Riege: Perch Jerkin’ Through the Ice

Published 7:43 pm Wednesday, December 12, 2012

By Bob & Ginny Riege

As the Rapala Minnow Spoon fell through the water, my portable Vexilar flasher picked it up and tracked its descent on the screen. I stopped the spoon a foot off the bottom. After pausing for a moment, I lifted the rod tip one inch and let it drop.

After about five minutes of this type of action I was ready to move to a new location, when all of a sudden I noticed a wide flash at about 20 feet. I quickly released the spool and watched the Minnow Spoon sink to about 18 feet. The perch immediately rose to the lure and I tightened the line and set the hook. A nice jumbo perch poked its head into the hole in the ice and I was off to a great day of ice fishing.

Ginny hooks up with a perch while fishing Leech Lake. -- Photo submitted by Bob Riege

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Probably one of the most overlooked fish is the perch. Most of the time people look at these fish as bait stealing, pesky, nuisance fish that cause much more trouble than they are worth. Many people even will discard them as rough fish and use them as fertilizer in their gardens.

In some locations the perch is the best fish to catch. People who live in the Lake Michigan or Lake Erie areas have always viewed the perch as the prime fish to catch, even when salmon and walleye numbers are at an all time high. You can visit local cafes where perch adorn the walls rather than trophy musky or walleyes. Here in Minnesota the perch seems to be one of the most sought after fish when ice covers most of the lakes. In fact, ice fishing season gives most anglers a chance to get out and tie into some of the jumbo perch.

By late fall, perch have set up in areas that will produce at first ice. When looking for a productive perch lake, I usually look for a lake that is large. It seems that in order to grow the Jumbo perch you need a lot of water. For example, Mille Lacs Lake in Central Minnesota is perfect for these dandy Jumbo perch. Also lakes like Devils Lake in North Dakota are great because the large lakes are not subject to fishing pressure and anglers will not really hurt this prolific fish. These fish are so prolific that on a normal large lake anglers probably won’t make a dent in their population.

As winter ice fishing progresses some tactics have to be changed. Early in the season the action is fast and as the ice gets thicker and the days colder the fish have a tendency to slow down and move. In fact, in most bodies of water mobility is crucial if you want to stay on fish.

What I try to do is to drill a series of holes along a particular structure. I will start shallow and drill a couple of holes about six feet apart. Then I will move along the breakline of this structure until I reach a depth of about 22 feet or so. Depending on the weather I usually like to start in the shallow areas to see what type of activity is there first. Then I move along my series of holes until I reach a productive hole and the active depth. As a rule of thumb I don’t spend more than 15 minutes in one particular area before moving on. I don’t over-jig either, my rod tip constantly quivers about one-eighth to 1/16 of an inch. Or it remains stationary. When selecting an area to fish you might have to come rigged up with a variety of lures and color combinations. Don’t forget to bring along those minnows. I like to tip my spoons with a head of a fathead minnow that way both flash, and smell are a triggering factor to the perch. Your lure selection might have to also change. Right now on many lakes chrome/blue Rapala Minnow Spoons are hot. If that color isn’t productive move on to other colors. The style and shape of the Minnow Spoon allows it to flutter as it falls. This will simulate a wounded minnow and turn those inactive fish into active ones. Another type of lure that suspends the rate of fall is the Jigging Rapala. I like to start with a tiny #2 Jigging Rapala and tip the center treble hook with either a tasty morsel of the fathead, either the head or the tail. These types of jigs have a swimming action and they dart as they fall. This will give the fish an impression that minnows are darting and swimming towards them and escaping from them and it will trigger a response from the perch.

Another rule of thumb is to be conscience of size of your bait. The old adage that the larger the bait, the larger the fish,” will hold true, but if the fish turn off, try a smaller size and you might be surprised.

The most successful method of catching perch that I’ve found is a jig and crappie minnow combination. Granted, buying minnows can often yield a real hodge-podge of minnow types. But correct minnow type and size are important factors when you’re out on the ice. One- to two-inch shiners, fatheads, chubs and shad produce the best results. My advice: Know your bait and bait stores, and only buy good quality stock.

How to hook your minnow is simply a matter of common sense based on the presentation. For example, when stationary over the hole, hook the minnow lightly in the back just behind the dorsal fin, taking care not to break the spine. If jigging, hook the minnow upward through the lower jaw and out the skull, or hook it through the eyes. Hooking your minnow properly will ensure natural-appearing bait, and likewise, better results

With the advent of the ice fishing season upon us, the angler needs a few tricks to improve his angling success. One of these techniques might be trying a different type of line. Being a line watcher, over the years, has improved my catch. The best line to see is the high visibility monofilament line, like Trilene Micro Ice 2-4 lb. class. This clear steel color line stands out on the ice or snow, but hides underwater. Needless to say, watch the line as it makes a descent into your fish hole. What happens? Does the line stop quickly? Does the line move rapidly towards the bottom? Or does the line move sideways? Any of these movements should trigger a response by you to set the hook!

Of course, when fishing light jigs you should also fish with light line. I use two- to four-pound line to ensure proper action from my lure. Be sure to check the position of the knot on your jig so that it hangs properly. After catching a fish, recheck to see if the knot is still in the correct position. Also, check the line for abrasion. Light line is more prone to getting nicks from the fish itself or rough edging on the ice hole, so check your line with you lips rather than your fingers. Why? Well, I don’t know about you, but my lips are more sensitive than my usually cold fingers. With the diameter of the line so small, nick detection is crucial to ensuring good tensile strength.

Winter perch are also affected by cold front conditions. When the weather on the surface of the lake is poor or very cold you will notice a decline in fish activity. You really need to time your fishing trips to avoid these conditions if at all possible. But, of all the fish that are taken during the winter months you will have the most luck with the perch. It seems no matter what, you can usually get a few to bite.