Yellow perch, like bluegills, tend to inhabit just about every lake in Michigan. But it takes a certain kind of lake or body of water to produce reliable numbers of jumbo yellow bellies. Usually, larger inland lakes in the northern Lower Peninsula, U.P. and Great Lakes bays produce the most consistent catches of perch during the winter. These larger, more expansive bodies of water provide the habitat, predator/prey relationship and abundant food sources that are needed to grow numbers of big perch.
Following is a sampling of winter destinations that are sure to produce the main ingredients of a great perch fry this winter.
Little & Big Glen Lakes
Even though Little Glen and Big Glen lakes are connected they’re like night and day. Big Glen Lake (4,865 acres) is nearly four times as big as Little Glen Lake (1,400 acres). Little Glen Lake has a maximum depth of 13 feet; Big Glen Lake has water as deep as 130 feet. But what they do have in common is that they are both excellent winter perch lakes.
“Usually Little Glen freezes up right about deer season,” said avid ice angler and guide Dave Rose. “It’s usually Christmas before Big Glen has good ice on it. Both are hot for jumbo perch on first ice.” Rose said to expect frantic action in 8 to 9 feet of water on Little Glen as soon as you can get on the ice. A hotspot is where Little Glen Lake narrows where it connects to Big Glen Lake. Use caution when fishing near this area early in the season. Rose said that jumbo yellow bellies in the 10- to 15-inch range are not uncommon then. Rose claims that a lot of the jumbo perch that reside in Big Glen Lake migrate into Little Glen Lake in late fall and early winter. First ice usually produces a hot bite.
Because Big Glen Lake is so deep, it’s slow to freeze. The lake also doesn’t have a lot of structure. Key to finding good numbers of perch on first ice is to locate weeds adjacent to the first drop offs in 15 to 20 feet of water, according to Dave Rose. Prime first-ice hotspots are near the narrows in 5 to 25 feet of water and in the northeast corner of the lake. Later as winter deepens and the ice becomes safe, perch schools roam the 35 to 50-foot depths. The best tactic is to punch lots of holes and keep moving until you locate the schools. Walleye-sized shiner minnows are the ticket for jumbos that will occasionally top 15 inches.
Access to both lakes can be gained at the public access located near the narrows on the east shore of Little Glen Lake. Anglers can also access the lakes via numerous road ends. For more information on bait shops, lodging and amenities in the area contact the Leelanau County Chamber of Commerce at (231) 271-9895 or online at www.leelanauchamber.com.
“The winter perch fishing on Crystal Lake is always good,” stated Dave Bovee of the Backcast Fly Shop in Benzonia. “It’s just a question of how much sorting you want to do. There’s no shortage of perch in the lake, but you need to do some searching to find the good ones.” “Goods ones” in this case are perch that will routinely measure in the 12- to 14-inch range.
“I’ll tell you one of the secrets to catching big perch in Crystal Lake is to use big minnows,” claimed Bovee. “The bigger walleye-sized minnow seem to catch the bigger perch. You can use wigglers and you’ll catch a lot of perch, but you won’t catch many big ones.”
Benzie County’s Crystal Lake is big (9,711 acres) and deep, with spots in excess of 175 feet and slow to freeze. Some of the best winter perch action takes place on the east end of the lake off the town of Beulah. This is the first area of the lake to freeze and anglers do well there in 15 to 25 feet of water on first ice. As ice conditions improve, anglers venture farther out on to the lake. A mid-winter perch hotspot then is off Railroad Point on the lake’s south shore. Anglers take some real jumbos there in water as deep as 70 feet. Again, big minnows seem to catch the biggest perch.
For live bait, tackle and lake maps contact Backcast Fly Shop at (231) 882-5222. For information on lodging and other amenities in the area contact the Benzie County Visitors Bureau at (800) 882-5801 or online at www.visitbenzie.com.
Kalkaska County’s Skegemog Lake is famous for its big Great Lakes muskies, but it’s also home to some outsized perch. Some of the biggest specimens are taken through the ice. Perch in the 10- to 11-inch range are fairly common and perch up to 15 inches aren’t unheard of on Skegemog.
Even though 1,460-acre Skegemog Lake is relatively shallow with only one spot approaching 30 feet, the lake is slow to freeze because of currents running in from the Torch River and out to Elk Lake. Most years it’s late January before anglers can venture safely on to the ice.
A good place to prospect for perch is right off the south shore access off Baggs Rd. Anglers can turn north and find some of the lake’s deepest water or go west to a 15-foot flat that harbors schools of winter perch. A teardrop and wiggler is the best medicine for numbers of perch on Skegemog, but to target the real jumbos go armed with some big shiner minnows.
For information on lodging and accommodation in the area contact the Kalkaska Chamber of Commerce at (231) 258-9103 or online at www.kalkaskami.com.
Mason County’s Hamlin Lake has a reputation as being one of the best winter bluegill lakes in the state and deservedly so, but because of that its productive winter perch fishery goes nearly unnoticed.
You’ve got to move around until you find the schools and even then you’ve got to do some sorting, but if you work at it you can usually come up with a pretty good mess. A lot of the perch are going to be 8 to 10 inches, but you can get into a school of perch that will be 12 inches, too.
Most of the best winter perchin’ on 5,000-acre Hamlin Lake occurs on the lower lake. While the upper lake is shallower with lots of weeds, the lower lake reaches depths of up to 80 feet. The lower lake features steep contours in many locations. Key to finding perch is to locate flats in 25 to 45 feet of water. Hamlin has a rich food supply. Often the perch are regurgitating wigglers when you bring them up, but like most places big perch in Hamlin like meat- big walleye-sized shiner minnows. The best tactic is to use a ½-ounce bell sinker on the bottom to get down quickly, two small treble connected to the mainline with Bear Paw Connectors and a slip bobber. Jigging spoons, lures and teardrops will work too.
Anglers can enjoy hot perch action right into March on Hamlin, but the perch often move much shallower then in a pre-spawn migration. On last ice the biggest yellow bellies can often be found in as little as five or six feet of water.
For live bait, tackle and information on guides contact Captain Chuck’s II Inc 231-843-4458 https://capt-chuck.com/
I was daydreaming, enjoying the local rock station and savoring one of my favorite Nicaraguan cigars when I notice my slip bobber jiggle and then slowly start sinking.
“Walleye,” I said to myself as I reeled up the slack and set the hook. The hook set was met with solid resistance. I gently pumped the fish up from the depths as it tugged against the drag and when it was about 10 feet below the hole I could make out the olive bars on the fish, its orange fins and yellow belly. As the fish neared the hole I excitedly knelt down and scooped 14 inches of yellow perch onto the ice. Simultaneously, I noticed that my second bobber was gone. I scrambled for the rod and a few minutes later a twin to the first perch was flopping on the ice. The action was not fast and furious, but a few hours later I had 14 nice perch on the ice and only one of them was less than 10 inches.
There are a lot of really nice perch in Burt Lake and winter is one of the best times to catch them. Burt Lake has a bounty of forage even though the lake has few weed beds. The pristine water produces plenty of mayfly larva and other aquatic insects and minnows that perch and walleyes can grow fat on. At 17, 260-acres, perch in Burt Lake have plenty of room to roam and moving and cutting holes is key to finding them and staying on top of them. Prime winter locations include the mouth of Maple Bay, off Kingsley Beach, off Resort Road, and on the flats west of Greenman Point.
Like most places, Burt Lake’s biggest perch have an affinity for big minnows. The big shiners also appeal to the Burt’s walleyes. For live bait, tackle and lake maps contact Young’s Bait at (231) 548-5286.
Alcona County’s Hubbard Lake is famous for its perch. “Hubbard Lake produces some jumbo perch up to 15 inches,” said Northern Lake Huron fisheries biologist Tim Cwalinski. “The perch numbers tend to be cyclic, but there’s a fair number of medium-sized perch in the lake, too.” Cwalinski added that Hubbard Lake had a good population of shiners, minnows and other invertebrates that provide excellent perch forage. Most perch caught through the ice on Hubbard average a solid 10 inches.
Finding the perch schools on expansive 8,850 acre Hubbard Lake is the difficult part. A shantytown develops each winter on the north and south ends of the lake in 30 to 50 feet of water. Perch schools take up residence there during mid-winter and offer consistent action. Try the usual assortment of baits including wax worms, wigglers and minnows. Hotspots on first ice include the areas around the weed beds in East and North bays. Early and late in the season ice anglers congregate out from Churchill Point and off Harwood Point too.
Public access to Hubbard Lake can be gained at Backus Beach, on East Bay and at North Bay. For information on accommodations, bait shops and guides in the area contact the Alpena Convention & Visitors Bureau at (989) 354-4181 or online at www.alpenacvb.com.
North Manistique Lake
Luce County’s North Manistique Lake (also called Round Lake) is one of the U.P.’s premier winter perch lakes. The 1,722-acre lake produces consistent perch catches for winter anglers with some of the biggest specimens pushing 14 inches.
Located near the town of Curtis, North Manistique Lake has depths of up to 50 feet, which is where you’re likely to find the perch once winter sets in. On first ice, probing around the artificial reefs found on the west and north shores can pay big dividends. The lake’s bottom is mostly sand with some gravel and with sparse weed growth any type of structure is likely to attract schools of perch. A good starting point is right off the Luce County Park located on the lake’s south shore. Most of the perch you’ll encounter will be 8 to 10-inch “eaters,” but the lake also gives up some footlong jumbos with regularity.
For more information on bait shops and accommodations in the area contact the Curtis Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau at (800) 652-8784 or online at www.manistiquelakesarea.com.
If you want to get a jump on the perch ice fishing season head to Gogebic County’s Lake Gogebic. You can probably head out for some ice fishing now! Winter comes early to this part of Michigan.
Some of the best perch action of the year on Lake Gogebic is on first ice. The fish are relatively shallow then and actively feeding. Good places to prospect are on either end of the lake in 10 to 20 feet of water and around the abundant fish shelters that have been placed around the lake. As winter deepens, the perch schools concentrate in the deeper water in the center of the lake. Wigglers are a favorite food of Lake Gogebic perch and they have been known to follow foraging schools of suckers that stir up the bottom and expose the wigglers. Don’t forget to try a good-sized minnow though when wigglers aren’t producing. Expect to catch plenty of yellowbellies up to a foot long plus some bonus walleyes.
For more information on perch ice fishing opportunities on Lake Gogebic contact Bear’s Nine Pines Resort at (906) 842-3361 http://www.ninepinesresort.com.
I can’t think of anything better than a heaping platter of golden perch fillets. Make sure to get out and get some this winter.