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Home > News & Articles
Successfully Catching Yellow Perch - Part 2 - Technique!
Last edited on: Jan 18, 2015 12:17:45 PM by Kevin

Part 2 – Finding the striped green and yellow ghost. We have reached another season of snow blanketing the ground and bright snow lit days punctuated by cloudy shades of grey. This hard water winter time is my favorite time of year for perch fishing. Greater mobility has it's advantages when it comes to tracking perch down.



Part 2 – Finding your striped green and yellow prey.

With winter here we need to consider what are perch doing during this hard water season as well as what you need to target them successfully.

So you want to catch perch and as many as possible! Well you are in luck as it is tricky but not difficult once you key in on a few “secrets”. Please note that while these are my personal recommendations they are not set in stone or intended to endorse any particular store or product. Experimenting with your technique will generally improve your skill and ability to catch fish.

Part 1 discussed what gear you need and now we delve into how to implement techniques to use with the gear to maximize success.

LOCATION:

At various times of the year I have successfully caught perch all around small and big lakes from just off the boat docks in 2 feet of water to the middle of the lake in 30 feet of water. I have caught perch Spring, Summer, Winter and Fall. Some days it appears the fish are most readily caught within 15 feet of most boat docks. Perch travel in loose schools and are often separated loosely by size. I have caught a 7 inch perch followed by numerous 10-12 inch perch and then the big 16 inch perch. Smaller fish are generally faster to the hook and bait and more aggressive, so you need to consider moving to find a larger year class school. Perch tend to hold near the bottom of the lake and my experience show that they are most often found 6 inches to 1.5 feet off the top of the weeds. Occasionally perch can captured as much as 4 – 6 feet off bottom but this is not the norm. Aquatic weeds appear to be about 1-2 feet high in 14-20 feet of water. Therefore fish just above the weeds. If you catch Lake Chub or other minnow species (large minnows up to 7 inches long) you are probably in the weeds.

If you are catching predator species such as walleye, muskie or pike you will find it difficult to target perch as they will be in avoidance mode…or in other words…”yikes please don’t eat me so I am making myself scarce!”

Perch are often seen to have a diurnal movement pattern. This means during the brightest part of the day they can often be found out in deeper water (twenty feet deep) while at dawn and dusk they can be seen moving just off the end of the docks and even chasing food into six inches or a foot of water.

Summer

In the summer you can use a boat, fish from shore, or off a dock.

A boat is the easiest method as you can put yourself directly over the fish. The key is move around often until you find a school. Targeting deeper weed beds is a good start. Remember perch are a prey species and as such feel most comfortable near protection such as weeds and structural hiding places like dock pillars and brush piles. Drop offs from 5 to 15 feet can also be very productive by adding escape to deeper water. I find the best fishing method is to select a location in 10 feet of water with lots of weed growth, anchor the bow of the boat, drift downwind ~ 20 feet, drop a stern anchor and then tighten up such that the boat is in the middle of the two anchors. This is desired in order to allow fishing right under the boat and prevent boat sway and movement with the wind. When fishing vertically, constant feel of the line is needed to catch the perch effectively. If using a slip bobber you don’t need to worry about looking like a drunk boat captain on the open seas swinging from side to side in the wind. When you find yourself over a school it is not uncommon to hook more than 100 perch from the same location. When fishing from shore use a regular or slip bobber set up and adjust the bobber starting at 9 feet and increase six inches until bites occur. Effectively the intent is to find the optimum distance above the weeds where the perch are holding and feeding. Hold the rod in your hands at all times as while bites can be numerous they are also very quick. Move around often to cover more water when fishing slows.

Winter

In the winter you will need more than sharp wit to reach the perch as the ice can be thick. Take extra caution to review ice safety information. Ice augers come in gas and electric powered as well as hand operated. Use common sense when drilling holes along vehicle travel corridors and mark large holds with a stick to stop someone from getting stuck.

Just like in the open water months you need to remember to fish just above the weed line. I tend to favor the 15-25 foot contour for perch during the Winter months. As perch are spring spawners I also find that their behavior and movement patterns change from the beginning to the end of Winter. Spawning occurs shortly after the ice is gone and as such the spawning size perch will move to holding areas near higher quality spawning habitat.

The biggest benefit of hard water fishing is the ease at which you can move around and try new holes. I tend to drill about 10 – 15 holes in an area likely to hold perch. I drill in an “L” or “T” shaped pattern depending upon the bottom contour. I space the holes about 10 – 15 feet apart. I find drilling holes does make a lot of noise and can disturb fish behavior as well as attract fish. By drilling lots of holes you do reduce the disturbance variable and allow things to settle as you start fishing.

















TECHNIQUE:

I like to try many different styles until one stands out as being most productive. Jigging techniques include the:

1. ultra-slow “wiggle lift” style which is always my go too perch starting preference. When trying this technique for the first time half your speed then half it again. Picture a small bug rising in a lake. They wiggle nice but move maddeningly slow. While moving slow the intent is to finish 1-4 feet higher than the lowest hook position. This is mimicking a natural rising bug moving towards the surface and drives the perch mad. This works best primarily with small perch jigs and weighted flies.

2. Slow but steady repeating, short up and down “steady jigging” motion to a simple steady little wiggle motion on the hook. I find the constant motion can attract some perch but turns off more. This steady action also attracts predators which can scare perch away. Perch also tend to bite and hook up better when then have a pause in the action to attack the lure. Perch have been regularly observed seeing this movement and then swimming over to investigate. This technique can draw in perch which can increase fishing success rates.

3. Patterned but “variable jigging” and pause defined as the lifting and lowering of the lure quickly and 2-5 times followed by a stop in movement of 2-10 seconds. The height of the lifting motion can vary from 6 inches to 4 feet. Like with the steady jigging technique above, perch have been regularly observed seeing this movement and then swimming over to investigate. This technique can draw in perch as well as predators which can either increase fishing success rates or decrease them.

4. Suspended line fishing or “still fishing”. This technique is purely passive and can result in success but only on a very limited basis. Perch are both quick to react to movement and smell as well as feel. Your hooking up rate will be very low if you are not in contact with the line at all times and therefore this is recommended. This technique can be utilized either under a bobber or under a tip up or rod holder.

5. “Slow retrieve” is really only an open water technique while all other techniques above can be done in winter or summer. This technique can be greatly improved by practicing a count down and speed of retrieve to know when you are maximizing moving the hook through the sweet zone of 4 - 12 inches off bottom or the top of the weeds. Also as perch are very visual feeders, twitching the rod tip while retrieving can greatly increase bites as well as alert the angler to bites by the change in line tension. If you feel like you snagged a weed, set the hook and you will often be surprised. This is often the trickiest method but more area can be fished as well as often perch get drawn into the area under the boat for increased vertical fishing effectiveness.


In winter or summer vertical fishing I find the success rate is highest if I alternate between using method 1 and 3 or wiggle lift with variable jigging. Combined they are a formidable perch foe! You can use the variable jigging to attract perch and catch a few aggressive perch and then clean up with the wiggle lift. I love a very slow wiggle while slowly raising the hook (think lifting it 1 inch in ten seconds) followed by a 3-5 second pause and then repeat up to 3-4 feet off bottom can be very successful. Some perch fishermen like to jig a couple of hard 1 to 2 foot jigs then let the hook settle back down, pause 10-20 seconds and repeat while altering the waiting period between jigs and the height of the jig. Remember, perch are methodical predators that are not darting around like trout. They sneak up on the prey and they suck the food in and then usually not dart away after. Therefore you must be in constant feel of the hook and set the hook with any change in feel such as extra weight on the line, slight tap, jerk or even reduced tension. When you wiggle the hook, it should be just heavy enough that you can “feel” it moving. Sometime the line will go slack because the perch has picked up the bait and is now supporting the hook. SET THE HOOK! All of these bites are almost imperceptible to someone use to catching trout or pike. A bite by a perch can be so very, very, gentle and often fast meaning you must set the hook quick and be on your toes at all times.


Since perch are generally quite small…under 12 inches and are not the best fighters you can increase your catch rates by hand lining them in. By not reeling up you in effect keep the same depth each and every time. When hand lining in be sure to toss the upcoming line beside you in order to prevent tangles. Practice can also help to this regard. Upon removing the hook you can then get back down quickly and confidently that you will stop at the right depth. Sometimes bumping the reel will inadvertently cause a little reeling up of line. If the perch stop biting, lower the line back to the bottom and start fishing again. Chances are you will attract fish back again to the area.















To summarize what a bite could feel like include the following examples; 1) TUGGING - sudden tug on the line or repeated tugs (often the rare aggressive bite in which the perch hook sets itself), 2) GENTLE TAP - very gentle tap, tap, tap (perch biting at the bait or trying to suck it into it’s mouth), 3) EXTRA WEIGHT - extra weight on retrieve similar in feel to snagging a weed (perch often just grab the hook without swimming away. When lifting the hook the fisherman should be constantly aware of any extra weight on the hook and set it quickly. This can quite occur when the hook is first lowered as often perch swim over to the falling hook.) 4. NO WEIGHT – Sometime the perch will lift the hook up and therefore there is no “feel” of the weighted hook at the end of the line. In all of these instances YOU MUST SET THE HOOK VERY QUICKLY! If you feel any subtle changes whatsoever it pays to set the hook!

SAMPLE VIDEO

Underwater perch behavoir

PERCH BEHAVOIR:

The three main perch feeding behaviors I see are:

1. Panic Feeder - Every 5 minutes or so a perch comes screaming through the field of view and hammers the hook like a trout. Generally hook sets itself. Very aggressive feeding behavior. I think this has something to do with competition and seeing other perch around and a handy meal staring the perch in the face. Eat before you lose it kind of idea. Hooks held still works best.

2. Home Feeding - Resident perch (perch that just hang around and really never leave the field of view) basically stay hunkered down in the weeds at the bottom of the lake. When a hook falls to the bottom they tend to come out and move towards the falling hook. Before the hook hits bottom a perch has often struck the hook without any indication thereof at surface. Then as the hook sits there the perch slowly move over to survey the new arrival. They tend to pick at any bait and in general occasionally try to "suck in" the hook. If a weighted jig this fails. I started using a dropper fly and the perch tend to suck in the fly easier if lighter like a scud or chironomid pattern. Sometimes the perch just stare at the hook and swim away. They also seem to like jigging less and shy away. They do however get excited and can be induced to strike with a slow rising ultra short wiggle (similar to a natural chironomid rising (Youtube has some videos of this for reference). Then often some perch will rise from the weeds and chase the hook up as high as 4 or 5 feet and can strike at any time. Otherwise holding hook motionless seems to work often. Sometimes the hogs seem to be loners just circling around. They get turned off my jigging and the hordes of little fish. They go ballistic seeing a live minnow (illegal in public waters). A live leech should work really well also for larger Home Feeders.

3. Feeding School - This is most interesting and often overlaps Home Feeding. This is where a loose school of perch will swim partially suspended about 1-2 feet off bottom. They are very aggressive and will chase other fish away in a rush to get to the hook. You can often keep a school around longer the quicker you get your hook back to the bottom or if multiple people are fishing in the same tight area. A light jigging behavior lures them in but still or relatively still with minor short jigging actions work best. While perch tend to school in somewhat similar class range, a school of 6-8 inchers will often have some hogs with it.

Note that some days there could be 1000 perch below you but just not interested in biting. Reasons for this may be barometric pressure changes, temperate of the water, predators, light conditions, location, fish may have fed already, hook (type, size, shape or color), fish size, noise, time of day etc. Rarely do the perch not bite at some time during the daylight hours. I have had times where I get 2 fish in 5 hours followed by 40 perch an hour and all in the same area.

TIMING:

Perch are spring spawners and just before and after ice out may be difficult to catch. Also immediately after the Spring and Fall lake turnovers the fishing often slows down. I have caught perch at all times of the day and throughout the winter and summer. In late winter you may find they are gearing up for spawning and are harder (but not impossible) to catch. Early winter is typically awesome perch fishing.

Perch are also a major prey species for predatory fish such as pike, walleye and muskie as well as loons and cormorants. This means they must deal with the biological need to feed as well as the instinctual desire to hide. This can confuse anglers since you can spend time fishing an area, get no bites and leave. Hours later someone else shows up, fishes the same holes and limits out in 30 minutes. A fish finder or flasher can greatly increase angler awareness of what is happening below and if there are fish. Seeing fish on a camera or seeing fish rising off bottom and not biting necessitates a change in hook, bait and/or technique. Don't be afraid to experiment.

Sometimes fishing can be like playing the slots. It can be very hard to leave a machine you invested time and money in just like some anglers find it hard to leave a spot they have invested lots of time in. My rule of thumb is if you try a technique and don't get any bites, change something up like your lure or another technique or variation. If after 15 minutes, still no bites, stop the pain and change areas. That is why when ice fishing I drill a number of holes and when open water fishing change direction of the cast or move locations on the lake.

CLEANING:

Perch can be easily cleaned with a narrow sharp knife and can be made boneless with minimal effort. Check on Youtube.com for some advice on cleaning including a very unique 10 second method. Very handy and quick for smaller perch.

General filleting method…

Firstly, make an incision on the side just behind the pectoral fin from the top of the body to the belly. Do not go through the backbone. Then while the knife is resting on top of the backbone, twist the blade such that the edge is facing towards the tail. Then slide the blade along the top of the backbone down to the tail and remove this fillet. Repeat on the other side. Practice makes perfect here!

While firmly holding the narrow end of the fillet, skin down, slide the knife down from the narrow end (but not through the skin). Twist the blade so it faces towards the big end of the fillet and slide the blade along the top of the skin down to the tail separating the meat and the skin and remove this skinless fillet. Flip the fillet over and remove the ribcage. On small fish just cut down around the ribcage and remove. On large fish, slide the knife edge under the bones to save some meat and then just notch the area at the top of the ribcage to remove the remaining bones. You can feel these bones with your fingers as tiny bumps. Now the perch is boneless.

Large fish may be also treated like any other larger fish and baked or barbecued whole after cleaning out the body cavity of organs etc.

Clean all fish well under cold running water and freeze immediately if not to be cooked within a day. Use proper freezer bags to prevent freezer burn.

10 second method is on the attached link. Please note that if you want to eat perch…smaller sizes are becoming the norm. This method makes maximizing the amount of perch meat. While it may take a lot of small perch to feed a family...fishing is fun!
Video

COOKING:

You can use your trusted, tried and true cooking methods, experiment on your own or consider the following.

1. Use a store bought fish coating and either bake or fry.
2. Use a lemon herb spice mix and butter and fry in pan
3. Use a pepper medley spice mix and either bake or fry.
4. Fry in butter and then put in a creamy mushroom and onion soup and serve on either rice or spaghetti
5. Various marinades like golden Italian Salad Dressing works as well as others.
6. If you discover other great cooking ideas, share them.

Now you know the “secrets”. Fish and have fun.

Bon appetit!



















Go to perch fishing gear article



Kevin Egan is an avid angler who never turns down a fishing experience. Life is too short not to fish.

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