Home Fishing Tips & Advice How to Catch a Sheefish

How to Catch a Sheefish

Large yet delicate, the Sheefish — also called the Iconnu — is a difficult one to bring in. This illusive gamefish will provide you with a day of searching and wondering, followed by a fight that is not guaranteed to provide success. However, once you catch one of these stunning fish, the whole adventure will have been well worth it. Whether for sport or for dinner, the Sheefish is the ultimate prize to be found in the northern rivers and bays.

Where to Find a Sheefish

The Sheefish loves the cold and tends to inhabit areas that are much lower in temperature, even during the summers. Because of this, the best places to look for Sheefish would be the northern waters of Canada, Alaska, and Russia. Some anglers have reported spotting Sheefish in northern parts of the United States but these are rare and tend to be Sheefish native to Canadian rivers that have made their way south.

This species is a freshwater fish and only inhabits the rivers of these northern regions. They are a larger fish so the chances of you encountering one in a creek or smaller river are unlikely. Sheefish need space and thus are typically found in wider and deeper rivers. During the winter, Sheefish will migrate into the bays that are attached to the rivers as they search for deeper water to escape the cold. When in winter, you’ll want to fish in deeper water to locate the Sheefish.

When it comes to migration, the Sheefish has a long journey to embark on. They tend to travel over 1,000 miles during their migration season so it’s no easy task to locate the Sheefish. Finding them can be difficult as they are quite elusive and will only come out to play when the right bait is provided. They are well worth the game and difficulty as they will put on a magnificent show and some stunning pictures. Locating the Sheefish is the easiest part of catching it, unfortunately.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game offers a helpful profile for this species of fish.

How to Catch a Sheefish

Catching the Sheefish is all about finding the perfect location, timing, and strategy. While many fish might fall for the easy trolling or bobbing tactics, Sheefish need to be enticed up to the surface. They are a bottom feeding fish, but will only attack their prey nearer the surface of the water. Because of this, you’ll need to employ a down up method of fishing – start deep and slowly drag your line up to the surface. Try again and again in different spots to widen your range of scope.

Start low down in the river and slowly bring your line back up to the surface, flicking along the way. You want to create a realistic form of motion to trick the Sheefish into believing that your line is the baitfish. Sheefish can be difficult to bring out, but with the right techniques and strategies, you’ll find more success than most. Once they’re at the surface, you’re in for a tougher battle as the Sheefish likes to put up an above water fight.

One of the most difficult parts of fishing for the Sheefish is getting it hooked. After that, it doesn’t get much easier. The Sheefish is a surprisingly delicate fish which, if handled improperly, won’t be brought in alive. They will fight with all 30-60lbs they have not to get caught by you so you’ll need to come prepared with some top of the line reeling tactics to avoid them breaking away or passing on their way in. Catching this illusive fish is no simple task.

Best Bait for Sheefish

The younger of the species tends to only eat insects as they are the only local fair they can get their mouths around. As they grow and develop, they turn their sights towards larger prey like other fish. The best bait to use for bringing in a Sheefish would be a local species of baitfish. Finding out what smaller fishes are found in these rivers and bays will help you to better entice the Sheefish into taking your lure. Bring them living baitfish for the best results.

Some adult Sheefish will even feast upon the young of their own species. The Sheefish will go after any fish smaller than it that can be easily taken so the best practice for anglers is to catch the bait fish first and then turn their sights on the Sheefish. It might even be beneficial to use insects to lure in the juveniles and catch them as your source of baitfish. Once you have your small baitfish, cast them out and see what Sheefish comes to play.

As long as you’re sticking to local fair for the Sheefish, you should have a good chance of drawing their attention. Keep in mind, however, that just because you’ve caught their attention doesn’t mean you’re going to bring them in or even hook them. Be prepared to do a lot of fishing today just to grab the Sheefish’s attention.

Best Line & Tackle for Sheefish

The size of the Sheefish is the biggest factor you’ll need to worry about. Most of their fight comes from their size, they don’t pack too much of a punch though they will be a difficult fish to settle down. To avoid snapping your line, you’ll want a medium weighted line — when compared to their size, you’d be surprised at how little strength comes with their fight. We tend to employ a 6 weighted fly rod whenever fishing for the Sheefish.

If you’re not willing to spend the whole day fishing for the Sheefish’s food, then it’ll be necessary to find a lure that mimics the local baitfish. You’ll want a lure that’s flashy and can easily grab the attention of the Sheefish. When using a lure rather than live bait, you’ll need to be even more precise in your movements to trick the Sheefish into trusting it. They also prefer the smaller hooks and will likely only nibble at any larger lures you provide.  

Also, you may enjoy learning How to Catch an Atlantic Spadefish.

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