A great demand for this relatively easy to catch and very tasty panfish…
Yellow perch are one of the most popular panfish fisheries in Northern Michigan and the Great Lakes. When I started my fisheries career in the late 1970s, yellow perch were overabundant in many inland lakes in Northern Michigan. Yellow perch fisheries were strong in most Michigan waters of the Great Lakes. Michigan had no angler bag limit and manual thinning of perch was routinely conducted by Upper Peninsula DNR fisheries personnel. Many perch anglers used five-gallon buckets to measure their perch catches out of U.P. lakes.
Michigan eventually considered protecting yellow perch with an extremely liberal bag limit of 50 perch per day in 1980, although in 1982 that was liberalized again to limit to 50 perch per day in the U.P .and no bag limit in the rest of the state. In 1990 it changed to 50 in the U.P. and 100 perch per day in the rest of the state. In 1993 a seven-inch minimum size limit (MSL) was added to yellow perch for just the Lake Huron waters of Mackinac County. The changes continued in 1993 and all state inland waters were given a 50 perch bag limit with 100 bag limit on the Great Lakes and connecting waters.
In 1995 the entire state and Great Lakes waters went to 50 perch per day bag limit and retained the seven-inch MSL on the Les Cheneaux Islands. The change in 1996 saw perch regulations to add a seven-inch MSL on the St Marys River and dropping the Lake Michigan bag limit to 35 per day south of the 45th parallel excluding Grand Traverse Bays. Michigan perch regulations stabilized for a few years until 2019 when the state bag limit was reduced to 25 except Lake Erie where the bag limit remained at 50.
Our neighboring states of Wisconsin and Minnesota recognized a major decline of inland yellow perch and dropped their bag limits to 25 and 20 per day respectively over 20 years ago. Lake Gogebic perch anglers were concerned about perch populations and size structure in the recent past. In 2012 the Lake Gogebic perch regulations were changed to reduce the daily bag limit to 25, where only five perch could be 12 inches or greater.
These reductions in perch bag limits and additions of MSLs were all steps taken to protect this highly sought-after pan fish. There is great demand by panfish anglers for this relatively easy to catch and very tasty panfish.
In the 1970s and 1980s yellow perch were overabundant and slow growing in a majority of Upper Peninsula inland lakes. During that period, a major fisheries management issue was dealing with the perch overpopulations, with the management goal of improving perch growth rates. One of the common management activities conducted by DNR fisheries managers was to thin the perch populations with fyke (trap) nets and transfer the excess perch to the few waters with poor perch populations. One example, in 1981 and 1985 a total of 62,900 pounds of yellow perch were thinned from Chicagon Lake, with a large percentage of those being transferred to Michigamme Reservoir (both in Iron County) where the perch population was consistently poor. Subsequent surveys indicated the growth rate of the remaining yellow perch in Chicagon Lake increased and the perch population in the Michigamme Reservoir was temporarily improved.
During the 1990s inland yellow perch populations declined in most inland lakes across the Upper Peninsula. The perch population decline occurred in lakes with perch predators like walleye and also in waters where walleye were not present. The question was raised by some; could the perch thinning be the cause?
Although this management tool was only used in a few of the region’s perch lakes, the overall population decline occurred in almost all the large number of the region’s perch lakes. In addition, the regional perch decline occurred significantly after that management effort would have contributed to that decline. Although yellow perch are a very prolific fish species it is not clear what environmental factors have combined to hold perch populations down for the last two decades.
Yellow perch are a highly prized panfish among northern Michigan and tourist anglers. During the perch abundance period in the 1970s and ’80s large numbers of anglers targeted Upper Peninsula lakes for yellow perch, although the pressure was spread out among a number of lakes with strong perch populations. After the regional perch decline, occasionally an area lake’s perch population would improve. However, more intense fishing pressure focused on those waters and quickly cropped the perch fisheries down. This same pattern has happened consistently on a number of lakes with perch fisheries, during the last two decades.
Local fish managers suspended perch removals in the 1990s, except in rare cases such as when perch were overrunning single species trout lakes (eg. Hannah Webb Lake, Iron County) where they were illegally introduced. During the 1990s source lakes of overabundant perch were rare but lakes that could use a boost in perch populations were becoming more common.
All perch fisherman love to catch good numbers of “jumbo” perch. Occasionally this is possible in the Great Lakes when perch populations are strong and larger fish are concentrated on a significant structure like power plant water intake structures or break walls. In inland lakes I have not observed large numbers of larger perch in a school. In decades of conducting electrofishing surveys and considerable snorkeling I have often seen schools of small or medium size yellow perch (up to about 8 inches). In inland lakes I have commonly observed large yellow perch as individuals spread out in good habitat and forage conditions. In my experience, to target jumbo perch inland is difficult and to catch multiple yellow perch an angler would have to move regularly to seek out active large perch.
Yellow perch feed on a variety of larval aquatic insects, aquatic invertebrates, small crayfish and juvenile fish and eggs. Most anglers use live bait for perch from wigglers (larval burrowing mayflies), wax worms, worms and occasionally small minnows. Yellow perch are typically found in the shallows near weed beds although at times they may move into moderately deep water to find a food source like burrowing mayflies. Perch feed during daylight hours and are inactive at night. Yellow perch are one common prey species for walleye and northern pike and are an important part of the forage base in northern Michigan inland lakes.
Perch remain active throughout the winter and are a preferred ice fishing target of ice anglers. Most ice anglers drill lots of holes and move constantly on weed flats and near structure to find active perch. If you like to eat fish, perch are a good panfish to target. In inland northern Michigan waters, perch can often be located while ice fishing for northern pike or walleye with tip ups. By drilling enough holes to locate the perch an angler can often catch enough perch to make a meal or two for the family. Most anglers will tell you it is hard to beat a fresh meal of perch fillets.n