Top 4 Minnesota Perch Lakes: Veteran ice guide, Brian “Bro” Brosdahl, shares intel for more and bigger, spiny-finned specimens this winter.
BEMIDJI, Minn. (November 7, 2022) – When it comes it ice fishing, it’s hard to beat a jumbo perch bite. They’re a blast to catch and even better, they’re some of the best-eating freshwater fish on the planet. Of course, you’ve gotta find ‘em first…
“One thing Minnesota has is a number of easy-to-get-to lakes often with plowed roads close to high-probability jumbo perch areas,” offers Bro. “But not every lake has the right habitat to grow them; they’re either lacking vegetation, forage, or something’s missing in the chain. Depending on year classes, lakes can be stellar or poor when it comes to jumbos.”
“Right now, there are good numbers of larger year classes coming up on Leech,” shares Bro. “It’s not uncommon for ice anglers to catch 12- and 13-inch perch on Leech. Personally, I’ve seen them up to 15 inches.”
In terms of high-probability perch locations on Leech, Bro advises searching out weed edges and expansive flats near rock piles.
“One of the key things to note about perch fishing is they feed on everything from crawfish, minnows, to young-of-the-year of their own species, to bloodworms and other larvae. So small spoons like the Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon or Buck-Shot Coffin Spoon in perch patterns work well. An 1/8-ounce—or ¼-ounce when they’re aggressive—is ideal. But my number one favorite spoon is the Northland Bro Bug Spoon in an 1/8th or a ¼-ounce with a small minnow head, waxworms, or maggots,” shares Bro.
Bro says another lake that has jumbo perch is Winnibigoshish, which has a long history of producing sizeable perch. “Right now, there are decent numbers of bigger perch in the system besides the obvious walleye bite. You’ll catch both on Winnie,” offers Bro. “It’s always been a top Minnesota ice fishing destination and now anglers are catching more and bigger perch.”
Lake of the Woods
A sleeper Minnesota jumbo perch destination is Lake of the Woods, visited by thousands and thousands of ice anglers each winter for its stellar walleye and sauger bite.
“You don’t get numbers, but what you do catch are plus-sized. A good perch day on LOTW is a dozen, but they’re generally big. There have been several perch caught over two pounds the past couple years by walleye anglers. It’s definitely a trophy hang-out. Personally, I caught a 16-incher over two pounds on LOTW, which trumps the size of fish I caught on Lake Cascade in Idaho, reputedly the country’s top jumbo perch destination.”
Mississippi River Backwaters
“And let’s not forget about the Mississippi River backwaters, especially Pools 8 and 9,” notes Bro. “I don’t get to fish there as much as I’d like, but it’s another Minnesota destination for trophy perch.”
He says the Mississippi backwaters can be quite shallow, with perch in as little as a foot of water to 10 feet or so.
“The big thing you’ve gotta remember on the river backwaters is to exercise caution. With current and the constant movements of a river system, ice can be sketchy. Always carry a spud bar, throw rope, wear your flotation ice suit or a PFD, and take it slow to find your spots,” advises Bro.
How To Fish ‘Em
If perch are feeding on minnows or their own young-of-the-year, Bro is bullish on spoons. And with Minnesota fishing regulations allowing two lines on the ice per angler, Bro also employs a deadstick while jigging any number of Northland spoons depending on the bite.
“I typically use a 32-inch St. Croix CCI ‘Perch Seeker’ as a deadstick in a rod holder while actively jigging another hole,” says Bro. “I soak a minnow with the reel bail open and looped underneath a rubber band so the fish can easily pull out the line and run when they grab the bait. There are some slick tip-up options out now that allow you to put your rod in them—as well as bait-feeding reels for deadsticking meat—but me, I’m old school. Rubber bands don’t cost nothing.”
“A lively minnow on a dropshot rig also works wonders,” shares Bro. “Put a ¼-ounce sinker on the bottom and a smaller-size Gamakatsu colored hook a foot to two feet—sometimes even higher—above the sinker. Fact is, clear-water perch will feed up six to eight feet off the bottom. In these situations, I’ll use a big gold Northland Buck-Shot Coffin Spoon to call the fish in and then switch to a Bro Bug Spoon. And if they’re difficult, a Tungsten Mud Bug Jig loaded with waxworms or maggots or a minnow-head seals the deal.”
Besides seducing neutral to negative fish, when perch are nosing into the mud feeding on emerging larvae, Bro will also switch to small tungsten jig and microplastics combinations.
“There are times during the winter when perch will gorge on bloodworms and literally cough them up in the hole when you catch them. That’s a cue to fish something like Northland’s pre-rigged tungsten and bloodworm imitator.
“Northland’s Impulse Rigged Mayfly is another presentation that catches lots of bottom-feeding perch, too,” advises Bro. “It catches as many fish as live mayfly nymphs—aka “wigglers”—which are pretty difficult to find at baitshops. The Impulse Mayfly fixes that, and they don’t fall apart after one fish.”
Final Thoughts: Top 4 Minnesota Perch Lakes
A hot perch bite can be about as fun as anything on ice. Sure, you’ve gotta sort through a lot of year classes for keepers, but there’s action, which makes it fun fishing for the entire family or newbies to the sport.
So what size are ‘keepers’ in Minnesota?
“If I’m going to eat perch, I sort out the 9 to 11 inchers. Those are perfect for the table,” concludes Bro. “Once they hit the foot-long mark they’re for photos, not eating.