By Jason Freed - Leisure Outdoor Adventures
Perch are one of the tastiest freshwater fish and are a favorite amongst ice anglers everywhere. Catching them through the ice is becoming more difficult but your odds will improve with a solid game plan. You can’t catch em if you don’t know where they live; the search will turn to destroy more often if the “when and where” is understood. A quick study of a detailed contour map or handheld GPS, and consideration of these areas; shallow bays, mudflats and deep basins, will put you on top of the “feed trough”. Hammering into a school of perch is exhilarating, especially when you get into the “Pigs”; those of the 10-14 inch size.
At first ice, shallow bays are a magnet to pig perch and here, the dinner bell rings. These bays often hold the healthiest weeds which in turn hold the most oxygen. Perch will use this area as long as the last hardy stock of bait fish remain. Commit yourself to staying mobile to both locate them and then stay with them. At any time if you get on top of a school of perch and decide you want to set up the portable on them be sure to continue to have a couple different rod set ups ready for these fish. Jigging spoons are a great tool, but don’t forget there are times where those pig perch will get drawn into that tempting fluttering spoon thus reinforcing the notion of flexibility. However don’t be surprised when the perch tell you a kicking fathead minnow dancing in the next hole on your dead stick or bobber set up is even more enticing. For this set up something as simple as an Ice Buster Bobber, split shot, and hook can be deadly or simply switch out the hook for a glow jig such as a Gem N Eye or Forage Minnow jig will do the trick. Set that presentation about a foot from the bottom and be ready! It can be hard to beat for any fisherman the sight of a bobber disappearing down the ice hole and knowing their is a pig perch running with your minnow. Keep in mind Perch are nomads and known to roam in big schools looking for food. If perch are nowhere to be found, in basins or mudflats, it’s worth taking a look in this area, as they are known to move in and out of bays all winter in chase of food.
After the early part of the winter, perch settle back off of the first drop-offs and occupy the mudflats for much of the winter. Mudflats are the breeding ground for larvae and other insects such as, freshwater shrimp or bloodworms, which pig perch love to feed on. These areas are often large and intimidating but well worth your time. Additionally, given the fact that they are preying on the bloodworms and shrimp, you should pay attention to this and try to “match the hatch” so to speak. Look at using many of the different insect baits, some tried and true favorites are Bro’s Bloodworms or Scudbugs. A good flasher will indicate their presence before you drop a line. What this means is to fish the holes where you mark fish with your flasher. This will allow you to hone in on certain pieces of the mudflat that is holding the fish and help you put the pieces of the perch puzzle together. What you may find out is some of your holes might be near clumps of weeds, a transition area between mud and sand, or a contour or slight depth change that is serving as a highway for the fish. Pay attention and ask yourself why this hole is producing and others are not because this will help speed of the process of patterning the fish. If the fish aren’t present or biting, MOVE. You may have to move several times; pig perch are hungry and always looking for the next mudflat meal. At LOA we like to call this moving method on ice, “search and destroy”; you need to move, move, move around the mudflats until you find them. Remember the smart thing to do when using the search and destroy attack on perch is to have a couple different rod set ups to entice those perch as you are hole hopping. Lures such as Forage Minnows, Lindy Flyer Spoons, or Jigging Rapalas are great search type lures to use when looking for aggressive perch. Tip them with a minnow head or larvae and you will have something pig perch have a hard time resisting. Be sure to use different jigging presentations, many times perch will react to the jigging spoon being dropped and pounded into the sand, stirring up the bottom. Most importantly, use your flasher to read the fish and how they are reacting to your jigging presentation, The new zoom features, within the flasher market, allows you to hone in on that attitude of the perch even more.
The most difficult area to fish for “pigs” is a deep basin, but if you love catching numbers of perch, this is sometimes the only place to find them. During the course of the open water season, perch rarely suspend, making them easy to find in the water column. In the middle of winter it is a different story; perch will suspend anywhere from 8-45 feet off of bottom in the deepest water in the lake, 50+ feet. This makes them very difficult to locate, but rewarding in numbers. Drill lots of holes and use a flasher to search and destroy them. Start by looking in the deep basin near the closest piece of structure and at the same depth as the structure. Pay attention to your flasher for bait fish or plankton as the perch will be chasing them throughout the basin and it is often these insects that keep these perch in certain parts of the basin. Be sure to pay attention to potential transition areas, which will vary in every lake. This can be done by simply watching your flasher’s bottom content.
This can be done on your flasher by looking at the bottom read out. A crisper and smaller red band means a hard bottom whereas a a softer bottom will have wider red band with a trailing bottom after it extending farther from the back end of your initial red bottom signal. Be sure not to change your gain on your flasher when checking your holes, that way you can identify these transition areas effectively. Also it is important to use lures that will draw the attention of these perch. Lures such as a Buckshot Rattle Spoon and a Chubby Darter are great baits for making noise under the water to help draw in the interest of the school. Also don’t be afraid to imitate the bugs below by using plastics, such as the new Impulse baits by Northland, tipped on a Northland Hexi Fly jig for example. By using plastics, this allows you to get your bait down quicker without having to rebait between catches. It is also helpful to have friends along to team up and help with the search in these deep basins. It’s a lot of work, but it will sometimes be the only way to produce fish.
Spending a day searching and destroying “pig” perch can be rewarding, but what we all love to do is put the pieces of the puzzle together. Remember, perch fishing can be easy when they are in the shallow bays. After that, perch will pass the first drop-offs and head to the mudflats, they are more dispersed, but with enough patience and effort you can still pile them up. Then, when they head out to suspend over the deepest water in the lake, perch can be tough customers to find, but they are still there for the taking if you can get on top of a school. Good luck this winter and be safe!