Yellow perch is one of the finest tasting fish swimming in North American fresh water. Good thing — because catching them through the ice can be a challenge! The promise of a tasty meal does makes the effort worthwhile.
The challenge is that they are here one minute and gone the next. The biggest fish often haunt the bigger “ponds,” such as Devil’s Lake in North Dakota or Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota. Finding them and staying on top of them takes perseverance. That’s not such a bad thing during open water season. Nothing is better than spending a lazy summer’s day drifting small jigs over large mud flats until you connect, then repeating the drift until you have a limit for supper.
But add temperatures near zero and a strong steady breeze to the mix and the situation changes drastically. Few of us really like leaving a warm fish house or even a super portable ice shanty that’s been warmed by a propane heater in conditions like that. But that’s exactly what has to be done unless we’re content to limiting our outings to that golden hour before sunrise and after sunset when walleyes are most active.
Perch will often bite all day, but perch are on the move so we must be, too. Thankfully, it’s easier than it used to be. The ice-fishing tools we have today are far superior to what was once on the market.
For one thing, we don’t have to travel all the way back to the nearest town to refill Thermos bottles with coffee. We can headquarter in state-of-the-art structures such as The Lodge Fish Houses, which are modern RV’s designed to go right out on the ice and be easily lowered to the surface. These mobile buildings are like fishing in your living room! Great places to set up on likely walleye spots and stay put.
Keep Moving on The Ice
But mobility is the key with perch. When the action slows inside the Lodge, it’s time to climb onto the snowmobile or ATV and start the search. To find them, share information with as many people as you can. Check the bait shops and other people targeting perch on the same lake.
When it’s time to head out, take friends along both for safety and to divide up the area you want to search for fish. Pick out likely locations on your map before you go and use the new ice fishing electronics available to get you there precisely.
Key in on deep water lakes with a good forage base of insects or freshwater shrimp. They’ll consistently produce the biggest perch. “Deep” is relative to what’s available. At Devil’s Lake, the biggest perch swim in 30- to 40 feet of water.
The bottom terrain that normally holds the most perch consists of expansive mud flats outside the mouths of bays. From the perch’s perspective, we are talking a smorgasbord of insects ranging from mayflies to wigglers.
Divide the area and do grid searches. Drill lots of holes. No need to waste a lot of time fishing to confirm if the marks on the flasher are perch or not. An Aqua-Vu underwater camera can do that for you fast.
Don’t be content with a few fish. Move just one more time and you could hit the mother lode. Use cell phones to share intelligence.
Find Dropoffs With Rocks, Mud
No fish in the deeper basins? Move to shoreline areas with structure, such as points and bars that crisscross an area. Perch can also be found in the weeds, especially earlier in the season, or they’ll be at transition areas from hard to soft bottoms. The best spots will prove to be drops that feature both rocks and mud.
As winter deepens, look for detached rock piles in the middle of nowhere. Insect hatches occur there.
Use a sensitive St. Croix ice rod, 4-pound mono and a Lindy Rattl’n Flyer Spoon for a flashy, noisy attractor, and to get the bait down fast. Where legal, try adding a 3-inch dropper leader to a No. 10 Genz Worm. Change up colors to see what works best.
Add several wax worms or spikes to avoid re-baiting all the time. Keep a bait down the hole when the bite is on. Action can be fast and furious for a while. If you are getting no action, remember that perch feed by nosing down looking for insects. They stir up the bottom. Imitate the action by bouncing the Flyer Spoon to stir the mud and insect larvae. Then hold still, and then jiggle a bit. Watch the screen to see what action brings fish closer or turns them off.
Perch begin to slow down in late afternoon. Take some time to drill holes at various depths on the nearby points for the walleye bite to come. Drilling early means you won’t spook fish when they start moving before sunset.
Finding and catching perch will work up an appetite. Good thing they taste so great! Keep in mind that like larger predators, perch populations can be harmed by over-fishing. Take what you need for a meal, but don’t feel like you have to supply the neighborhood.
Shop Sportsman’s Guide for a great selection of Ice Fishing Gear!