Let’s start out by clearing things up a bit. There are a number of fish species called perch but the true perch are only a few species of freshwater fish. For the purposes of this article, we are referring to the Yellow Perch of North America but there is no reason that this will not work for the European Perch which is simply a larger, paler cousin.
If you want to land more of these highly prized, hard fighting, and great eating fish we should probably get started.
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What is a Perch
On the surface, perch may resemble some of the better-known bass or panfish species but are not related. They are a very small family of fishes consisting of three species, all of which will inhabit most waters in their range.
The European Perch is somewhat larger than the Yellow perch which can grow to about 18 inches and weigh as much as 5 pounds. Fish of this size are rare, most of those caught are closer to a foot in length and weigh about a pound.
These fish are an important cultural animal in their native range. Much of the northern U.S. has perch fries as the southern U.S. has catfish fries. They are fished for in competitions year-round in several northern states.
The Perch Habitat & Range
Perch are a fairly hardy fish that can deal with a variety of water temperatures. This leads them to a wide distribution up the Atlantic seaboard from South Carolina to Maine. They also extend across the northwest from Pennsylvania to Colorado and even reaching some areas of Idaho and Washington state. They extend well into Canada and are found in many provinces there.
It may be easier to tell you the areas they are not which are only arid climates, the Ohio and Southern Mississippi Valley south of Kentucky, and a few of the Gulf states. Anywhere else in the U.S., these are a staple sports fish.
Their habitat range is just as widespread. They can be found in lakes, reservoirs, ponds, streams, and rivers. They are often caught ice fishing in the winter and in shallow streams in the warmer months. They prefer clearer water but can inhabit muddy or silty waters when need.
In the U.S. the best place to find Perch would be the Great Lakes with Lake Erie being especially good.
Perch Eating Habits
Perch are carnivorous fish that often feed on other fish species, shellfish, and insects. They are active feeders which makes them both easy to fish for and quite a pleasure to fight. They will take many live baits and lures readily as long as they are moving.
Baits for Purch
Since perch are carnivores, we need to give them a supply of meat if want the best results. The go-to bait for perch has always been minnows which are highly effective, cheap, and available in a variety of sizes.
Nightcrawlers are another great option when fished off a bobber. This is a great way to introduce people to perch fishing but don’t disregard it as a way to catch a ton of fish. Often when they won’t feed on anything else, nightcrawlers will still produce.
A longtime favorite for perch are hellgrammites, leaches, and blood worms. These are favorite summer baits. These are often fished when the perch are running deeper on a couple of different rigs.
Both mealworms and crickets are fairly effective for perch. Both are cheap and readily available at fishing or pet stores. Crickets do not live long on a hook but if you can get them where the perch are, they are a killer bait.
Perch can be somewhat large so don’t be afraid to go with larger baits. As the saying goes, small baits catch a lot of fish, big baits catch big fish. It is all a matter of what you are after.
Lures for Perch
No topic in all of fishing is likely as contentious as lures. This is especially true with both Bass and Perch which, ironically, will willingly take the greatest variety of lures. There are probably few lures that a perch won’t hit but they can be caught on just about anything of appropriate size. However, you will have better luck with some lures more than others.
Inline spinners have always been a favorite bait for perch and can work exceptionally well when fished in appropriate sizes. As an attractor pattern bait, the colors aren’t vital but pick something suitable for water conditions. Whites, blues, and yellows are probably the most commonly fished colors. Black is a reasonable choice if you are fishing clear water.
Though they seem to be falling out of favor in recent years, spoons have always been a very good perch lure. Where buffed silver was the primary spoon color used in the past, the variety has increased drastically. Silver and black is a good all-water combination as well as those that are patterned like scales. If you have never tried these classic baits, it may be time to throw a few in your tackle box.
When it comes more to mimic lures, jigs have probably been the go-to, especially for ice fishing. They can also work very well as the day begins to warm and perch go deeper. This can be an amazing tool for getting into deeper holes effectively. For a little extra effectiveness, you can tip them with cut minnow, leaches or nightcrawler pieces.
One of the most fun lures to use for perch are small crankbaits. Though perch can get rather large, most crankbaits sized for bass are a little too large. Stick with those sized a little smaller. You can even go down in size to crankbaits used for panfish. Rapala makes some very good choices.
There aren’t a lot of commonly used rigs for perch like there are for some of the southern sports fish species. The most common is the Lindy Rig which can be purchased cheaply and is quite effective. This is usually fished on warmer summer days when the fish are running deeper. You can use most live baits this way but leaches and bloodworms are probably the most common.
Some fishermen have had great luck with a simple drop shot rig when used with artificial and even some live baits. They can be fished at a variety of depths and with a large selection of baits. This makes them great for targeting different depts to see where the perch are feeding.
When you first hit the water, don’t underestimate the power of a simple slip bobber. You can quickly adjust your depth to find your target zone and pull in tons of perch in short order. Baited with any of the live bats, this works very well and is probably the number one producer on the great lakes and many smaller water bodies.
While all of the usual spots you may target for any species are effective, perch are more likely to change depts with temperature. By all means stick to drop-offs, weed beds, ledges, and other structure. Just make sure the dept is appropriate for the water temperature and time of year.
In spring, perch are most likely running in streams and lakes that are around 6 to 10 feet deep. Locating them is generally easier as they stick to the areas where most people already fish. Areas like tributaries, weed beds, and rocky shallows are fairly common. This is the start of the spawn and things get tougher as summer approaches.
As temperatures increase, perch can move down to as deep as 30 feet. Most people believe you need a fishfinder to really get on perch at this time of year. While that certainly helps, you can get by if you know your lake well enough. What you want is an area with a soft, muddy bottom in the 20 to 25-foot range.
The best way to get on deeper perch is to use a bottom bouncer tipped with a live bait to locate them. When you know where they are and how deep, switch to jigs. Vertical fishing is probably the most productive and the easiest way to cover an area.
For those who want something a little different, you can go with the Lindy Rig. This was designed to be fished deeper and works very well. Once again, leaches and bloodworms are probably the favorites here but a little nightcrawler can work very well too.
Perch are likely to move back to the shallows briefly around mid-fall before heading deep for winter. Fishing fall perch is much the same as in spring. They will feed about the same with the approach for winter as they do pre-spawn.
We won’t cover ice fishing perch here as the tactics do not deal specifically with perch as much as they do with ice fishing in general. There are many articles on this better suited to answer a very complicated question.
Perch Fishing Tips & Tricks
While there are some tricks and tips for perch fishing, you have to realize that perch are a fairly basic fish to catch and require little more than a bottom fishing rig and some minnows to be effective. If you are new to fishing perch, this is the best method to get started. When you want to start targeting larger fish, there are a few more advanced methods.
In the spring before the fish go deep, the larger perch will often hug the bottom of rocky areas. This can make the harder to find as casting will often just leave you snagged before you ever get a chance to get anything on your hook. Even a fishfinder can be unreliable when they hide themselves this way. Your best bet is to go a troll slowly enough to keep your line vertical. When you find perch, big or small, start jigging. Use a larger jig and bounce it along the bottom. If you are fishing in 10 to 15 feet of water, this is the best way to get the big perch.
As the season progresses and the perch head deeper, the larger and smaller fish will change places. Often the smaller fish will be on the bottom with the larger fish being just a few feet higher in the water column. While this does make them easier to find, it can make it a little harder to present a bait to them. This is where the Lindy Rig comes in. Use a larger rig with baits appropriate for a small walleye if you want to keep the smaller fish at bay.
Fly Fishing for Perch
Though it is not one of the commonly sought after species for fly fishermen, they can be a very fun species to catch on light tackle. They put up a good fight and are a great excuse to work on your wet fly and streamer game. After a morning chasing larger fish, nailing a few perch can be a nice, relaxing close to the day.
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If you are fly fishing for perch, you want to stick with light gear, the same you would use for trout or panfish. Your line should be a sink tip line that can get deep enough around weed beds or rocks to provide a strike. Spring is the best time to try this and you can usually get away with about 6 to 10 feet as a good depth.
Streamers are the best overall pattern to try in a color suited to the water. Coneheads and Clouser Minnows are very good patterns but anything with some good flash and action will work very well. If you want more of a mimic pattern, the muddler minnow is a great pattern that is common for purchase and easy to tie.
A big part of fly fishing is experimentation but this gives you a starting point that will at least get you a few fish in most any water.
If you live in the northern U.S. or Canada, this is probably not new to you. In fact, you may have your own tried and true methods and are just looking to tighten up your game. Hopefully, this helps with some basic advice to get you a few more fish.
If you are from the south, you may have never seen a perch in your life. They are a fish worth catching if for no other reason than their exceptional fight and robust flavor. Whether you live there or are just visiting, take a short detour and try to catch what is among the most important freshwater sports fish in the country.