighing from 0.5 to 1 pound.

New York State record: 5 lb. 7 oz. (1/25/90)

Habitat: Deep waters of cold lakes, reservoirs, large streams, moving to shallower waters in the fall.

General range: The Great Lakes, possibly Cayuga, Seneca, and Otsego Lake, some lakes in the Adirondacks. Once very abundant in Owasco Lake.

Food: Primarily zooplankton and insect larvae, but occasionally fish eggs and smaller fish.

Recommended baiting: Fish near shore in the fall using flies and small minnows, and spinners. Also through ice using jigs.

Predators: Pretty much all larger predatory fish. The Cisco is common prey for larger game fish. Humans.

Stocked? Cisco maintain wild breeding populations.

Reproduction: Spawning occurs in late fall, when males begin to move to shallower waters (in small lakes this may be less than 10 feet deep). Females soon join them and spawning begins. Females deposit eggs on the lake bottom and the parents leave. Eggs hatch the following spring. Cisco rarely stray far from their hatching site.

Nesting: Females deposit eggs on the lake bottom below their spawning site. This is usually sand or gravel.

Other Info.: Once an abundant native species, with schools so large they would breach the surface of lakes, commercial over-fishing, and more recently pollution and competition/predation from invasive species, has significantly reduced their numbers. Owasco Lake once attracted large numbers of people in the fall to fish for the Cisco. Introduction of rainbow smelt and alewives is thought to have led to the decline of the species in many of the Finger Lakes. The once flourishing Great Lakes commercial Cisco industry is considered to have played a significant role in the prosperity as well as diets of Great Lakes settlements prior to the fishery’s decline.

Lake WhitefishLake Whitefish
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Lake Whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis)

AKA: Whitefish, Otsego Bass

Identifying characteristics: Typical salmonid body-shape with visible lateral line and fatty adipose fin. The body is generally silvery-white with a hint of olive and darker olive shading along the back. The fins are semi-transparent, and the dorsal and tail fins are darker than the rest. The eyes are large. The mouth is small (much smaller than a salmon or trout) with small teeth. The tail is deeply forked.

Size: Average 18 inches in length and weighing from 2 to 4 pounds.

New York State record: 10 lb. 8 oz. (8/29/95)

Habitat: Deep waters of cold lakes, reservoirs, large streams, moving to shallower waters or up tributaries to breed in the fall. Often share the same habitat as Lake Trout.

General range: The Great Lakes, some Finger Lakes, some lakes in the Adirondacks.

Food: Primarily small crustaceans, insects, small fish and eggs. They are bottom feeders.

Recommended baiting: Bait the area beforehand with cut up fish and use a sinker to drop a hook baited with fish chunks near the bottom.

Predators: Pretty much all larger predatory fish. Younger whitefish is common prey for larger game fish, including lake trout. Adults tend to avoid predation due to their larger size, but are commonly taken by man.

Stocked? Whitefish maintain wild breeding populations.

Reproduction: Spawning occurs in late fall/early winter. Whitefish will move to lake shoals or up tributary streams. Females deposit eggs on the bottom and the parents leave. Eggs hatch the following spring.

Nesting: Females deposit eggs on the bottom, below their spawning site. This is usually rocky or gravel-covered areas.

Other Info.: Once an abundant native species, but commercial over-fishing, and more recently pollution and competition/predation from invasive species, has significantly reduced their numbers. They are schooling fish, that stick to deep cool waters where they feed on other bottom dwellers. Their deep water preference, small mouths, picky diets, and shy behavior, make them a difficult catch. They are considered a tasty delicacy.

Round WhitefishProsopium-cylindraceum1
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Endangered in NY State

Round Whitefish (Prosopium cylindraceum)

AKA: Frostfish

Identifying characteristics: Typical salmonid body-shape with visible lateral line and fatty adipose fin. The shape is generally more tubular than most salmonids. The body is generally silvery-white with a brown-olive back. The fins are semi-transparent brown/olive. Rounds tend to have more color than other species of whitefish. Younger specimens have rows of dark spots along the lateral line. The eyes are large. The mouth is small (much smaller than a salmon or trout) with small teeth. The tail is deeply forked.

Size: Usually 8 to 12 inches in length and weighing less then 0.5 pounds.

New York State record: Not kept (endangered species), although some have been reported to grow over 20 inches and several pounds.

Habitat: Deep waters of cold lakes, moving to shallower waters or to tributary mouths to breed in the fall. They tend to stick to shallower waters than other whitefish (120-150 ft deep).

General range: Lake Ontario, some lakes in the Adirondacks. Only 7 known locations in NY State.

Food: Primarily insect larvae, mollusks, crustaceans, and sometimes fish eggs. They are bottom feeders.

Recommended baiting: Illegal to fish in NY state.

Predators: Pretty much all larger predatory fish, especially Lake Trout.

Stocked? No.

Reproduction: Spawning occurs in late fall (Nov-Dec). Rounds will move to rocky shoals or to tributary mouths (rarely up the tributaries themselves). Females deposit eggs on the bottom and the parents leave. Eggs hatch the following spring.

Nesting: Females deposit eggs on the bottom, below their spawning site. This is usually rocky or gravel-covered areas.

Other Info.: Once an abundant native species in Adirondack lakes, it is believed that the invasive Yellow Perch may have trimmed wild populations down by feeding on eggs and juveniles. Stocking of Lake trout, pollution, and overfishing may have also played a part. The Round Whitefish is protected in New York State by the Endangered species act, but is commonly fished for in some areas outside of the state.

Note

Some fish images originally prepared by Ellen Edmonson and Hugh Chrisp as part of the 1927-1940 New York Biological Survey. Permission for use granted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Others were acquired from the public domain. Some are used as part of a Creative Commons license.

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