The Ups and Downs of Hardwater Perch

By: Caleb Wistad & Kyle Boike

Edited By: Blake Tollefson

Come ice season, yellow perch are one of the most targeted species across the Ice Belt. They are found in countless areas and usually in large numbers. They are creatures of many homes. They typically cruise wide expanses of relatively level underwater terrain and rarely hold on vertical structure like bass or many other panfish. Although they may not be big on short vertical moves, perch can be found on some of the shallowest, as well as the deepest areas in the lake and may cover great distances as they graze across these flats like a herd of cattle. If you can find an area featuring a plentiful food source that is within the fish’s preferred depth range, you are likely to find plenty of perch using it.

The Up

Perch are not shy of frequenting shallow water under the ice. Caleb Wistad recalls one of his more shocking discoveries, “One of my most shocking perch discoveries occurred when I was fishing late ice on a small spring-fed lake in northern Wisconsin. I was targeting bluegills and kept finding fish shallower and shallower. I decided to find out just how shallow I could venture in and continue to catch fish. I drilled several holes over a weed bed about 2.5 feet deep and dropped a small tungsten jig into the first hole. The bait was immediately engulfed and a few moments later I was left staring, mouth agape, at enormously fat 13-inch perch. I continued to fish across that weed flat catching perch after big perch, often times watching them swim in and eat my bait a mere 18 inches under my feet. I later discovered when I cleaned some of the smaller fish that they had mainly been feeding on small, thumbnail-sized bluegills that must have been hiding in those shallow weed beds.” When it comes to finding perch in clear, well oxygenated lakes, it seems that you can hardly search too shallow.

The Down

One of the most reliable hard water patterns for yellow perch occurs on relatively deep basin flats in many lakes throughout the ice belt. This basin pattern is typical of large lakes such as Leech & Winnibigoshish in Minnesota, Devils Lake in North Dakota and most of the Great Lakes. Deep is a relative term. It could be defined as 15 feet of water on one lake and may mean 80-100 feet on another. These deep schools of perch are typically focusing on insects such as bloodworms or zooplankton as a food source but can be also be found following schools of shiners or other schooling baitfish. Be prepared to look for perch on these deep flats if your shallow strategy is not putting fish on the ice.

The Thick Stuff

Flooded timber and areas of submerged wood are also effective areas to look for perch. Areas in Western Minnesota and the Dakotas are known to hold countless expanses that include submerged wood or flooded timber. Fish in these types of locales typically key in on small invertebrates and freshwater shrimp.

Up and Down Strategies

Finding perch initially can be a challenge, and it’s not uncommon to require non-stop drilling to locate these golden tigers. Big moves are often necessary to locate larger schools of perch, however, once you’ve found them it’s important to key in on smaller moves to stay on top of them. Regardless of where they’re found perch key in countless different prey choices. Small baitfish, freshwater shrimp, insects and other invertebrates are all on the menu.

Shallow water perch, are more conditioned to ambushing small baitfish in the weeds. An effective approach for these fish includes lures featuring a baitfish profile. The Eurotackle Z-Viber is an absolute dead ringer for the small bluegills and baby perch (yes, yellow perch are infamous cannibals) that these skinny-water perch are used to chasing down. Another great choice is a Soft Lock tungsten jig tipped with a soft plastic minnow imitation such as the Eurotackle Y-Fry or B-Vibe.

A Eurotackle Anisoptera is also an impressive facsimile of a dragonfly larvae, another common shallow water food item for big perch. On deep water flats, flash can be important to draw fish to you. The Eurotackle T-flasher is a shiny tungsten spoon that gets the fish’s attention from a distance and also drops down to fish with lightning speed, which is a huge bonus when targeting deep fish. Once you are on the school and pick off some of the more aggressive fish with a spoon, it’s time to drop down a Eurotackle Original Bloodworm or Gamma Scud on a tungsten jig head to really match the hatch and trigger those finicky biters. In talking with Kyle Boike, red and gold are his top choices for winter perch.

Whether you are searching for hard water perch on a small slough in the Dakotas, massive Sturgeon Bay in Lake Michigan, a cold mountain reservoir in Montana or an expansive Canadian shield lake, you are bound to find perch. Whether you start up shallow or down deep, eventually you will discover their whereabouts and when you do, its game on!


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