A winter perch strategy
A Love Affair...
January 01, 2008
No other fish holds my winter fishing interests like perch. Perhaps it's because I grew up fishing perch on Saginaw Bay, filling buckets with yellow bellies. Maybe, I like winter perch fishing because no other fish on Earth tastes as good fried in corn flour? It's possible, I chase perch because compared to other species they are relatively easy to find and catch.
Whatever the reason, it's apparent that I'm not alone in my love affair with one of Michigan's most modest, yet sought after panfish. Every winter countless anglers target yellow perch and for the most part they bring home the bacon. It's true that compared to other species, perch are a little easier to find and catch. In part this is because they are so widely spread across the state and amazingly numerous in many lakes.
Perch may well be one of the most cooperative species targeted by ice fishermen, but there are a few finer points involved in catching a mess. Some might even classify these refinements as a winter perch fishing strategy.
|When the weather cooperates, open air fishing is the best way to target yellow bellies.|
Perch fishing is all about mobility. Like their cousins the walleye, yellow perch are seemingly always on the move in search of food. Planting yourself on a bucket and waiting for the fish to come to you may be a good way to relax, but it stinks as a strategy for catching perch. The willingness to move, move and move again until fish are located forms the foundation for a solid perch fishing strategy.
To remain mobile anglers must be willing to travel light. Portable ice shelters are no doubt the single biggest boom to winter perch fishing success. Many of the flip-style models produced by companies like Frabill are light enough to be pulled by hand. Other more elaborate models are designed to be towed with a quad or snow machine. Either way, being mobile while remaining warm and comfortable is essential to success. The moment your fingers or toes get uncomfortably cold, the adventure is over and so are your chances of perch fishing success.
Global positioning system technology has become a major factor in targeting open water species like walleye, salmon and others. The same holds true for yellow perch, yet few anglers have adopted GPS as part of their ice fishing strategy.
Both hand-held and permanent mount units can easily be adapted to ice fishing situations. Mounting a fixed style unit to the handle bars of a quad or snow machine provided the user a convenient battery source
and a larger screen for navigation chores. Both Lowrance and Eagle offer mounting systems designed for this growing GPS application.
Hand held GPS units are more portable than fixed units and can be used for hunting, hiking and other hobbies. Anglers who opt for the hand-held style of GPS should come prepared with plenty of batteries. Lithium style batteries designed for digital cameras are the best choice for hand-held GPS units. Keep a spare set inside your pocket to keep them warm. Cold weather zaps the energy from batteries in short order.
Once you start depending on a GPS unit to navigate and save the locations of fishing hot spots, the last thing you want are dead batteries.
Perch fishing in the winter centers smack on using live bait. Both wax worms and live minnows work well. Depending on the day and body of water, one of these bait choices is likely to out produce the other. Anglers have little recourse but to come prepared to fish both.
Storing live bait has always been a major issue, especially among anglers on the go. Anyone who has put those little plastic cups full of sawdust and wax worms in their pocket knows what I'm talking about.
The Grub Getter produced by Lindy Little Joe is without question the answer to storing and using wax worms and other grubs. Made from heavy duty plastic, this pocket sized container not only protects the grubs, but makes it easy to access them when necessary. Between fishing trips I store mine in the frig and everyone (even my wife) is happy with the results.
Minnows are another live bait storage problem. The typical bait bucket allows the water to freeze or worse yet spill during transit. I solved this issue once and for all with Frabill's Min-O2-Life Personal Bait Station. Built around a small cooler with an aeration system and snap lid, the bait stays lively, the water can't freeze and even if the station gets tipped over the water and bait won't spill. Inside a built in net makes it easy to access the bait. No more putting your hands in ice cold water to catch a minnow.
Over the years I've caught yellow perch using a wealth of jigs, spoons, live bait rigs and other jigging lures. All have their time and place.
Increasingly I'm coming to the conclusion that more aggressive lure types are an important part of the run and gun strategy required to target bigger perch. The Salmo Chubby Darter popped onto the ice fishing scene a few years ago and walleye anglers quickly recognized its strike triggering powers.
In the smaller sizes, the Chubby Darter is also a deadly perch fishing tool. The No. 3 size in the Redtail Shiner color is a perch fishing classic. This bait can be fished clean or the treble hook tipped with a tiny shiner minnow or wax worm.
When fishing action lures like the Chubby Darter, I also like to keep a stationary live bait rig fishing nearby. My favorite is a single No. 4 gold Aberdeen style hook with a live minnow, weighted down with the smallest possible split shot about six inches above the bait.
Fishing both an aggressive lure and passive live bait at the same time works well. The Chubby Darter usually produces the active fish, while the live minnow will be tough for even finicky fish to turn down. Using two live minnows works to keep perch in the area interested long enough to catch a mess.
Michigan's top perch lakes are all characterized by pressure cracks and changing ice conditions. No perch dinner is worth venturing out on unstable ice conditions.
Every trip out onto the ice, be sure to tell someone where you plan to fish and when you expect to return. Wear a life jacket when navigating and keep a cell phone charged up and in a safe/waterproof spot should you need to call for help.
Most of all use common sense and keep your perch fishing adventures both safe and fun.