September 23, 2022
Capt. Kevin Swartz always suspected they were there. Then came the technological breakthrough that helped him confirm his suspicions with a strategy that has greatly improved his yellow perch results.
The suspicion: Navigational buoy chains.
The introduction of forward-facing sonar has greatly impacted the fishing industry and once Swartz installed his first Lowrance ActiveTarget unit, the realtime images were nothing short of amazing.
“I’m using the forward facing sonar in the downscan mode to stay over top of stationary pods of fish,” said Swartz, who operates Lake Erie Fishing Charters . “They’re not moving, they’re staying right there because there’s something holding them. It’s usually rocks or a good hard bottom where they’ll feed on minnows, bugs or sea lice.
“I always suspected that the perch would hold on those anchor chains, but with ActiveTarget, I could actually see them. Those chains are anchored with big cement blocks—that’s more structure to hold baitfish.”
Noting that the perch often hold in an 18-inch zone on the bottom, Swartz said his ActiveTarget shows him detail he’d never see in traditional 2D sonar. Adjusting the transducer angle allows him to check out his surroundings on a crowded day.
“Now I can be 40 feet away and I can look under other boats to see if they’re over something,” he said.
Where & When
Swartz fishes Lake Erie’s Western Basin from Huron, Ohio to Michigan waters. He’s mainly looking for structure in 20-40 feet.
“Lake Erie is very flat with very little structure, so when you find rocks or a buoy chain anchor, that holds particles of food for baitfish and that attracts the perch,” he said. “There could be a big area with big packs of boats and a tremendous amount of perch in that area.
“But I try to get away from that and use my electronics to find isolated structure. Too many boats means too much noise.”
Typically staring in early July, the yellow perch action can last well into October. The early season starts off strong, then summer’s dog days bring a slump, followed by a latter season surge.
For client comfort, Swartz prefers a light chop, maybe 1- to 2-footers. He wants his folks to fish in reasonable stability, but a little motion is necessary.
“You don’t want it slick, a little bit of wave action helps because you have that rod action going up and down,” he said. “I don’t see a big difference between sunny and cloudy skies. If you’re on the right fish you’ll catch them.”
Experience has shown him that yellow perch generally travel in groups that roam the lake and feed together. They’ll typically stay close together unless a couple walleye come in and send them packing.
And don’t worry if you catch a few smaller perch. Unlike bass, which often group by size, perch are a more communal species.
“They will mix by size, so if you’re catching a bunch of 7-inchers, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any big ones; they’re just not biting your bait,” he said.
Also, perch anglers often find sheepshead, drum, etc. in the same areas as perch. Annoying, yes, but life is life, and these bycatch species indicate an active area, so stay with it and the perch will soon find your baits.
The only buzzkill, however, is a flurry of baby walleye. When the little toothy fish show up, he moves on because it’s unlikely perch will mix with them.
Rig Right: Swartz fishes for yellow perch with a crappie rig—basically, a dropshot with two snelled hooks on 10-pound monofilament droppers, then a bell sinker on the bottom. For maximum presentation, he‘ll run a third dropper hook off the snap that connects the bell sinker.
Medium spinning tackle with braided line provides the right balance of strength and sensitivity.
Dead Bait Delivers: Considering the perch’s voracious appetite and feeding competition, you won’t find Swartz hassling with live bait.
“Once you hook a live minnow, it’s dead before it hits the bottom,” he said. “If I get large emerald shiners in the 3-inch range, I’ll cut them into thirds.”
Don’t Dally: If he locates fish that won’t participate, he’ll keep moving pod to pod within the same general area to find the active ones. Rule of thumb says, if perch are ready to feed, there’s no deliberation.
“If they’re not going to start in 10 minutes, I leave, because those fish aren’t going to bite,” he said. “I say ‘Fish for catchable fish.’ I may spend an hour just looking because they’ll move from day to day.
Patience pays big dividends, he said, as a turned-on school of fish can easily deliver 100-fish days. The limit is 30 per person, but even the catch-and-release part is a ton of fun—a good bet for kids and families, as well as anyone interested in a pile of tasty filets.
“The fish stay on a spot and feed on whatever’s there to feed on,” he said. “Once you get them fired up, it’s a non-stop bite. I’ve had days where we’ve caught 120 and never moved the boat.”