I think it’s fair to say that perch often get a bad rap. For a fish that is often plentiful in numbers, relatively easy to catch and amazing table fair, it is an unwarranted depiction to those in the know. You don’t need to be a decorated angler to have success when perch fishing and they are much less fussy than their cousin, the walleye.
While they can be found in decent numbers in a number of Ohio inland waterways, Lake Erie is still the king of perch waters. Here are few things to consider next time you desire some angling fun or just some amazing eating fish fillets.
One of the best things about perch season is it tends to startup in the early summer when the walleye bite begins to slow, lasting well into the fall. From year to year the larger schools can seem to vary from the Western Basin all the way east to the Ohio boarder. Local bait shops that sell minnows are your best option to get you in the ballpark with which areas have been fishing well closest to you.
Perch are very similar to many species on large bodies of water, they tend to move as their food does and water conditions change. Using 2D sonar and even more modern down imaging sonar is an efficient way to stay on these moving pods of fish. Look for a lot of clutter generally from the bottom and up to four feet off of it. Empty screen means a tough day so spend some time driving around to locate these pods on your sonar before fishing.
Once you locate a school of perch far and away the best method is to hold directly over them vertically. On larger boats this means using a good ole fashion anchor. Smaller trailer boats that are able to be outfitted with a bow mount trolling motor have a big advantage however for their ability to “digitally anchor”. Modern day trolling motors offer an option called “spot lock” which basically allows you to hover in place without doing any more than touching a button. This hands-free option keeps you from having to hoist a heavy anchor up and down. If we are honest, it keeps us from getting lazy and encourages moving to new spots as well.
When fishing for many species such as bass the lure options and what anglers carry can be extremely diverse, but that really isn’t the case with perch. Instead, several different variations of a minnow harness are used to fish on bottom with two to three single hooks. Years ago, a traditional spreader wire with two short snelled hook leaders were the overwhelming favorite, but in recent years other rigs that more resemble a crappie rig have dramatically increased in popularity. A crappie or drop shot style rig allows anglers to fish several hooks at different depths above the bottom to cover the water column more easily. Truth is both styles have there day and as compact and inexpensive as they are it is worth having both on hand.
Rather you prefer a spreader or a crappie style rig chances are you are going to bait it with a shiner. Small sized emerald shiners are the most desired bait, but they can be tough to come by at times and difficult to keep alive. Bait shops are often out of emerald shiners and it forces anglers to use the more readily available golden shiners. While not as preferred, they will catch perch but due to their larger size it is often wise to cut them in two, using either the head or tail section on a hook. Pay attention to if the head or tail sections get more bites and make adjustments from day to day and seemingly from hour to hour at times. Another good trick is to salt and freeze leftover shiners for future trips. It’s a good way to make sure you aren’t without bait and can save you some money in the process.
Rod and Reel Setup:
I think it fair to say you don’t need a high dollar setup for perch fishing, but you do need just the right action. Perch are magicians at striping your hook and you need a rod that has enough power to get them up off the bottom and work a weight heavy enough to keep you down on the bottom. The trick being it needs to also be light enough to feel the slightest tick. For most this means looking at a light power fast action spinning rod spooled with braided line in the 6’ to 7’ range. Braided line has low stretch and makes feeling the slightest tap much easier. A high visibility braided line is also preferred so you can see where your line is and the instant it touches bottom or moves to the side from a lite bite.
Perch attitude can go from biting at will to not being able to do anything right at the flip of a switch. Switch weights as conditions change and only use a weight heavy enough to constantly maintain bottom contact and stay vertical. Some days you need to keep the rig right on the bottom, while others you need to keep it off and often just start slowly lifting it to get bites. Some days it needs to be almost motionless and others they seem to want it jigged or moved a little bit. Reality is there is no technique that always works so keep an open mind and pay attention to whatever the person is doing that is getting the most bites in your boat.
The more you perch fish the more nuances you will discover, but you can make it as simple or as complicated as you want. While we can argue that walleye is better than perch or which type of rig to use, we can’t argue that perch are simple, inexpensive to fish for and make amazing table fair. I think this is enough to warrant giving perch a shot this fishing season.