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Tullibee action goes into high gear when snow begins to melt

As soon as the jig dropped there was a bend in the rod. The flasher turned from a blank display to twinkling red marks evolving in a 10-foot-wide swath. A school of tullibee was darting through the vicinity, even though perch was the preferred fish for the day.

If you've never caught a tullibee, give it a try sometime. Long Lake and Lake Itasca have good tullibee potential, as do Cass and Leech lakes. And as the snow begins to melt upon our frozen lakes, tullibee enthusiasts come out in droves for the silvery scaled fish.

Tullibee are actually mature cisco and prefer cool, deep water environments. Since they need well-oxygenated water, you won't find hearty populations of cisco in eutrophic lakes, which contain higher nutrient levels that can deplete oxygen.

A close relative to whitefish, tullibee are pelagic, meaning they roam through great expanses of the lake. Since they frequently move, tullibee most commonly use higher portions of the water column instead of lazily meandering near the bottom.

The natural diet of tullibee consists of waterfleas, zooplankton and larvae varieties. Tullibee are sometimes observed snatching mayflies and caddisflies as they rise to the water's surface after hatching, although this activity occurs during the summer. Winter finds the fish wandering in search of small invertabrates that provide sustenance beneath the ice.

To find tullibee, begin looking at medial depths that extend into deep water. Fifteen to 20 feet with deeper water close by is ideal. However, as spring temperatures rise, tullibee move into shallow areas in search of greater concentrations of sustenance.

Anglers catch tullibee using several presentations. Two standards are small jigging spoons and panfish-sized jigs. Waxworms, mousies or spikes delicately laced onto the hook add the scent, flavor and visual appeal to prompt the fish to feed versus a passive stare. Minnows, on the other hand, don't get near the attention. Bright colors attract passing tullibee schools, but a more natural silver, gold or bronze puts out an extraordinary flash that the fish can't seem to resist.

One of the most unique attributes of a tullibee is its scent. Anglers handling the fish notice the sometimes overwhelming smell and because of this, often release tullibee. However, they are a wonderful fish to eat. Filleting and frying a tullibee in the same manor as a walleye might leave you disappointed, but properly seasoned and smoked over cedar, tullibee is a real treat.

Besides entertaining anglers, tullibee serve another important purpose; food for larger predators. Oily and rich in protein, tullibee are the comfort food of bass, walleye, northern and muskie in some of our area lakes. Although those species would probably survive without the presence of tullibee, the high calorie meal permits gamefish to grow thick and heavy. However, tullibee aren't legal for anglers to use as bait. Smaller cisco, commonly available for purchase in tackle shops in a frozen format, are the legal option.

There is no limit on tullibee in Minnesota, except on Leech Lake where each angler is allowed to keep 50 fish.

Have a fishing related question? E-mail your angling inquisitions to with Dock Talk in the subject line.