Search Field Guide
Advanced Search
MT Gov Logo
Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Lake Whitefish - Coregonus clupeaformis

Native/Non-native Species
(depends on location or taxa)

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: SNR

Agency Status

External Links

General Description
The lake whitefish is the largest of our four whitefish species. They commonly weigh 2 to 4 pounds, and the state record is 10 pounds. The lake whitefish has a deep, flat-sided body and is found mainly in the depths of clear, cold lakes across northwest and north-central Montana. All Montana whitefish are fall spawners. Adult lake whitefish move into the shore zone to broadcast their spawn randomly over a rocky bottom. Lake whitefish are schooling cold-water fishes and feed at depths often over 200 feet on plankton and other invertebrates. The lake whitefish is the most valuable commercial freshwater fish in Canada, but in Montana it is just beginning to catch on as a game fish in the Flathead Lake area.

Diagnostic Characteristics
Silvery, with olive to light brown back. This is the only Montana whitefish that does not have a distinct notch below pupil in membrane surrounding eye.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions

All Ranges
(Click legend blocks to view individual ranges)

Western Hemisphere Range


Range Comments
The Lake Whitefish is native to Montana only in the Saskatchewan River drainage on the east side of Glacier National Park. However, the species has been widely introduced across northern Montana.

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 363

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Primarily deep, coldwater lakes where it is found mostly at depths of 50 to 90 feet. Spawns over shallow shoals near shore over rocky or sandy bottom; rarely ascends tributary streams. Has thrived in Fresno Reservoir, a shallow, warm, often turbid reservoir.

Food Habits
Mostly zooplankton during 1st year or 2, and then bottom organisms (Brown 1971). 1981 Flathead Lake study found that zooplankton comprised 50% of April-Nov. diet with organic debris, gastropods, and bryozoans making up 40% (Leathe and Graham 1982)

Northern populations typically spawn every 2-3 years.

Reproductive Characteristics
Sexually mature in 4-5 years, some males in 2 years. Spawns Oct-Jan. depending on local conditions. Spawns at night. Eggs broadcast. Incubation: about 1 month at 50 degrees F. (Brown 1971).

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Brown, C.J.D. 1971. Fishes of Montana. Montana State University, Bozeman, MT. 207 pp.
    • Leathe, S.A. and P.J. Graham. 1982. Flathead Lake fish food habits study. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. 137 pp.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • Barnard, D. and J. Vashro. 1986. ASARCo Rock Creek project, baseline fisheries assessment. MTFWP Report under contract to ASARCo. 22 p.
    • Craig, V.E. 1952. A story of fish production as it applies to Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 92 p.
    • Elser, A.A. 1967. Fish population of a trout stream in relation to major habitat zones and channel alterations. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 27 p.
    • Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. 1989. Northeast Montana Warmwater Ecosystem Investigations: project period 7/1/88 through 6/30/89. Proj.# F-46-R-2; Job# V-e. 21p.
    • Rahrer, J.F. 1963. Age and growth of four species of fish, Flathead Lake, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 16 p.
    • Stash, S.W. 2001. Distribution, relative abundance, and habitat associations of Milk River fishes related to irrigation diversion dams. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 82 p.
    • Weisel, G.F. 1966. Young salmonoid fishes of western Montana. Proceedings of the Montana Academy of Sciences 26:1-21.
    • Zymonas, N.D. 2006. Age structure, growth, and factors affecting relative abundance of life history forms of Bull Trout in the Clark Fork river drainage, Montana and Idaho. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 142 p.
  • Web Search Engines for Articles on "Lake Whitefish"
  • Additional Sources of Information Related to "Fish"
Login Logout
Citation for data on this website:
Lake Whitefish — Coregonus clupeaformis.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from