Perch Fishing the Great Lakes
Yellow Perch are one of our favorite species to target. They are not only FANTASTIC table fare, they are very fun to catch. Every style of fishing brings its own different dynamic and perch fishing can be very fun and laid back. We like anchoring over a school of perch and not having to worry about as many things as when we are when trolling. It can be a nice break, especially when the bite is good. Of course finding perch is the starting point of success. We fish for perch most often on Lake Erie but try to mix in Lake Michigan and Lake St Clair and the Detroit River when possible. Finding perch on all 4 of these bodies of water requires a similar tactic, although there are minor differences. When we are on plane and running across the lake, we look for activity tight to the bottom. Everyone's electronics mark/show fish differently depending on the brand, settings, etc. On our Lowrance electronics, we know to look for very small, sharp arches on the bottom when running on plane. The way perch look on plane vs anchored is much different. Once you learn your electronics, it becomes much easier to eliminate water quickly. Setting your transducer to be able to read with clarity at high speed makes a huge difference in finding perch. When scanning for perch on Lake Erie, you have to also understand that the perch areas also hold white perch, white bass, sheepshead, baitfish and catfish. Since the waters are very fertile in the summer months, you will see a lot more on your screen on Lake Erie compared to Lake Michigan, etc. There are just a lot more types of life in the water on Erie vs Lake Michigan during the summer months. With that said, marking yellow perch when anchored is very similar. Once you have spot locked or anchored on top of a school, the bottom will have horizontal bars looking like layers of lasagna. The more layers, the larger the school. Since the boat is at rest, these will be flat lines rather than arches. The bigger schools will show continuous lines across the entire graph because the school is taking up the entire cone of the transducer. When you are fishing a more sporadic area or a smaller school, you may not get the full "lasagna" effect. The shallower you are fishing, the more exaggerated these details will be. Below are screenshots of perch schools that produced limit catches and great action on Lake Erie, Lake Michigan, The Detroit River and Lake St Clair.
You will notice that the marks are very tight to the bottom. When we are walleye fishing, we are looking for arches that are further up in the water column most of the time, so this is a little different. Once you find perch, you will need to stay on top of them. We drop a waypoint when we find a good school. Now of course fish can swim to a new area, but often perch will swim around the same 1/4 mile area for the feeding hours. We use our Terrova trolling motor on spot lock to stay over the school. Anchoring works as well, it just requires a little more work and can disturb the school a little more when dropping the anchor. With yellow perch, you want to keep on them. You don't want to keep a line out of the water for too long. Re-baiting quickly and dropping back down is very important. When ice fishing for perch on Lake St Clair via sight fishing, we learned a lot about these fish. When they are on the feed and the school is fired up, you have to stay on em'. Stay out of the water too long and you will loose their interest and they will often jet on to the next area. Getting a school "fired up" is a great way to start a feeding frenzy. When they are really on the feed, they will literally fight over the bait and run into each other in the process. As far as the bait of choice, we use our Perch Fly Rigs as they flat out catch fish on all bodies of water we have tried them on. We have customers now using these all across the country with great success. Also keep in mind that they work excellent for other panfish, in addition to yellow perch. We make these to be strong enough to take the abuse of non target species, where many other "finesse" rigs will break under the stress of large sheapshead, walleye, etc. These Perch Fly Rigs can be tipped with chunks of minnows, cralwers or whole minnows. The school of fish will tell you what they want. Some days on Lake Erie they want whole minnows, some days they only want the tails or heads of minnows. This also depends on the size of minnows and types of minnows available at the bait shops. In recent years emerald shiners have continued to get harder to find. When you do get your hands on them, they are often 2-4'' in size, which is typically too large for perch. On these days, we cut the large emeralds down into chunks that are typically 1/4- 1/2'' long. There are days where the perch prefer average size golden shiners ( aka goldies ) over chunks of emerald shiners. It's typically hard to beat a perfect size emerald shiner. On Lake Michigan there are days where they prefer the perch fly rig plain with no additional bait. This works out great as it's very quick and easy to get back down without re-baiting. No matter where you are fishing, pay attention to what is working. When you have multiple anglers in the boat, everyone needs to pick up on the finer details and reproduce the tactics that are working. This sounds simple but is easily forgotten when in the moment. We aren't just dangling our bait over the size of the boat with no pattern, there is a small art to it. Some days the fish want the rigs sitting dead still not moving at all. Some days they want the rigs slowly raised off the bottom. Sometimes you have to lay the rig slack on the bottom and slowly tighten the line back up. Whatever is working, just pay attention, tell your buddies and repeat. If the bite goes cold, move or try varying your jigging tactic, changing fly color, etc.
Our most common way to fish for perch is to drop the rig until it hits the bottom. Close the bail and reel up the slack. Keep the rod tip within 1-2' of the waters surface to allow for a decent hookset/rod sweep. Upon the first drop, tighten the line and keep the rig totally still. Many days this is what works and nothing more is needed. If they don't hit after 10 seconds or so, we will lower the rod tip, creating slack and jig the flies. After doing this for a few seconds, bring the line back tight. Once you feel the "peck" of a perch bite, load up the rod/set the hook and start a steady retrieve. We hold the rod with an open grip and let the rod "float" with the waves without raising the weight off the bottom. Many people start off too stiff and their rig moves up and down with the waves. Most often the fish want it tight to the bottom. So you kind of float the rod/your arm to keep the rig tight but not tight enough where you are pulling it off the bottom when a wave rocks the boat. To give "action" we lower the rod tip and put a slight amount of slack in the line and twitch up until the line is tight. After doing this a few times, "kill it" by going back to the rig not moving. This is typically when the fish will hit. If the action is sporadic, we will occasionally pound the bottom with our sinker to help draw them back in. Another thing that you have to learn each day is the type of "bite" that is happening. Not the steadiness of fishing but understanding the bite itself and when to set the hook. First time perch anglers struggle the most when learning how to detect a bite and when to set the hook. Some days the fish "double peck" to get the hook in their mouth. On these days, you have to resist setting the hook on the first peck or you will miss them. Some days its just a solid tap and they engulf the entire fly/minnow at once. Get a feel for it and remember that this varies each day.
Depending on the depth and current you are fishing will dictate the size of sinker you need. On Lake Erie we use 1.5 ounce sinkers most often. We have found that most days the fish want the rig to be still and too light of a weight will cause your rig to drift. Find a weight that will keep your rig straight up and down and your line under the boat. When using spot lock, the boat will move slightly, especially in larger waves. Using a larger weight will help keep your line tight when the boat is wanting to move around some. We use a medium action rod with a fast tip. We use 10# Power Pro braided line on a spinning reel. Like any other fishing, a quality rod and braided line increase your feel and help detect bites better. Some days when the bites are super light, a $20 rod vs a $100 rod is the difference between filling the cooler or not. The same goes for paying up and running braid vs mono for this style of fishing. Another piece of equipment that helps add fish to the cooler but most importantly, helps make a day of perch fishing more enjoyable is our track mount multi-species caddy system. These slide right into your existing track and creates a home for all of your perch gear. This is extremely nice, especially when it's rough.
The quantity and size of fish pulled from a school will depend on many factors. It's up to the angler to decide what they consider a "keeper". We typically keep 8-9'' size yellow perch and up when fishing our home waters in the western basin. Pay attention to the limits in the body of water and area that you are fishing. Lake Erie alone has 3 different catch limits across the Ohio waters of Lake Erie. See the image below showing the limits and zones for the 2022 season. There are no length requirements on perch in Ohio waters of Lake Erie, that is up to the angler. Just make sure you know what boundary water you are fishing as the limit quantity changes in each of the 3 ohio zones.
We hope this blog helps you catch more yellow perch! If you would like to support us and purchase our Perch Fly Rigs, Click HERE to go to the product listing. We also have snaps, line, weights and other accessories in stock. Don't forget to check out our Multi-Species Caddy System to keep all of your perch gear organized during your trip! Good luck fishing!