December 01, 2011In the month of December perch fishing in Michigan can be either an open water or ice fishing adventure. Depending on which type of fishing you prefer the glass could be half full or half empty!
Because the great state of Michigan encompasses so much land mass and so many perch fisheries, it's safe to say nothing is set in stone for perch fisherman during the month of December. In the norther parts of the state December can mean first ice and an opportunity to start the ice fishing season in style.
In the southern part of the state, December is often associated with the last open water fishing opportunities of the year. It may be cold enough to make ice, but a lot of lakes resist freezing until the weather turns bitter cold and very still.
In the state's midsection where I live, the weather and fishing conditions can go either way. I've often fished on open water in December and in some years enjoyed great first ice action in December. Since there is virtually no way to know what Mother Nature will dish up, my advice is to post-pone that shrink wrapping project and keep your open water fishing options open until at least January!
Open Water Perch
Given the opportunity to fish open water or ice fish, I'll take open water every time. The ability to be mobile on the water and to also have the advantage of using sonar and GPS to pinpoint the location of fish can't be overstated. Loyal readers of Woods n Waters News will no doubt remember articles I've written in past years that encouraged anglers to fish open water in November and December to help find panfish they can later target during the winter ice fishing season.
One of the best things about open water perch fishing late in the fall, the tactics are simple and straight forward. The only bait to consider are minnows and classic two hook bottom rigs are the standard means of tempting perch bites.
Any commercial perch or crappie rig will work, but I enjoy creating my own custom versions that refine the presentation a little more. I start with a
48 inch length of 10-15 pound test fluorocarbon leader material. I thread a 6 mm bead onto the leader and position it about 18 inches from the top of the leader. The line is then passed through this
bead two more times so
the bead is locked in
position. Next I thread a No. 4 or No. 2 Tru Turn
Aberdeen style hook onto the leader and follow up
Sonar or video gear are critical to ice fishing success when targeting perch. Without these fishing aids anglers are literally fishing blind.
by adding a second bead that is also triple wrapped to keep it in place. Essentially the hook is supported by the
two beads and allowed to swivel around
the leader material. This rigging configuration allows the fish to approach from any angle and by simply opening wide and inhaling, suck in the bait.
A second hook is then threaded onto the leader using the same process as the first. A swivel is tied to the top end and a small snap tied to the bottom of the rig for accepting a bell sinker.
This custom tied perch rig functions like a drop shot rig designed for bass fishing except the hook is a long shank version more suitable to catching perch and easily unhooking caught fish.
Minnows are the preferred bait of perch fishermen during the late fall. I like emerald shiners when I can find them, but any small minnow will work. I hook minnows by passing the hook through the back, then turning the minnow and passing the hook though the side of the minnow a second time. Hooked in this fashion, the minnow is very difficult for perch to steal without getting hooked.
Another advantage of this "drop shot" style perch rig is the fish can't touch the bait without telegraphing the strike up the line. With traditional perch rigs that incorporate snelled hooks, the fish can move the bait several inches without the angler ever detecting a bite.
A variation of this "drop shot" style perch rig can be created by using just one Aberdeen style hook rigged about 12 inches off the bottom and using a small leadhead jig as both a bottom hook and weight. My favorite jig for this style of fishing is a stand up model like the Bait Rigs Odd Ball. Depending on the water depth, a 1/8, 1/4 or 3/8 ounce jig is ideal.
Setting Up On
Open Water Fish
Finding open water perch is a matter of slowing cruising while watching the sonar unit for signs of fish near bottom. Most of the time fall perch are going to be found in water at least 15 feet deep and often as deep as 30, 40 or even 50 feet. Sonar does a great job of isolating the location of these fish as the transducer cone covers more bottom real estate in deeper water.
Because perch are often found in huge schools during the fall, these fish rarely mark as individual hooks, but rather as clouds rising up off the bottom. A color sonar unit makes it much easier to spot these groups of fish and identify them as perch.
Once I locate a group of fish, I drop a marker buoy on the spot and then position the boat upwind in preparation for anchoring. My goal is to anchor securely above the fish and then to let out rope as needed to position the boat directly over the fish.
I use an Anchor Wizard,
www.anchorwizard.com, for perch fishing because it allows me to anchor without ever touching a wet anchor line. The Anchor Wizard also holds enough line that I can easily anchor even in water as deep as 70 or 80 feet deep if necessary.
Once the boat is anchored on fish it's important to keep bait in the water as much as possible. Perch fishing is one of those types of fishing that it really helps to have several anglers on board. The more anglers in the boat, the more bait that can be kept in the water and the better the chances the school of perch will hang around long enough to catch a nice mess.
In most cases, perch found during the fall open water period will be in the same places once ice forms. As the winter progresses, perch are eventually forced to be mobile to find suitable forage.
By the end of winter, perch in most lakes start to set up on deep water mud flats that hold huge concentrations of aquatic insects known as wigglers. The wiggler is a mayfly larva and is one of the most important food sources for late winter and early spring perch.
Under the ice perch can be caught using a wide variety of classic panfishing tackle including tear drops, small jigging spoons, action swimming lures like the Jigging Rapala and also the Salmo Chubby Darter. When perch are feeding aggressively they can be caught using action swimming lures without using live bait. As the bite slows, lures tipped with live bait including wigglers, wax worms, mousies or minnows produce the most fish.
My top perch producing bait incorporates both the flash of a jigging spoon and live bait. I use a No. 2, 3 or 4 Swedish Pimple and remove the single hook that comes on those baits. I then replace the hook with a three inch leader of eight pound test fluorocarbon line with a No. 6 or 8 single red baitholder hook.
I like to bait the single hook with a wax worm, mousie or a perch eye. This jigging spoon rigging option allows me to easily make contact with bottom and use the spoon to attract nearby perch. The live bait dropper enables perch to suck in the bait without having to completely engulf the jigging spoon.
A jigging rod with a soft tip helps when fishing jigging spoons rigged in this manner. Many of the bites are not felt, but rather seen as the rod tip bends a little more when a perch has the bait in it's mouth.
A good strategy is to jig for a few seconds and then to let the spoon remain motionless a few inches off bottom. Most of the strikes occur after the spoon has settled.
Using sonar it's possible to target fish not only on bottom, but also suspended in the water column. An underwater video camera is another useful tool for ice fishing perch. Video allows anglers to confirm that perch have the bait in their mouth, helping to hook up on fish that might otherwise be missed.
Shelter Me Please
Both mobility and comfort are important considerations for winter perch fishing. An angler that's cold isn't going to tough it out for very long. A shelter that can be pulled behind a snow machine, quad or Argo maximizes comfort on the ice and insures that anglers will put in the hours necessary to find and stay on fish.
I favor shelters that can be easily towed, rather than tent style shelters that must be anchored to the ice. Ice tents provide great protection from the elements, but they are a chore to set up and tear down, reducing an angler's ability to remain mobile.
Summing It Up
Perch fishing in December can be an open water or ice fishing adventure. Depending on the year and/or what part of the state targeted, the last month of the year can deliver red hot fishing action. Great action and great eating, the yellow perch is one of the best ways to say goodbye to fall or hello to winter.