Not long ago, I wrote an article for a major ice fishing publication about a yellow perch fishing technique that’s incredibly popular in my area, but somehow continues to stay under the radar. The article was merely a brief mention, but since that time I’ve received a number of inquiries regarding the specifics of the presentation. The technique I’m referring to is fishing with bait-less wobbling spoons, known locally as “fishing hardbeads”. It began in the Saginaw Bay area, has taken Lake St. Clair by storm, and seems to work wherever perch are relatively shallow. The technique is designed to excite the fish into a feeding frenzy, and then take advantage of their gluttonous attitude. When done properly, this method of fishing may be the quickest ever single-hook method for catching perch. However, getting good at this type of fishing takes a bit of experience, and a little know-how.
Yellow perch are cool-water fish, and voracious feeders throughout the calendar year. Even in the bitter cold water of winter, perch feed aggressively, often in very shallow water. And, although this technique can work deep, it’s at it best in these ultra-shallow haunts of feeding schools.
The technique begins with the proper lures and tackle. The most popular baits in Lower Michigan are locally made lures called Ken’s Hooks, as well as Guster Spoons. Each is a relatively long, thin slab of steel that has been fashioned to dart and wobble when lifted and dropped. The fisherman imparts the action with short, quick jerks of the rod, and, when allowed to fall, these “spoons” kick out to the side and wobble slowly down. The lures themselves are often quite large by perch fishing standards, and don’t require any bait at all. Each is dressed with a small plastic bead on the bend of the hook, and it’s this bead that the perch key on and bite – much like an egg or other bait on the belly hook of a Jigging Rapala. So the “lure” is more or less just an attractor, made to mimic a school of shiners or small minnows, and the bead is the “bait”. When a fish is hooked, it’s quickly lifted out of the hole, removed, and the lure goes right back in the water, with little downtime. These large lures sink quickly back into the strike zone, ready for another bite. When the fish are fired up, a fisherman can be icing perch every few seconds. Experienced fishermen know to bring the lure higher and higher in the water column with each drop, mimicking a school of minnows forced to the surface by the feeding perch. This entices even more aggressive behavior from the perch, and allows the angler to catch them even faster. A medium-light action rod, like a Jason Mitchel 26” perch rod, is perfect for the technique when combined with 2lb Sufix Ice Magic. Lure colors can be kept simple – chromes and gold. Often times the bead color is the variable, with red and glow colors being most popular.
Water clarity plays a big factor in this technique as well. The bread and butter of fishing “hardbeads” is ultra clear water, where perch can be called in from long distances. Often times it possible to sight fish perch in this part of the country from a Fish Trap, and the “run and gun” approach proves to be the best method. Other times of year, specifically at early ice, water color is often darker and requires more thorough fishing. During these times, a depth finder proves invaluable. I can tune a Humminbird flasher to show my bait as one color, approaching fish as another, and weeds as a third. When fish approach, often times the key is to increase your speed and jigging action to force a reaction strike from them. Experimenting is the key, but the fish must be visible, either by eyesight or flasher beam.
This year try the hardbead method for your perch fishing. Get a small selection of lures, don’t be intimidated by their size, and fish them. Fish them when you’re around feeding fish – you’ll be surprised how effective these lures are. If you’re like me, they’ll be one of your primary choices very shortly thereafter.