By Rebecca Pickle/ Photo by Joseph Tomelleri
A fish that is a tubular, silvery, flash in the river “torpedo” is known as the mountain whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni). The mountain whitefish calls Malheur National Wildlife Refuge home here in Harney County, Oregon. They are also found in many other states including Utah, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. Most mountain whitefish on the refuge hangout in the waters of the Blitzen River where the snowmelt from the Steens Mountain Range keep the water cool and crystal clear.
Referred to some anglers as a garbage fish (they don’t actually taste bad and taste especially good smoked), it is only misunderstood as competing for food with its family of trout and salmon. Some suggest that the mountain whitefish actually have different eating habits and only compete when food is limited. They tend to eat larval stages of bottom-dwelling insects including mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, and midges.
Although the mountain whitefish is not as well-known on the Malheur as the common carp or the redband trout, it is one of the few native fish in the Blitzen Valley. The mountain whitefish plays a key role in maintaining a healthy watershed. So next time you find yourself around the P-Ranch area be on the lookout for these fish.