What is the tastiest fish? You’ll get plenty of answers to this question, but few people who love fish will ever turn down perch.
To be honest, I think the ice cream sunfish get what they pay for, but I hunt for the best bite. If the local lakes serve good sized bluegills, I’ll be on them. But more often lately we have a better perch bite.
Perch fishing is good but rarely excellent in our region. We have a ton of great perch lakes, but big schools of big fish are becoming rarer.
The problem isn’t catching a pole, it’s catching a big pole or even a goalie pole.
Coming back from other regions is difficult. Cleaning a 10 to 12 inch pole takes a lot less effort than cleaning a bunch of 7.5 inch poles.
But they taste the same, so we look for borderline ones when we can.
Where to go
The upper lakes are the mouth lakes – Muskegon, White, Pentwater, Pere Marquette, Manistee and Portage. Some inland lakes also produce if you give them the chance.
The Rivermouth Lakes have their own special attributes. For one thing, rotting wooden docks are often sources of gases that cause the ice to rot from underneath. So your first job is to make sure you know where they are and don’t use those areas to get to them.
Once you figure out how to avoid swimming, you want to look at a map of the lake. The deepest pool will almost always contain fish, but you don’t want the deepest water, you want the deepest water with soft bottom substrate. A deep sand hole won’t produce much because it has nothing to hold the bait. Areas with a soft bottom often harbor aquatic invertebrates – insect larvae. Perch and crappie love guarding these areas.
How do you identify soft bottom areas? Well, one way is to go back to state lake survey maps. They often have a bottom composition chart directly on them. I’m all for hyper-accurate digital charts like Navionics, but remember there’s good information in old surveys too.
Another way to identify soft bottom areas is to use electronics. My Humminbird Ice-35 shows a hard bottom in red and a softer bottom in yellow. You want to find an area where the bottom is a short strip of red and then alternating strips of yellow and red below. If you enter a two inch red band, you are on rocks or other dense bottom. I found an area like this on Mullett Lake by accident the other morning and it was absolutely dead there.
The good thing about pole fishing is that you can get away with sturdy rods and reels because they are usually aggressive biters. I would encourage you to invest in spring bobbers for your heavier rods though, as light biters are often bigger fish.
I like a rod around 27 inches with a fast tip and medium action. When it comes to reels, you can invest in fly-reel type reels or stick to spinning reels. One thing to remember is not to coil the pole too fast, especially the dinks.
Your line is more important than your reels or rods. In 20 feet of water or deeper you definitely want to use a superline. It transmits everything so much faster than monofilament or even fluorocarbon. I like the 6 or 8 pound test because it gives me a fighting chance against pike.
Don’t forget rod holders when fishing for perch. If you quit your setup, you’ll get bites on odd days when jigging won’t.
The best lures depend on the day. If perch feed on minnows, you will do well with a horizontal lure like a Jigging Rap or a Rapala Slab Rap. If perch feed on emergent insects, you’ll do well with vertical jigs like Hali jigs or Northland Buckshot spoons. A nice hybrid approach is the Slender Spoon or VMC Tingler. These lightweight spoons can be lightly jigged and will stay upright, but if you give them six inch jigs they will jiggle horizontally sideways.
I’m very drawn to color, but I almost always fish bright lures. Brilliant green seems to be the best day after day, but brilliant blue and even orange have their place. Frequently recharge your luminous lures.
Of course, if you’re jigging with one rod, your other rod should be a deadstick of some kind. The age-old way to fish for perch is with a perch rig. These are two-hook spreaders, often tipped by a glow fly. You can angle them with any bait you like and do well.
I used to try to track bites without a bobber, but a bobber is a great tool. If the bobber is moving around quickly, you know you’re dealing with a small fish. If your bobber starts to slip slowly, you probably have a good one. Always weight your bobbers so that they have neutral buoyancy, i.e. weight them so that the line painted on them is at or just below the waterline. If you really want to get fancy, you can weight them so the feather is out of the water.
Have you ever noticed how moody perch can be?
They will ignore your jigged offering for a few days until it stops moving. Other days they will hover around your spread until you tick the tip of your rod, then they will bite.
If you are having trouble with small poles, you should jig more aggressively.
If you can’t get a big perch in your spread, you should wrap all your lines and watch your chart for a minute. It’s the craziest thing, but a big perch will come to see your line go up and then scatter when you have all your lines down. So reel them all in then quickly land your best lure when you see good marks on your flasher screen.
If you fish without electronics, you will sometimes catch your biggest fish when you are in full swing. You get all your lines out of the water because you had a double, then you come back down and catch a pig. It is not a coincidence.
When things are very slow, you definitely need to jig aggressively. If you have a camera, note how much silt you stir up, then lift your lure above that cloud and leave it there for the roost to find. If you don’t have a camera (and I don’t), lift 6 inches to one foot after hammering the bottom.
Remember to slowly roll up the small perch. The reason we don’t have big roosts isn’t because of genetics, it’s because of age. Old perches are big perches. Roll them up slowly and put the ones you won’t eat back into the lake. If you rewind too fast, you will see that the perch has its swim bladder in its throat. You can puncture this bladder with a pin, but any injury to a fish impacts its likelihood of survival. It is best to stay calm and recover slowly.
I can clean the perch to about 7.5 inches in length. Below, it’s really not worth keeping them. My preference is for 9 inches or more, but these are very slim choices some days. A better way to determine which perches are keepers is to look at their body width behind their head. If they’re narrow, you’re not getting much meat out of them.
Although you can get more meat from a scale roost, I prefer to skin them. They fry without curling up that way. Our perch batter recipe is smashed chicken in Biskit crackers. Fillet your fish, dry them and brush them with an egg yolk. Then put the fillets in a plastic bag and shake them until they are coated in cracker crumbs. Then fry them in the oil of your choice until they float.