Love of Perch continues….
From late fall, when the water is still open through the early first ice stage, catching is relatively easy once you find them. But when winter ice is well establish things get a little tougher. There is still plenty of fish and if size doesn’t matter you still find them just about anywhere. But this is the time the experts shine, both in location, tackle and technique.
Winter perching can be thought of in three major stages, first ice, mid- winter, and last ice. All have their own distinct characteristics but the time that most ice anglers are out in full force can be the least productive unless you have an idea of where to find and catch them. Experienced ice hut operators know the transition periods. It is their job to keep anglers on fish through as much of the winter as possible. They know every deep weed line or flat, bottom impression, transition area, and shoal in their area. They know the feeding cycles and circles perch travel during different parts of the winter. When their clients are finding it difficult to catch fish that’s a clear signal the transition is underway.
During mid winter fish tend to go deeper and that can make them more difficult to find on a large lake. There are exceptions to the rule. Fish of all sizes can often be found around marinas or other man made structures closer to shore for most of the year. On average, schools of fish can be anywhere from 20 to 60 FOW. By the time the February blahs set in the ardent perchers move deeper and they move often. There is no secret depth and various regions of the lake hold fish at different depths. Leon Maloney a veteran perch guide and designer of the Simcoe Bug, a popular hand tied bait says: “During mid-season when the bite slows I start looking for fish in 25 ft and will fish as deep as 60 ft. Fish from deeper water seem to be more aggressive and bigger on average, even when they are suspended at mid depths.
The tendency for most anglers is to fish on or close to the bottom no matter what depth they are fishing. Fish in deeper water are often suspended well off the bottom. A quick way to find suspended fish is to jig a spoon that reflects a lot of light. Start high in the water column and work it towards the bottom or vice versa. Perch are very curious and will travel a long way to see what is causing the flash.
If you’re fishing really deep you have to be prepared to keep the fish you catch. Bringing perch from very deep water can cause barotrauma causing inflated swim bladder and other symptoms like bulging eyes. When they are released they can’t swim back down to where they came from and end up floating just below the ice until they die or fall victim to larger predator fish . If you are fishing deep and catch small fish, move,” saya Maloney.
“ When I begin fishing for the day I like to start with a jack spoon like aSlab Grabber to see how aggressive they are. I rig several rods with baits that represent different levels of aggression. On really tough days you might have to resort to a bug or Marmooska, very small baits tipped with a maggot, waxworm or small rubber egg. There are times during mid-winter it seems perch simply won’t eat anything large. Oddly enough it is times like this they might only hit a spoon, jigging rap or other flash and reaction baits, not so much because it is appetizing but more because they are curious, irritable or they just react and hit.”
Individual anglers often have the comfort of time on their side and can afford to size down baits and entice fish to hit their offering. But guides, out with clientele, have to produce and when things get tough they often take the approach that there are always aggressive fish somewhere. Greg Klatt, one of the busiest and more successful guides on Lake Simcoe and one of the province’s most accomplished multi species tournament pros uses techniques learned in competitive fishing to produce for his customers. When everyone else is slowing down he turns it up a notch. Here’s what Greg had to say;
“During mid-season, Jumbo Perch action often slows down considerably and can make for some tough fishing on the traditional perch grounds that produced so well the first half of the season. Excessive fishing pressure, preferred food sources and changes in oxygen levels can all contribute to pushing schools of big perch further out into deeper water areas. The good news is that for the angler willing to change tactics, roll up their sleeves and work a little harder, the results can be outstanding!
One of the keys to success is to be portable and cover a lot of water in the deeper flats of the lake in depths of 30 to 50 ft. Frequently moving and drilling countless holes to locate schools of fish is common for me at that time of year. I also drop down to a 2 lb test fluorocarbon line which is virtually invisible and can make a huge difference in getting more bites. Because I’m fishing deeper water I want to be super efficient getting the lures to the bottom quickly. Two of my favorite lures are a:Rapala Jigging Rap (W5 and W7 sizes) and small heavy spoons like the new Blue Fox Voodoo and Lil’Finn jigging spoons. The super thin invisible line has very little water resistance so it allows the lure to fall extremely quick while providing the most natural action possible. All of these product choices and techniques are key to covering water quickly. What could be more important is to be as efficient as possible when a school of perch moves in and being able to catch a number of them quickly before they move on! Perch often suspend in the deep water so I usually like to work 2 lures at the same time and keep a close eye on the electronics to see what the fish are doing at that time of day. I usually work one bouncing it on the bottom and jigging it up and the other 10-15 ft. off the bottom. Fish will always show a preference for one presentation over another and it can change on any given day.
Sunny/cloudy conditions, water clarity and the amount of snow on the ice all affect the visibility in deeper water. When I am guiding a group of folks I have experimented lots over the years and always start out with a variety of lures and colour combinations. Depending on the conditions for the day 1 or 2 colour’s will totally out-fish others as much as 10 to 1. When I have found the best combination for the day I quickly switch everyone up to the same or similar lure/colour combination and it never takes long to see smiles all around as everyone is now catching and going home with a big bucket of ‘Yellow Gold’ fillets for the pan and the best reward after a great day on the ice.
More tips from the Simcoe perch anglers can be viewed here
Rods and Equipment
There are some that still use jigging sticks or tip-up’s but when the going gets very tough, the lightest rods are required to see or feel a perch mouthing a bait. When perch are very inactive they will simply not bite anything hard enough to signal you have one on or they are bumping your bait. There are times they will mouth a bait and spit it out without even moving the bait. Even with the lightest action rods some ardent perchers attach a spring bobber. Spring bobbers are small spring steal or coils that fit on the end of a rod to show the slightest movement down below.
The final stage of winter for perch anglers is ice out. This doesn’t mean the ice has to be visibly melting. The first warm day in March can signal the start of the last phase of winter and a return to aggressive fish. Once this stage has started anglers simply reverse the pattern and techniques back to what was working during first ice. Fish tend to be active in shallower water again.
Cooking your Perch
When it comes to favourite fish to eat here in Ontario the top two on the list are typically walleye or perch. If you ask an avid perch angler there is only one, perch. The firm white sweet meat can be part of so many recipes. We polled Simcoe perch anglers and asked the question, “what is your favourite way to cook your perch?” and the overwhelming response was pan fried. The thought of golden brown fillets with a little salt and a squeeze of lemon is enough to keep them on the ice under any conditions for as long as it takes to catch enough for a meal. Bon Appétit Magazine might steer you to a fine white wine to wash down these perfect golden morsels but a cold beer was an obvious first choice with the angling crowd.
One thing you don’t have to worry about during the winter is how keep them fresh. Once caught, it’s not hard to find ice to put them on. When you’re finished for the day just scrape a little ice or snow, throw the fish and ice in a bag, and you are ready to travel.
Cleaning Your Perch
Cleaning fish is something better left to video. Here are some of favourites.
Let’s start simple with pan fried “shore lunch style” and we can work ourway through more elaborate and exotic recipes after. Since we are actually doing this in a kitchen rather than on the shore of your favorite lake, it helps to have a beer first to help with the illusion of still being in the outdoors. The meat from perch is white, sweet, and firm and for some it doesn’t require any more than a frying pan, and a little butter in a pan. We’ll assume you don’t want to start a camp fire in the kitchen so we will use a stove. Here’s what to do;
- Start with a medium-high burner and use enough butter or oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Use a medium heat and wait for the butter to start to boil.
- Place the fillet in the pan and fry until the incandescent flesh turns opaque and it’s done. Don’t overcook.
- A little salt and pepper, squeeze of lemon, ad some fries or a salad (home fries if you’re in the bush) and it’s ready to complete the memory and rewards of a perfect day on the ice.
Our expertise is actually in the eating department so we called on the great perch chefs of the world to help with anything more complicated than a frying pan and butter. Don’t miss the next chapter of the story where we will show why being out on the coldest days can be so rewarding.
Perch Recipes and how to cook the best tasting fish from fresh water.