Spring into Perch

By Babe Winkelman

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[May 15, 2014]  One of my favorite late-ice pursuits in the Midwest is for big perch. They're a blast to catch and they fight as well as they taste when you treat your family to dinner. But after the last chunks of winter ice have turned blue again, that doesn't mean the fun has to end. In fact, the pre-spawn period after ice-out is one of the best times to go perching!

The first step in your open-water spring attack is to select the right lake. While most lakes have perch, there are definitely particular fisheries that have the ideal ecosystem for growing BIG perch. Choose your lake based on your previous experiences there, or by doing some research to determine that a particular lake has good quantities of quality fish.

Once you have a lake picked out, identify the most likely areas to find pre-spawn fish. Perch prefer to spawn where there's weed cover and a hard bottom. To match those conditions, nothing beats reeds. Otherwise known as bullrushes or pencil grass, reeds grow from hard, sandy bottom and give perch the ideal mix they want for spawning. If there are some other plant species like cabbage or coontail growing in and around the reeds, that's even better.

After locating a nice reed bed, investigate the waters surrounding it to try and find the transition areas (and depths) where the hard sand meets a softer, muddier bottom. The perch will very likely be holding close to that transition, eagerly feeding on baitfish, crayfish and emerging aquatic bugs. Pay close attention to your sonar unit as you scout these areas. If you spot fish on your screen, or with your eyes, it's time to get busy.

Covering Water

A great way to intercept a lot of pre-spawn perch is to cover a lot of water on the depth and "line" that seems to be holding most of the fish. This is best done by getting on the electric trolling motor and moving along that line while trolling a good perch bait. A jig and minnow is a proven performer, as are small crank baits, jigs with soft plastics, in-line spinners, and even small spoons.

Zeroing In

Often, you'll find pods of perch actively feeding in a relatively small area (versus being spread out on a contour line or transition point). When you do, hang back at casting distance and pitch baits into the spot. This can be a great time to attack with a slip bobber with a jig and minnow, leech, or waxworms.

When you catch a fat, scrappy perch that's been gorging, he will often regurgitate food when you get him in the boat. Pay attention to what he's been eating. Whether it's minnows, tiny sunfish, crayfish, blood worms or whatever, select a bait that most closely approximates the preferred forage. If they have a craving for a particular prey and you're not feeding it to them, sometimes they won't give your bait a second look.

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Like with any sport, having the right gear on game day is important. For perch fishing, I recommend using a long, light spinning outfit spooled with 4-6 pound test monofilament. I really like an 8-foot rod for big, sweeping hooksets - especially when long-line trolling. And I like that lighter line for the way it naturally presents a bait.

Move and Adapt

As the spring progresses and water temperatures warm, the perch will move from their pre-spawn locations out away from cover and begin making beds in and around the reeds and other vegetation. Trial and error will bring you to the fish's location, and "sight fishing" will become more important. Get yourself some good polarized sunglasses if you don't have any, and look carefully because a perch's colors and vertical bars make him very invisible in the bullrushes.

Once you get into some jumbos, take a meal home for the family. They're absolutely top-rate on the plate. But remember, pre-spawn and spawning fish can be very vulnerable during the mating season. We need to let them do their thing to protect the fishery. So fish and harvest responsibly, have fun, and mark those GPS waypoints so you can go back next year for big, beautiful perch!

Good Fishing.


Babe Winkelman hosts "Good Fishing" and "Outdoor Secrets," the most-watched fishing and hunting programs on television. Tune in on NBC Sports Network, Destination America, Velocity, Time Warner Sports Texas & New York, and many local broadcast channels. Visit Winkelman.com for airtimes and more information. Follow Babe Winkelman on Facebook and Twitter.

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