Yellow Perch, A Fall Strategy…
Few things in fishing are as basic as yellow perch. For the most part this seemingly always cooperative species can be caught in most lakes with little more than some bottom fishing rigs and a bucket full of minnows.
Finding perch action isn’t so hard, but finding action on big perch can be. The fall months are the best possible time to target adult sized perch. Putting a few of these jumbos in the bucket boils down to some subtle refinements in tackle, tactics and even the baits used.
Catching yellow perch often involves the use of common spreader rigs designed to present two hooks and two baits near the bottom. A typical “perch” rig is made of heavy monofilament line about 24 inches in length. On the bottom is a clip that accepts a bell sinker. A few inches above this weight a second clip holds a snelled hook. A few more inches up the rig a second snelled hook is positioned. A barrel swivel normally terminates the rig and provides a place to attach the main line.
Most commercially produced “perch” rigs come with two No. 8 or No. 6 snelled Aberdeen style hooks. The small hooks on a perch rig pose a number of problems.
First, these small hooks are often swallowed by aggressive perch as they feed, making it difficult to unhook caught fish quickly. Also, deep hooked fish must be kept regardless of size. A larger No. 4 sized hook is a better choice for both hooking and easily releasing unwanted perch.
Most perch anglers use the typical spreader rig, but a slightly different approach can add bonus fish to the bucket. Wire spreaders that feature a hoop shaped length of wire are designed to be fished near the bottom, but not touching the bottom.
The hoop style spreader accepts a snelled hook at each end of the wire and the main line attaches in the middle, just above a small weight connected to the hoop. The rig balances in the water and the slightest nibble enables the rig to tip and feed line to the fish. In effect, perch can bite without feeling any resistance.
Hoop style spreaders are very effective at catching perch when they are biting exceptionally light. The down side is that most of the fish hooked will have the bait and hook deep in their throat. Using larger sized snell hooks helps to reduce this problem.
The classic two hook rig gets the most attention in perch fishing, but there are other ways to target perch when they go deep in the fall. One of my favorites is to use a Swedish Pimple and remove the hook. Next take a six inch length of 8# fluorocarbon line and tie a dropper to a No. 6 baitholder hook and attach to the split ring that originally held the spoon’s hook.
The spoon provides great contact with bottom and also has enough flash to attract perch. The dropper eliminates the need for the fish to completely inhale the heavy spoon to get hooked. This is a rig I common use in the winter months and it works wonders on fall perch as well. The rule of thumb is to use a Swedish Pimple just large enough to easily maintain contact with bottom.
Jigs are another option for targeting fall perch. A stand up style jig like the popular Bait Rigs Odd Ball is a good choice as it allows the bait to crash the bottom while keeping the hook point upright and ready for action.
By using super thin six, eight or 10 pound test super braid line, it’s rather easy to maintain bottom contact with jigs as light as 1/16 or 1/8 ounce from an anchored position.
I often rig a small panfish style jig like an Bait Rigs Cobra Panfish jig on the line 12 inches above my jig similar to a drop shot rig. This allows me to double up on the amount of bait in the water and provides a bottom and slightly off bottom presentation.
The typical perch angler is fishing with a six or maybe seven foot spinning rod. Longer eight to 10 foot steelhead style spinning rods are especially useful for perch fishing from an anchored position. The longer rods have a soft tip that makes it tougher for perch to feel resistance and drop the bait. This is especially noticeable when fishing with super braid lines and in deep water.
Okuma produces a rod especially designed for perch fishing in the Celilo line up. This particular model is an ultra light eight foot-six inch two piece rod that features an ultra soft tip for targeting perch, crappie, bluegills and other panfish.
Most perch anglers are fond of fishing with small minnows. Unfortunately, the slightest nibble often tears the bait free and yields few hooked fish.
When using minnows try hooking the bait behind the head with the hook point facing forward. The skin of the minnow is tough enough to prevent it from being easily stripped from the hook. Also, with the hook in this position, most of the fish that bite will be hooked in the top of the mouth.
Another issue when fishing with small minnows is to always keep bait handy for everyone who is fishing. Perch are schooling fish and
aggressive feeders. One way to keep them interested is to always keep lots of bait in the water. The moment there is no bait in the water, you run the risk of the school moving on to greener pastures.
Rather than using one centrally located bait bucket, use several smaller buckets in front of each angler. This speeds up the baiting process and keeps the perch interested longer.
Crayfish are another perch bait that is popular in many areas. Just as effective as crayfish, anglers can substitute fresh frozen, raw shrimp as perch bait. Buy shrimp at the grocery store in one pound frozen packages. Using a sharp knife cut the shrimp into pieces about 1/2 inch long and store them in plastic butter containers. Keep the shrimp frozen until it’s time to fish and after fishing, refreeze any left over shrimp.
A butter tub full of shrimp pieces will supply enough bait for several anglers to fish all day. Because the shrimp stays on the hook very well, numerous fish can be caught without having to rebait. This in turn also keeps the perch hanging around and increases the catch rate.
Any good perch fishermen will tell you the secret to success is to hunt for those large roaming schools of adult fish. The best way to find perch is with a color sonar unit that makes it easy to separate fish from the bottom signal.
Big screen, high resolution color sonar units do such a fine job of isolating perch, it’s hard to imagine
using anything else. Because perch are so often found in relatively deep water, cruising slowly while monitoring the sonar is the only practical way to locate fish.
Schools of perch near the bottom don’t mark as individual fish hooks, but rather as clouds coming up off the bottom several feet. When a solid school of fish has been located, drop a marker float on the spot, idol up wind a little and prepare to drop the anchor.
The science of anchoring is something every perch angler must master. Using too light an anchor and not enough anchor line are the primary reasons that perch anglers struggle with this straight forward means of boat control.
A navy or dan forth style anchor holds well in almost all bottom types. To insure these anchors bite quickly, add about three or four feet of plastic coated chain in front of the anchor.
Regardless of anchor type, heavy anchors hold better and with less line out than lighter anchors. A typical 18 foot fishing boat will require at least a 15 pound anchor and a 20 pound model does a better job.
Anchor rope is another issue. Plan on having at least 100-150 foot of quality 1/2 inch diameter anchor line available. A good rule of thumb is to use a factor of five when determining how much line to play out. To anchor effectively in 20 feet of water can take up to 100 feet of line in windy conditions.
Unless the weather is calm, anchor off the bow of the boat. Once the anchor hits bottom, play out line and watch the sonar unit for signs the boat is drifting over top of the fish. Once you start marking fish, tie off the line and start fishing. If necessary, play out more line occasionally to relocate the school or to target a different part of the school.
A Michigan made product has make my anchoring needs much easier in recent years. It’s called the Anchor Wizard and essentially functions similar to a clutch driven manual downrigger. A wheel holds line and when the handle is turned backwards the clutch is disengaged and the anchor becomes free to sink to bottom trailing the line with it. When the anchor hits bottom and a satisfactory amount of line has been played off the reel spool, a simple half turn of the reel forward locks the wheel in place.
To lift the anchor all you need to do is turn the handle forward and reel in the anchor until it stows in place. With the Anchor Wizard there is never any need to touch the anchor, wet and cold anchor lines or to deal with tangled lines. The spool is large enough to handle 200 feet of line making deep water anchoring no problem.
I mounted my Anchor Wizard to a Minn Kota quick disconnect plate so I can mount my electric motor or the Anchor Wizard as needed in seconds. Slick.
The Anchor Wizard comes in various different models suitable for any size fishing boat. They even have special models for pontoons and a downsized version for kayaks! To learn more about this very useful product visit www.anchorwizard.com.
Fall perch fishing isn’t complicated and the fish are seemingly always willing to bite. I find my most consistent action in depths ranging from 15 to 40 feet of water in the fall. On even the best perch lakes some culling will be required to get a “good” mess, but then again that’s half the fun.