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Finding, and catching Perch on the ice.
Ice fishing for perch can be fun, as well as challenging. It can also be very rewarding for those who put in the work, and brave the elements. Catching your limits of perch can be as easy or as difficult as you want to make it. But before we get started, we need to do some preliminary work.
New to ice fishing? Click here to read Ice Fishing 101: How To Ice Fish
Most anglers have a map of their favorite fishing hole. But if you don’t, or are visiting a new lake to ice fish for perch, it would serve you well to get a good topo map of the local waters. You can start by looking online with your local wildlife agency, army corps of engineers, or local fisheries department. And accessing any link they may have that shows topographic maps that show under water features.
Local tackle shops carry topographic maps, and can be a great source of information about where, when, and how to fish for big perch.
What to look for on the map.
Look for any irregular features on the maps. Submerged islands, drop offs, or points that can help you locate possible schools of perch under the ice. Perch in mid-winter may hold up in the shallows. But expect jumbo perch to be deeper. So look for areas that start out shallow and drop off to deep water quickly.
Meet the Perch.
The Yellow perch (Perca flavescens)
Perch belong to the Percidea family. Better known as perch. Perch are aggressive feeders which makes them easy to catch, and fun for beginners. Look for Perch around weed beds, piers, and especially lily pads.
Living up to their name?
True to their name, yellow perch are yellow to yellow/orange. They have dark black vertical stripes running from the back past the lateral line with a white belly.
Yellow perch spawn between February and July in the northern hemisphere. They are found in the lakes of the northern United States and Canada. The great lakes and the Mississippi River basin. They range in greater numbers throughout the northern states into southern Ohio and Illinois.
Yellow perch are an important commercial species of fish.The perch are harvested in huge numbers by both commercial and recreational fishing each year. They are harvested for the market demand for those who don’t fish, but enjoy the succulent flesh that perch offer.
Yellow perch habitat.
Perch are comfortable in water ranging from 6 to 15 feet deep. Keeping close to weedy shores, near drop offs.
Look for yellow perch in ponds, lakes and the pools of creeks in slow moving rivers.They tend to school near shore during the spring, and are targeted by early season anglers during the spring thaw.
White Perch (Morone anericana)
Even though this article is about yellow perch. Let’s take a look at the white perch.
White Perch have a white belly and dark green-grey on the back. During the spawn the chin may turn purplish, and the fins red at the base.They usually grow to about 7 to 10 inches and weigh 8 ounces to a pound.
White Perch were originally stocked in the Chesapeake bay region to be an early warning system for toxins. They stay local, in the region they were released, so maintaining a study on these fish helps researchers keep tabs on toxins like PCBs.
White perch habitat.
White Perch live in estuaries, such as the Chesapeake bay area. They prefer water that is slightly salty. But they feel just as at home in fresh water such as Lake Erie or Lake Ontario. Look for white perch around structure and irregular features just like yellow perch.
White perch pests.
White Perch are known to eat the eggs of many native species in the Great Lakes. Such fish as walleye, and yellow perch numbers are impacted because eggs can make up 100% of the white perch diet at times.
Truth be told the white perch is not a true perch, but rather a member of the white bass family, or temperate bass family. It invaded the Great Lakes through the Erie and Welland canals, which bypass natural barriers.
White Perch are considered an invasive species. Especially in Minnesota. And are considered a threat to the ecosystem in many lakes. The white perch compete with native fish, and have been known to cross breed with white bass.
Ice Fishing for Perch Safely.
Before heading out onto the ice, we need to take stock in our gear. Ice fishing isn’t like your normal fishing trip to the lake. There are so many more elements to consider. First of all, the weather. Make sure you have ample enough warm clothes. And it’s always a good idea to bring along extra dry clothes in case you get wet.
Hypothermia is a silent killer. It occurrs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it. Signs of hypothermia are shivering and reduced circulation. Slow, weak pulse, and lack of co-ordination, and confused behaviour. The victim should be warmed as soon as possible, and taken to a medical facility.
Tell someone where you are going
And, for any fishing trip. Whether you are ice fishing for perch, or going deep for summer bass. Always let someone know where you are going, and intending on being back.
When you are on the ice, pay close attention to your surroundings. Stay away from ice that you are not sure of. And always remember “When in doubt. Get out”. Ice fishing for perch, bluegill, smelt, or a host of other types of fish is fun and exciting. But be on the alert, and always, check the weather report before heading out.
Gearing up for Perch on Ice.
There is possibly more gear options for ice fishing, than there are fish. Fishing rod combos, or tip-ups. Shanty or open air fishing. Hand or gas auger. Natural baits or lures. Hooks, lines,and sinkers.The possibilities are endless.
Augers are a must to start ice fishing for perch. Whether you prefer to use a gas powered, electric powered or hand driven is strictly up to the individual as well. Each have their advantages and disadvantages. Gas and electric augers are faster than hand augers so you can be fishing faster, and drill exploratory holes quickly.
Hand augers, on the other hand, are lighter and more dependable than gas powered. They are less likely to break down on the ice. Hand augers don’t require fuel, so you have less to worry about transporting.
Let’s look at using a shanty. A shanty will protect you from the elements. Driving winds, snow, and subzero temperatures can make ice fishing difficult. Groups of shantys, or shanty towns can appear all over lakes. This can be useful in keeping up with catch rates, and can help keep you safe if things get bad on the ice.
Ice Fishing rods
Tip-ups or fishing rod combos. Tip-ups can be used to locate schools of fish. Then you can rush in and drop a lure to the perch below.
When selecting an ice fishing rod for perch, you have to consider a few things. Are you likely to catch jumbo perch? Do you prefer medium power with plenty of backbone?
Medium-light powered ice fishing rods work best for perch. Length ranges from 24 to 28 inches are best for catching fish of different sizes from small to large, to jumbo.
Ice Fishing line.
Perch are not as line shy as most of your panfish. So, this opens up options for line use. The best recommended line test is between 3 to 4 pound test fluorocarbon ice lines. Fluorocarbon, is better than monofilament, because it doesn’t coil as bad when it comes off the reel. This is important when using light baits that don’t weigh enough to pull the coils out of the line.
Go lighter on the line.
Lighter line test is the most sensitive for detecting delicate bites from perch who may be shy and not willing to commit to aggressive strikes.
It is always a good idea to bring along extra rod spooled with 6 pound test. This should be utilized if you get into the large jumbo size perch that many lakes support.
Hook size is a major factor when targeting perch. Hook sizes from as small as #10 up to #4 are optimal for catching perch. Especially if you are using natural baits. Sometimes the fish will move in and grab the bait aggressively. Often times they may gently inhale the bait with hardly a movement of the line.
Most anglers prefer hooks with long shanks. This enables you to remove the hook quickly and get back down to the school before it disappears.
Best baits for ice fishing for perch.
Natural baits include minnows, grubs, mousies, wax worms, and of course maggots. These baits can be used with tip-ups because they don’t need the angler to provide the movement. They give off their own smell and can attract fish in murky waters. They also work great adding to the end of a jig or other artificial lure.
There are many artificial lures on the market. But for ice fishing for perch, many anglers prefer spoons. Start by dropping the spoon half way to the bottom, and jig it up and down aggressively. If this doesn’t produce a strike, drop the spoon all the way to the bottom.
Bounce the lure off the bottom a few times to stir up silt. This mimics bottom feeding actions that perch create when feeding on burrowing aquatic insects.
Real, and artificial lures.
At times, yellow perch are very finicky. For some reason, they just don’t want anything that is offered. When this happens, use natural and artificial baits together. Rig a flashy lure and attach natural bait. The flash will attract perch to your bait. And the natural bait brings the strike.
At times, you can add natural bait straight onto the lure you are fishing. This adds, smell, as well as flavors to your presentation.
Ice fishing has come a long way since early years. Before, you went to a lake and started drilling and hoped for the best. But now we have several technological innovations that help find fish quickly.
Advanced portable sonar can help, not only locate perch, but tell you how deep they are. Start by drilling an exploratory hole. Drop the sonar into the water, and see quickly what is under the ice. Sonar can see everything from depth, to weeds. Sonar can even tell you if your lure is down deep enough where the perch are at.
Finding the food.
Sonar, can also help you find schools of bait fish. Look for large blobs to appear on the screen. Finding bait fish is key to finding perch, as well as other fish. Perch are not far from the food source. So finding the food, makes it favorable that the perch will not be far behind.
Underwater cameras have put fishing in the spotlight. Seeing fish on a sonar is one thing. But being able to see them interact with your bait is a totally different aspect. Cameras can see exact size, species, and movement.
Catching the perch.
Once you have located the fish under the ice, the real fun begins. Perch are always on the move. Foraging for food, looking for cover, or searching for likely spawning grounds. Perch are the movers and shakers of the fish world. So once you have located a school, it is important to get down to them as quickly as possible.
Dropping a spoon and jigging it aggressively can attract fish to your spot effectively. Allow your lure to drop all the way down to the bottom, kicking up silt. Then lift the lure about 6 to 12 inches and bounce it up and down. Allow it to settle down and stop moving before you bounce it again. Many times the fish will grab the lure when it settles down.
Perch like to cruise across flats in search of aquatic life. Plankton, nymphs, minnows, freshwater shrimp, bloodworms, and other aquatic life, that burrow in the silt. If you find perch hanging out next to the bottom, this is a perfect time to bounce your bait off the bottom.
Some lakes may have a stable population of perch. Schools numbering in the dozens roam in loose schools over the underwater terrain. While, lakes, like the Great Lakes, can have schools numbering into the thousands.
Why is ice fishing better?
In 2017, an estimated 41.9 million people went fishing, at least one time. But during the winter months, many anglers hang up their fishing rod and take down their deer rifles. This reduces the amount of pressure on the fish, and gives anglers a better opportunity to catch their limits without excessive competition for the fish.
Have fun with it.
Perch fishing on ice can be a thrill, and the rewards are staggering. Filling a large bucket, or fish basket with thick yellow perch can make weathering the freezing cold well worth it.
So remember, be safe, be prepared. And always enjoy the time on the water.