Riege: Finding a greater appreciation for perch

Published 6:41pm Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The perch is kind of like the life long friend whose loyalty we too often take for granted. It is always there, ready to take up the slack when action from a more glamorous or sporting fish stalls, ready to provide us with enjoyable fishing action, any time of the year.

They are the close relative to the walleye and sauger and hold their own in table quality alongside those two. But in many ways they resemble panfish, too, and are often considered one of that group. Like crappies and bluegills, perch are very numerous in many lakes, even to the point of overpopulation of too small fish. Whether they are neglected by anglers or eagerly pursued, the fishing pressure has very little effect on any lake’s perch population.

Whatever the size of the perch, it generally swims within a school of its brethren, in search of insects, small crayfish, snails and small fish. Schools of perch generally haunt deep waters in midday and shallow waters in morning and evening. But that’s only a general rule; many times I’ve caught perch from the same spot all day long. A more important rule is that a school of perch contains mainly fish of the same age and size.

Perch are available nearly everywhere and catchable by almost any method. The best lakes are those with clear and cool water with sandy or rocky bottoms. It matters little whether you tend a cane pole from a dock or shoreline or dangle bait on fancy spinning gear from an expensive boat far offshore; either way, perch are likely to be nearby and you’d be hard pressed not to catch them.

Although many methods will catch perch, most of them have one thing in common; they call for live bait. Perch have voracious appetites, so you need only offer them something on their natural menu.

Millions of perch have been caught on worms, nightcrawlers, grasshoppers and crickets. In some areas crayfish and crayfish tails or meat are rated tops; elsewhere, especially the Great Lakes piers and breakwaters “wigglers” the larval from mayflies, provide fast action.

Minnows are probably used for perch more than any other live bait, especially those in the 1 to 3 inch size range. Fill your minnow buckets with them at the bait shop because if the action lives up to your expectations, perch will quickly run through a lot of bait.

When I’ fishing strictly for perch, I like to use a two hook setup known locally as a perch, crappie or panfish rig. These have a large bell sinker on the bottom, with two snelled hooks extended out from the main line via wire spreaders. Each hook is a long shanked size 6 or 8. The long shank is mighty helpful when a perch has swallowed the hook, as it often will.

On open water, drift fishing is another good method for perch. The presence of other boats can be your first tip to the presence of fishable numbers of perch. Approach such a group, cut the motor and drift.

To locate perch by drifting, just bait up and cast out, tightening up the line so the sinker’s just touching bottom. Then watch and feel for the tap-tap-tap of a feeding perch on the line. You’ll quickly learn whether that fish is large or small, keep drifting. If you land a nice one you might want to slip an anchor over the side and fish that particular school before it moves on.

Perch, at any time of the year, are most often found within a foot or so of the bottom. In some lakes they’ll stay in shallow water all year; in others you may have to go as deep as 20 or even 50 feet to locate them in midsummer.

Picture if you will a remote lake, and grease popping in the frying pan, heated from below by an armload of wood gathered near the campsite. One by one the fillets are rolled in pancake flour, set adrift in the hot oil and turned when their edges turn golden brown. When each fillet is done it is transferred to a paper towel in a tin plate and, when excess oil is drained away, quickly shifted to a plate. The tasty fillets make it easy to give perch the respect that they deserved.


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