March means it’s time to take on the tullibees

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By Brad Laabs

With the trend toward longer daylight and warming temperatures, the March turn on for tullibees will start and continue until we have dark ice. Tullibee are often referred to as cisco and are different (but cousins to) whitefish. Tullibees have an under bite shaped mouth and whitefish have an overbite mouth. Whitefish also tend to run bigger. The state record came out of Leech Lake and topped the scales at 12lbs 5 oz. The state record size tullibee is 4lbs 3oz. Most tullibee will range from about 1/2lb to 2lbs.

More tullibee get caught from our area lakes than whitefish and they are more present then many may realize. They will, however run, roam, and feed together on lakes that have populations of both.

Tullibee school tight in large schools and feed heavily. They are many times aggressive biters, and when hooked are fierce fighters. Like any fish, there are times when bite detection can be difficult, when they are just nipping at a bait.

Electronics are a must if chasing tullibee, as they will hold off sharp breaks to deep water, or deep basin areas, and be suspended in the water column. They hang out over the deep basin soft bottom areas because that is where their food is located. They feed on mayfly larva and columns of zooplankton, so small jigs and flashy small spoons tipped with wax worms is all it takes to trigger bites.

The most popular lakes for fishing “tullies” is Mille Lacs, Leech, Lake of the Woods, and all of the Great Lakes.

Locally, there are some favorites, but I might get in trouble with some of the long time tullibee chasers if I just hand you the lakes and spots. You can do your own research for locating local lakes that hold good populations by going to the DNR website and getting on the lake finder information pages. All the info you need is available including stocking, netting results, species types for each lake, and forage available.

I have only been out purposely chasing tullibee a few times myself, and was taken to some hot spots by an experience tullibee veteran. They are fun to catch, and you can have a 50 fish day. I don’t care for them at the table, so this time of year, I still chase walleyes. Some anglers just enjoy the catch and release, because you can catch numbers, and they are good fighting fish coming out of deeper water. People that do love them to eat especially like them smoked or pickled. They are very healthy fish you if you do decide to add them to your diet.

With this warm up, we will also start the migration of local anglers north to Lake of the Woods for the big northern bite. The northern will start moving to the shallow waters in the bays of the lake in Warroad. They will move to the 5-12ft water and start pigging out on big sucker minnows if you offer it to them on a quick strike rig under a tip-up. This has become an annual trip for many, as it is one of the few locations that 40 plus inch northern pike can be caught with consistency. Rod holding rigs with big minnows below a bobber have also become popular, so anglers can fight these trophy fish on rod and reel instead of the traditional tip-up hand lining technique.

For those that want to stay close to home but don’t have any interest in chasing the tullibee bite, crappies, sunfish, and perch are all still biting and will be available until the ice turns dark (and is not safe!)

(Laabs runs Brad Laabs’ Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)