First Ice Perch
by Norb Wallock
Once thought of as a nuisance, or even trash, to be littered on ice, yellow perch have turned the corner, and are becoming one of the most sought after targets of the entire icefishing season.
There are solid reasons for their increase in prominence, including the fact that they are extremely prolific and plentiful, they're usually biting, and are second to none when it comes to table fare.
While perch can be found in nearly every lake and river, (if not all), throughout the Upper Midwest, only a small portion have the necessary ingredients to produce the largest of the species, a.k.a. jumbo perch.
Of course, perch don't have to be of jumbo proportions to satisfy, but it certainly doesn't hurt. Good jumbo perch waters are not that plentiful, as it takes a combination of factors to produce an environment conducive to the development of the largest of the species.
Top mega-perch waters are defined by those possessing good spawning areas, medium clear water, and a diversified food supply. A diversified food supply includes minnows, crayfish, and bugs.
Bugs are a real key, and comprise a large part of the perch diet. Bugs, like mayflies, in their various stages of development, play an important role in providing perch with the nutrition necessary to grow to jumbo proportions.
Water clarity can add or detract to insect development, as extremely dirty water will see limited mayfly production, while gin clear water can indicate a sterile environment, which may also limit the amount of insects available for perch predation.
Fertile lakes, with medium clear water, provide the balance necessary to host massive numbers of water-borne insects.
Larger lakes have the ability to produce large numbers of giant perch, simply because of their shear size.
That's not to say smaller lakes can't measure up, it's just that the big lakes are better suited to absorbing the effects of heavy fishing pressure.
Smaller lakes will have a more limited amount of fish that fall into the jumbo category, and can become fished down rather quickly. If you find a small lake that's giving up the goods, you better keep it to yourself.
Catching big perch, is not nearly as difficult as finding them. Small to medium sized fish are relatively easy to find, but aren't necessarily the key to locating thelarger of the species.
While some of the same principles of location do apply, that doesn't mean you're on the big ones, just because you happen to be catching small to medium sized fish. Although you can catch big fish among the small ones, you better be ready to move if you're not finding those that fall into the desired size class.
They say that good things come to those who wait, but not now; Not when it comes to finding jumbo perch. As always, mobility is the key, and an absolute necessity, if you're serious about finding the mother load.
Being mobile, does not mean you have to give up comfort. Comfort is important, and can keep you fishing longer, which increases your chance for getting in on the bite of your life.
Portable shelters, like the FishTrap, set-up in seconds, and are quite comfortable. Shelters that take longer to erect, keep you from moving as often as you should. To use the Trap, simply drill a couple of holes, flip the cover over, and you're in business.
Another key to mobility, is being able to drill holes in a big hurry. Although you can get by with a hand auger, during the early part of the season, it doesn't take long before a gas powered model is required, to keep you on the move.
New light weight models, like the Stikemaster Lazer, and the Eskimo
Shark, cut through layers of ice like butter, and will let you punch a bunch of holes in short order.
When it comes to early season perch action, look to the shallows for the key. Good shallow locations include reefs, bars, and bays. One of the first places to develop safe ice, is in the shallow bays, off of the main lake. They are usually the first place you can get to, and should definitely be checked out.
Look for the mouths of bays to concentrate fish, as they are high percentage spots for contacting fish. Start your search as far out as you can safely venture, and begin looking for fish.
Early season perch are readily marked through theice, with a good depthfinder, like the Raytheon L265. The L265 has a flasher bar function, that lets you see what is happening, live. It's display can be viewed under any light conditions, and really shines under direct sunlight. The unit can be easily rigged on a Dave Genz Ice Box, which makes it totally portable.
With a portable depthfinder, you can locate schools of perch, without ever drilling a hole. Simply pour a little water on the ice, and press the transducer tight to the surface. If you don't mark any fish, keep moving, and checking, until you do.
Although perch will often lay belly to the bottom, and can be difficult to mark, you'll almost always have fish riding high, when you're on a large enough school.
After you've marked some fish, it's time to drill a few holes. It usually pays to get quite a few holes drilled up-front, as fish can turn on, and off, at the drop of a hat; And it often takes a move to a fresh hole, to keep icing perch.
One of the quickest ways to a pile of perch, is jigging with a lure like the Jigging Rap, fromNormark. A number two Jigging Rap, tipped with a little bait, is one of the seasons top producers. The Rap can be tipped with a piece of minnow, a waxie, or even plastic, like a Berkley Power Wiggler.
When the fish are really going, you can often get by without tipping with anything. However, most of the time you'll do more catching, if you tip with bait.
To work the Jigging Rap, drop it to the bottom, sweep it up a couple of feet or so, and follow it back down the hole, with the rod tip. Start at the bottom, and keep working it up higher and higher, until you find out where they want it.
When you're on a pile of fish, there'll be zones where the biters will be found. It may be on the bottom, or it may be on top. You won't know, until you try. You may also see that larger fish, come from a specific zone.
After the bait has made it back to rest, give it a little time, before you sweep it again.
You may even try giving the bait a tiny bump, and then wait. Quite often, that little nudge will trip their trigger, especially if the fish are a little sluggish.
Angling for perch used to be something to bide a little time, while waiting for something else tobite. That is no longer the case. In fact, many anglers, (like me), key on perch, and whatever else happens to come along is just icing on the cake (like pike and walleyes).