The lesson: Perch 101
It appears the spring melt has begun, although nothing is certain when it comes to the weather. The ideal situation would be for a slow melt, with temperatures staying below freezing at night.
If the snow and ice on the lakes melts too quickly, it can put a premature end to the ice fishing season, as well as raising the potential for flooding.
Avid ice anglers know how good the ice fishing can be in March, so they are not anxious for the ice fishing season to end.
Anglers are finally able to forget about walleyes and other gamefish and put all of their attention towards catching panfish.
The nickname "panfish" can be a bit of a misnomer. The idea that all perch, crappies and sunfish should be destined for the frying pan is not exactly true. Panfish populations can be damaged by over harvest just like gamefish, so selective harvest applies to all species.
Perch are not only an important food source for other fish, they are also effective predators themselves. Just about everything in the lakes eats perch, including other perch.
Large schools of perch will feed together and move through areas like a swarm of locust, eating everything that isn't nailed to the bottom of the lake. Insects, minnows, crawfish and other small fish are all fair game to feeding schools of perch.
Perch spawn early in the spring, usually within a few days after the ice is off the lakes, so they are feeding aggressively to provide the nutrients they need to finish gestation of their eggs.
Perch like to feed close to the bottom in areas where the bottom content changes. They like to feed on flats, whether they are shallow weed flats or deep mud flats.
Perch like to be close to structure, preferring the portions of the flats close to a depression or drop-off.
Perch like "edges" between bottom types, because they have more choices for food.
Schools of perch feed competitively with the other members of their school. Anglers will know they are on the right spot when several perch race up to greet their bait as it falls towards the bottom.
Large perch are usually more willing to rise higher off the bottom to chase baits than small fish. Small perch are more hesitant to expose themselves to predators and like to stay close to the bottom.
Experienced anglers will usually try to catch the highest riding fish first, assuming they are the larger fish.
Large perch may be willing to take aggressive presentations like jigging spoons or jigging minnows, which are more efficient for anglers to fish quickly.
Perch like live bait. Most effective presentations involve live bait like minnows, wax worms or eurolarve. Anglers may want to use the whole minnow or just part of the minnow, depending on the bite.
Perch can be super aggressive or they can be finicky. Anglers can start using more aggressive presentations and downsize only if the bite requires it. Anglers may have to resort to using small jigs with eurolarve or wax worms or use dropper rigs below a spoon to catch more perch in neutral or negative feeding moods.
Anglers should expect perch to be traveling in large schools, with the big females traveling together. If the location has perch, anglers should be able to catch one fairly quickly.
Anglers who want to catch fish may have to keep moving until they find perch. Once the pattern is established, anglers can refine their search to similar locations.
Each lake may be different as far as the depth and the type of structure the perch are using. Food is the key. Perch are searching for the areas with the most food so they snack their way through them like someone eating popcorn or nuts.
Perch are vulnerable to over harvest, just like larger fish. Anglers may want to consider being selective of the size perch they want to keep, harvesting perch within a self imposed range and quickly releasing perch larger or smaller than the selected size.
Remember, if jumbo perch were easy to grow, more lakes would have them.
Paul A. Nelson runs the Bemidji Area Lakes Guide Service. He can be contacted by calling 218-759-2235