March 15, 2022
When the ice vacates the lake surface and spring creeps into the region, lakes and ponds warm quickly and the fishing heats up. Species such as bass and pike are larger game fish that get lots of attention, but the panfishing can be of the best of the year during this period—especially for yellow perch. Perch are a favorite of many through the ice but are often forgotten after the spring melt. When the water warms and the baitfish become apparent, perch and other panfish species get aggressive. When you find them, the action can be nonstop.
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Paul Mueller guides in New England when he’s not on the tournament trail and offers multi-species trips year-round. Early spring is a great time for clients to enjoy ice-out success as perch in the 12- to 13-inch range are average, which makes for a fun day, especially kids.
“That is my favorite time to fish for yellow perch. They are really grouped up and they gorge. They get into groups by size class and the males and females separate – males deeper and the females shallower. Perch typically do some of the same things each year, which makes them predictable.”
For shallow fish, when the weather is stable and it’s been a few days after a cold front, the fish will stage, awaiting the spawn. The main forages when perch are shallow are generally small bluegills and spot tail shiners. Those juvenile and yearling bluegills are looking for shallow cover and warmer water, and that’s exactly where the perch will be.
Most people believe that perch are a shallow fish, and for the most part that’s true. Some perch will be shallow before the ice melts and remain shallow to spawn soon thereafter. However, Mueller doesn’t solely focus his time shallow, and often times a little cold front can kill the shallow fish all together. During a warming trend, a lot of fish will move shallow, and those types of fish will be on the flats with grass and rock. The key is to not overlook the fish that are shallow or the fish suspended in deeper water.
Not only do the shallows warm up, but the surface layer of water over deeper water warms and it brings the alewives up, and the perch follow. Mueller believes it’s part of the transition from winter areas to the spring. On bigger bodies of water, the migration route is longer, and the perch get on those baitfish along their route to spring areas.
“I look for areas with decent access to deeper water. Little points, subtle underwater points and even main-lake points are obvious areas,” he said. “A point near a flat is good, and even better with some rock around. Those are ideal staging areas for when the water warms, but it also allows them to slip back deeper when a cold front comes in.”
For example, after three days of success fishing 60-degree water, surface temperatures increased 8 degrees during that period. Mueller was fishing his swimbaits around shallow grass and catching fish. The fish were up, feeding on small bluegills and the water was stable.
“A cold front came through overnight and completely changed things,” he continued. “The low temperatures were in the 30’s—a cold morning—the fish just shut off. I had been catching them on a point near a shallow area and they were eating bluegills. They moved with the front and I finally found them out in 30 feet, and they were keying on alewives. The cool thing about perch is, although they can be drastically affected by weather, like every fish, yellow perch will keep biting. Bass get lethargic, perch will keep hammering. Look for something (structural) to allow them to ambush baitfish. It may be a ridge, bar or the end of a point. They don’t want to have to move far to get to deep water.”
Understanding that the weather dictates where the perch are going to be is key to staying on big fish. However, when perch get offshore, you have to rely on your electronics a bit more to find the schools. Shallower fish will be more related to grass and rock, which is more visible to the angler, but the deeper fish may require some searching.
Mueller monitors his Garmin electronics and mapping to help him quickly make the switch when the fish vanish from the shallows. When the fish are suspended over deeper water, it would be impossible to find those fish in the upper water column chasing bait without the electronics.
“I use the Garmin LakeVU HD mapping to locate areas that fit the description. When I find the areas, I use Livescope in forward mode to locate the schools of perch. Even when the fish get shallow, I can see them in the grass, or slightly above the grass. Finding fish away from the boat helps when there is a lot of pressure on the lake. I line up the exact cast and I can cover a lot of water with the swimbait. Pay attention when you get a bite, more times than not, you can make the same cast again and catch them over and over.”
Mueller employs a combination of two micro swimbaits to target perch both shallow and deep. Both baits are always rigged and quickly allows him to offer jumbo perch a slightly different look depending on the weather conditions or fishing pressure. He throws both of these micro swimbaits on a Dobyns Fury 661 SF rod paired with a Lew’s Team Pro Speed Spin, size 1000.
Euro Tackle B-Vibe Swimbait with 1/8-ounce, or lighter, Micro Finesse Tungsten Soft Lock Jig Head.
“The size 1 hook on that jighead is perfect and the B-Vibe has more tail kick. I use this one when I am around a big school of perch or fishing during a warming trend. If the fish move deeper, I will go up to a 3/16-ounce, but no more than that. I fish this on 5-pound Gamma Touch Fluorocarbon line which gives me control in deeper water – it helps get the lighter bait deeper.
Do-It Molds 1.5-inch Thump Grub and a handmade 3/32-ounce Do-It Molds Bat Jig.
“This bait is a hair smaller for more the more finicky fish,” he said. “I use the smaller 3/32-ounce jig head for shallower water presentations. I will also up the line size to 7-pound Gamma Touch Fluorocarbon, as the slightly thicker line keeps the bait up which is ideal for slow rolling over the fish.”