My son’s favorite fish to pursue under the ice is perch. Active imaginations need something to keep them interested. Perch, along with some other species aren’t too picky about food that is placed in front of their nose. So, naturally, you stand a chance of catching fish and lots of them. Often times perch will not stop trying to get the bait until they can taste it in their mouth. So if you swing and miss on the hook set, just drop the presentation back down and you get another chance almost immediately. The only exception to that is the really, really big ones as they tend to give you one shot at it and then they move on. You have to make those hook-sets count. But all in all, perch fishing is almost a guarantee for stretching your string.
In the winter, yellow perch can be found throughout the water column from out in the depths to two feet of water. They have the perfect natural camouflage to blend into weedy environments which gives them protection from predators such as walleye, bass, and pike. The weedy environment isn’t just for hiding though, it also is a great place for them to find breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Water insects, tiny invertebrates, and minnows will also be around this cover. Find it and you will be in for a treat as many full-grown perch will occupy this space.
Catching perch in and around the cover can be a little tricky if you are looking for numbers. They can be caught in almost any weedbed throughout a lake, provided that there is a decent population in the system. The trouble is getting to an area where it is easy for the fish to see the bait. If you can set up on the edge of where they are, such as a clean bottom area that can be a gold mine. Any time you can be in an area where the perch can easily see the bait, they will swim over to investigate.
If you are in the middle of towering weeds then it will take the fish swimming in close proximity for it to see your bait. Eventually, it will happen but your chances of a lot of encounters drop off significantly. They do swim around and cover a little ground on most weedbeds, but there will always be a hot zone where they will frequent more often.
This is where it pays to do a little underwater research of the adjacent area. Drilling a lot of holes and then hole hopping can certainly help you out here, but there is a better way. Getting an actual picture of what is below is well worth the effort in this type of shallow-water ice fishing. And when it all comes together it makes for an unforgettable day. Often times I will target weedy flats of the main lake basin anywhere from three to ten feet of water depending on the water clarity of the system. I’ll use my GPS to get close to the weedbed and then drill a couple of exploratory holes.
Once the holes are drilled, I immediately drop the Marcum Pursuit camera down and do a quick scan. Then onto the next hole to do the same. I’m looking for the edge of where the thickest cover is and where a good blend of weeds are. From those two quick scans it’s either time to drill a few more exploratory holes or take what you learned and drill close to the good area. Keep in mind that you want to be near to the cover but open enough that nearby fish can see your bait.
In order to be seriously dialed into the spot, cameras are a must. Once you find the spot, you can continue to use the camera to fish as perch are not bothered by cameras at all. Or you can simply look into the hole if the water clarity is good enough or use your flasher. The key is to get set up in the really good area so you can pick away at the perch as they patrol around the edge of the weedbed.
You can literally catch perch on all kinds of baits such as the smaller buck-shot rattle spoons, the Glo-Shot Fire-Belly Spoon, or Eye-Ball Spoon down to the small tungsten ice jigs such as the Impulse Rigged Mini Smelt. Perch have a pretty diverse diet so be more concerned about where you are over what you are using.
If there is weed cover close to the bottom, be sure to keep the bait slightly above them. If it is presented too low then they won’t be able to see it very easily and if you are up too high then oftentimes they will see it but never go after it. This is very common especially if there are predatory fish nearby as they do not want to become their lunch.
Pay attention to what they prefer and then exploit it as much as you can. Picking away at perch in the shallow water is both entertaining and effective. Make sure that you plan to give it a try sometime this winter.