By Eric Patton, CoTrout.org
Perch fishing is probably the most underrated fishing of all time. For even experienced anglers, catching a whole mess of these beautiful panfish can be the perfect challenge with ample reward. Sure, they may not have the size of many of our favorite freshwater sportfish but properly filleted and fried, there are few better in North America.
Though some may go after these fish for their lovely coloration, the truth is we really want them as a good meal. If that is the case, you are going to have to up your game. Like all panfish, filleted out, you won’t get much meat. Better plan on bringing home your limit if you want to do a classic fish fry.
These tips and tricks are a sure way to put more fish on the table. Tried and true by some of the best anglers around, you can increase your odds and fill out your live well on your next trip. Bring along a couple of friends and you can ensure your next family fish fry will be one to remember.
Perch Habits And Habitat
If you are a fledgling angler you probably aren’t up and up on your fish species yet. In that case, Perch are members of the Percidae family and have the common traits of a bony head, rough scales, and toothy bones in their mouth. The common perch that most people go after has a lovely yellowish color with vertical bars or ‘tiger stripes.’ These appear most boldly in breeding males and can be quite faint if female and juvenile fish. Like most fish, Perch are sexually dimorphous meaning the females are larger than the males.
Perch are often called the ‘Ultimate Panfish’ due to its larger size than other panfish species. They are of a different family than other panfish species and have a slightly different flavor that some describe as buttery. But before you can get to the flavor, first you have to find the fish. Many anglers love the catching of perch and their exuberant fight. Generally these fish are caught around a pound in size but one notable example was over 18” long and weight a whopping 8 pounds. The fight on that beast must have been epic.
To find perch you want to find the right water conditions. Generally, perch prefer cooler waters from the low 60s to the mid-70s and will rarely feed if the water is much warmer than that. They can tolerate temps almost into the 40s but are not as active. Due to the abundance of food, perch are often larger in the southern parts of their range where temperatures are closer to the high end.
During the summer, it is not uncommon for perch to stop feeding except at night when things cool down. In some shallower lakes, they may stop feeding all together. If you do catch these fish, they will often show signs of stress such as washed out color or even loss of scales.
The best time of day to go after perch is generally early morning but late evening can be rewarding as well. In warmer seasons, even night time can be a good chance for perch but don’t expect them to move far from cover. This is true during spring and fall. For summer perch, you will likely be fishing at night exclusively and hoping the water temperature is in the correct range.
Like most North American fish, perch spawn in the spring. This means that males will be more active at this time and females far more aggressive. A hit from a female spawning can feel like a bass. Especially if you pull her off nest.
Perch Feeding And Predation
If you want to understand the perch and how to catch them, you need to understand their place in the food chain. Life is tough in the middle of the spectrum and that is where the perch often sits. They are prized prey to almost all fish eating birds as well as many other fish species. The big culprits are bass, muskie, pike, and walleye. It can get so rough in some areas that over half the perch fry each spring is decimated by walleye which share a very common habitat.
Simply put, the perch is no speed demon. They are slow, lethargic fish that look clumsy and sluggish in the best of cases. This makes them quite susceptible to predators, including anglers. The right presentation for perch will have to play to their weakness and be a little more relaxed than most anglers are familiar with.
You will find perch in large groups usually of a similar size. These is a tactic used to ward off predators but can serve as an attractant. For us anglers, this means that when you catch a perch there are likely dozens of similar sized fish around the same area. You may have to try a few different baits and lures but you can easily get your limit in one area without a lot of trouble.
Generally, perch will lay in cover for long periods during the day. Sometimes this can run as deep as 30 feet, especially in warmer waters. Look for areas around brush, pilings, docks, submerged trees, rocks, and weed beds. They use these locations for security which makes targeting them easier for the fisherman.
The diet of the perch does not differ greatly from similar fish species. They feed on small invertebrates including crayfish and insects as a favorite. They will also eat a variety of smaller fish if the option is there. They are cannibalistic in nature with larger males often feeding on perch fry when the option is there. This does help keep their population in check or they would overrun most waterways in a few years.
Perch Gear And Techniques
Knowing where perch like to be and what they like to eat is a huge step to feeling your keel. With this information, we can work on lure and gear selection to maximize our enjoyment and productivity.
Always keep in mind feeding times and water conditions. What starts as a great day for fishing may change with warm waters or too much sunlight.
When it comes to perch, you aren’t going to need anything heavy. They are a small, light fish similar to crappie. Match your gear to the fish. There isn’t a lot of fight in perch so heavy line and hooks are not needed.
Start by choosing a lightweight power rod, tiny terminal tackle and light line. Remember more weight increases abrasion and does not tie as well. Make sure you stick with an average of 4 to 6 pound line to get the ideal resistance, shock and sensitivity.
Hook Selection And Rigging
Perch have a small mouth and require a smaller hook. Though they are often compared to crappie, they have a firmer jaw. Small wire hooks are a good match and lures that use these hooks will work just fine. A good rule of thumb is a #6 to a #8 hook. You can use these as a part of a spreader rig which is a common tactic.
Use Bobbers And Slip-Floats
Though it seems like the practice is often frowned upon, don’t disregard the practicality and usefulness of the simple bobber. Generally you are better off with a slip float but any bobber will work. What you are ideally after is depth control and there is no better way.
You should always opt for the best quality floats you can get. These are items that are often made cheap with little regard for their quality. Make sure you have all the gear to run them correctly and use line appropriate to your float. Braided line is generally a bad idea and can ruin the inner areas of your float.
As we stated above, perch love cover so that is where you need to head. Fishing cover is an art all its own if you don’t want to get continually hung up. Your slip bobber is your tool of choice when the cover is thick with live bait for a preference. You still risk snags but if you can get everything worked out right, this is your best chance for success.
Use the slip float to get the perfect depth and avoid any bottom snags. From there your live bait will handle the hard work of attracting likely perch. This is a great tactic around rocks, downed trees, and other submerged obstructions. Keeping your bait off the bottom but getting close is a sure fire tactic.
Some cover is just not appropriate for live bait and some fishermen just don’t prefer it. In this case, snagless or weedless baits are a solid bet. You can easily take advantage of a perch’s love for cover where they feel safe. The thicker the better. Though even with a weedless bait there are limits.
Small, soft swimbaits are the most popular choice. Leeches, small fish, and grubs tend to work well. Dropping and retrieving these small baits in open holes in thick weeds is a very productive method. You can avoid the snags and potentially get your fill of perch in short order.
You do want to be sure to have the right size for the fish you are after. At a maximum, something around 2.5 inches is a good choice. You can go smaller, down to an inch or so and still have decent luck though at that size, you may end up with more bluegill than perch.
If the bottom is rocky, you can bounce a small crawfish lightly with good success. You do want it to be big enough to ward off smaller fish species but keep it in check. It’s easy to get to big for a perch.
Jigs can be a great option for getting around cover with less of a chance of getting hung up. You can even pair some jig heads with live baits like worms for a more attractive presentation. No matter with a live bait or standard jig body, action is the key. You want some movement to make sure you live a little tail hanging off to attract hesitant fish.
Perch are not so color sensitive but it’s a good idea to keep a reasonable selection on hand. For jig heads, they all work about the same but having bodies in black, white, florescent, and orange can be helpful. This will cover most of your needs. Don’t shy away from a little glitter. The sparkle really helps.
If you have a quality fishing reel that is correctly set up ,perch shouldn’t be a struggle unless you land a real monster. Make sure your drag is set correctly, usually around 10 to 12 pounds. This will give the fish plenty to fight against without overstraining the fish and causing it to shake the hook.
There is no need for the powerful hook set used on bass. It can be a little firmer than crappie but you want to focus on not getting it too hard. You want just enough to set the hook. Keep the rod pointed down as you retrieve to avoid adding too much pressure. This is especially true on long casts.
The yellow perch is a beautiful fish that isn’t a challenge to catch with the right attitude, knowledge, and gear. These few tips should elevate your game and get on the fish faster and with better results in the end. These popular fish are well worth the time and expense of doing it right. Make sure you catch a few extra just to be on the safe side.
Give these tips a try next time you head out. Let us know what worked for you. Days on the water are rare, sometimes sharing in your adventures is the best we can get!