Jumbo perch draw a crowd. Anglers across the ice belt travel hundreds of miles to get in on the action. Once had an angler ask if there was room to land his plane on a hot lake. He could have, had the ice not been peppered with anglers catching jumbos.
Low end jumbo perch weigh 3/4 pound and measure 10 to 11 inches. Perch measuring 12 to 15 inches tip the scales at 1 to over 2 pounds and have a physical appearance that isn't normal, but is most certainly attractive. Also, winter perch often are colored beyond taxidermy duplication. And the worst of cooks couldn't make them taste bad; they're arguably our finest freshwater fish.
Adult perch forage on species ranging from larval insects, leeches, and snails to minnow fry, shiners, and crawfish. Fisheries that support a balanced food cycle — including freshwater shrimp and plenty of baitfish — typically produce jumbo perch. Perch also are cyclic, so the focus here is on waters in the upward swing.
Ontario — Lake Simcoe, some 30 minutes north of Toronto, may offer the best perch fishing in the world. Twelve-inchers are common (many weighing a pound) and two-pounders are reported each season.
Perch fishing starts on the east side between Georgina and Thorah Islands and the mainland halfway up the east shore, as well as the area at the top of the lake. Near Atherly, the fish are shallow at first-ice, drop slightly deeper during midwinter, then slip back shallow into the river mouths and shoreline coves at late-ice.
Ice fishing generally starts around Christmas on the west side where the focal point is near Cook's Bay. Spreader rigs are popular among local anglers. Flash spoons and swimming jigs also are effective choices. Some anglers suspend 31„2- to 4-inch shiners to attract and hold schools of perch in the area. This also works for jumbos who aren't intimidated by the bigger baits. Daily limit is 100 perch.
Contacts & Information: Wil Wegman, 905/713-7343; Guide Leon Maloney, 705/835-2059; Ontario Travel Information Center, 416/314-5899 Georgina Board of Trade, 905/476-7870. Maps: Canadian Map Co., 800/844-9397.
North Dakota — Devils Lake always has had the potential to raise large populations of jumbos. Since 1993, Devils has risen 24 feet, swallowing over 70,000 acres of farmland and expanding the lake's surface area to over 110,000 acres. A banner year for jumbos is expected.
Due to the high water, scuds (freshwater shrimp) are thriving in Devils, and perch weighing 3/4 to 1 pound are common, with 2-pounders likely. Some local anglers gauge peak bites by tracking the moon phase, with the full moon often relating to increased activity. Perch fishing can be good throughout the season, but late-ice continues to be a top time.
Common tactics are suspending livebait with slip floats, and fishing flash lures like Bay de Noc Swedish Pimples or Acme Kastmasters tipped with minnow heads. Use swimming lures, like a #3 Normark Jigging Rap or a Nils Master Baby Shad. North Dakota currently has no bag limit.
Smaller North Dakota lakes with potential for jumbos include Buffalo Lodge, Lake Ashtabula, Lake Darling, Lake Hoskins, South Golden, Green, Skjermo, Coldwater, North Lemmon, and Maotie.
The Perch Express is an ice fishing package that includes an Amtrak ticket, food, lodging, ice shacks, heaters, and local guides. Last season, they were booked by early January.
Information & Lodging: Devil's Lake Chamber of Commerce, 800/233-8048; Ed's Bait Shop, 701/662-8321, Perch Express, 701/662-7553.
South Dakota — The Glacial lakes region in eastern South Dakota offers good potential. Over the past ten years, excessive rain has transformed any low-lying spots into sloughs, deep-water sloughs into lakes, and some lakes into much bigger lakes.
Waubay lake in the northeastern part of South Dakota reigns as the state's largest natural lake and best jumbo perch producer. Perch from 3/4 to 1 pound are common, with 2-pounders reported every winter. Anglers concentrate on flooded timber and brush, islands, bays, points, and submerged roadbeds. Locating schools of perch in open basins takes a lot of hole drilling, but schools of big perch often are the reward.
Lake Thompson also continues to host good perch fishing, but success varies from season to season. Midlake humps, sand points extending into the main basin, and flooded brush and timber are top perch-producing locations. Mainly being an open-basin lake, searching for roaming schools is necessary.
Lake Poinsett, South Dakota's originally largest natural lake, is consistently good for perch. Most weigh 3/4 pound, with occasional 1- to 2-pounders. Midlake bars and humps near the northeast side of the lake are good. Typical perch tactics work on all South Dakota lakes.
Top perch action exists on several smaller Glacial lakes, but heavy fishing pressure soon follows, and perch populations quickly are depleted. Lake Preston, Henry, Whitewood, Oakwood, Cottonwood, Kettle, Rush, Cattail, Buffalo, and Horseshoe can be good winter perch lakes.
Contacts & Information: Waubay — Webster Chamber of Commerce, 605/345-4668; Game, Fish & Parks, 605/345-3381; Glacial Lakes & Prairie Tourism, 800/244-8860; Watertown Chamber of Commerce, 605-886-5814. Lake Poinsett & Thompson: Pier 81, 605/983-5920; Lakeview Resort, 605/983-5049; Sioux Land Store, 605/983-5930; Arlington Beach Resort, 605/983-5567; Mac's Bait, 605/847-4590.
Minnesota — Winnibigoshish, Mille Lacs, and Leech continue to produce lots of perch, but you'll often sort through many small fish. Larger perch range from 7 to 13 inches, with a few pushing 11„2 pounds. Key on major points and turns in a drop-off. Perch often are down 30 or 35 feet, particularly at a transition from hard to soft bottom along the base of a drop-off. Perch fishing improves in late February.
Big Stone Lake, a dishpan basin lake bordering Minnesota and South Dakota, also hosts good perch fishing. Anglers fish points, islands, rockpiles, and bottom edge transitions like where rocks meet gravel or sand meets mud. Search the open basin to locate schools. Flash spoons like the Acme Kastmaster, Northland Buckshot Rattle, or Bay de Noc Swedish Pimple tipped with a perch eye or minnowhead are popular in clear water.
Lodging & information: Big Stone — South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks, 605/345-3381; Schmitt's Landing, 605/432-6911; Ortonville Chamber of Commerce, 320/839-3284. Leech — Reed's Sport Shop, 800/346-0019. Mille Lacs — Mille Lacs Area Tourism, 888/350-2692; Tutt's Bait & Tackle, 612/692-4341; Scenic Bay Resort & Motel, 800/434-8531; Meleen's Holiday Sports, 320/532-3717; Eddy's Resort, 800/657-4704; Guide Ivan Burandt, 320/ 532-3261. Winnibigoshish — Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, 218/326-6619; Judd's Resort, 218/665-2216; Rapids Tackle, 218/326-5822.
Iowa — Big Spirit Lake and nearby West Okoboji in northwest Iowa are the most popular perch lakes. Perch in Spirit Lake grow up to 10 inches, with some 12-inchers. Most Okoboji perch measure 7 to 10 inches. Ice fishing typically starts in Anglers Bay on Spirit the first few weeks in December. Smiths Bay and Emerson Bay are top early spots on Okoboji. Once safe ice forms, move out into the main basin of the lake, searching for schools of perch.
Small lakes in northwestern Iowa have potential for perch. High and Trumbull lakes (northwest) cyclically host big-perch opportunities.
Contacts & Information: Iowa Great Lakes Chamber, 800/839-9987; Iowa DNR/Spirit Lake Fish Hatchery, 712/336-1840; Shuck's Sporting Goods, 712/338-2087.
Michigan — Catching perch on Little Bay de Noc is easy. Finding them is the hard part. "The more anglers the better," say locals trying to stay on top of roaming perch schools. Schools seem to move up to 5 miles per day, accounting for hot and cold fishing.
The area just south of Escanaba is popular for perch averaging from 10 to 12 inches, some over 14. Fishing is good from January through March, peaking in March just east of Escanaba until the ice goes bad. Look for perch down 28 to 50 feet during winter. Smaller perch (8 to 10 inches) are farther up in the bay. Guides and rental shacks are available.
Saginaw Bay perch fishing starts at first-ice. Perch range from 8 to 12 inches with an occasional 13-inch fish. The area near North Island and Katachay South Island can be good. Jack's and Ken's spoons tipped with minnowheads are local favorites. Fishing near ice heaves, darker colored ice, or snow drift areas next to clear ice provides shade that attracts baitfish and perch. Ice conditions always are questionable.
Lodging & Information: Little Bay de Noc — Kim Papineau, 906/786-8977; Captain Dick Stafford, 906/789-0110; Guide Marty Papke, 800/708-2FISH; Saginaw Bay — Ken Shear, 517/893-5674; Bay Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, 517/893-4567.
Montana — Canyon Ferry Reservoir, a Missouri River impoundment just north of Townsend, hosts perch opportunities from December through March. Perch range 7 to 10 inches. Try the section between Log Gulch and Departure Point. Holter Reservoir, north of Canyon Ferry, is another option.
Contacts & Information: Bob Wards Sporting Goods Store, 406/443-2138; Atkins Inn, 800/551-8332.
New York — Perch opportunities exist on most of the long and narrow finger lakes in the northwest area of the state. Ice fishing starts when the tips of the lake freeze near the first of January. Perch range from 8 to 12 inches, with some 14-inchers. Catching 25 to 50 fish daily is common once you find the fish. Popular tactics include flash lures, small minnows suspended below slip floats, and waxworms or mousies jigged on light line.
On Oneida Lake, big perch run 10 to 12 inches. Schools can be found in about 20 feet at first-ice, moving off into 30 to 35 feet as the season progresses. Other New York winter perch waters include Delta Lake, Edenbrook Reservoir, and Perch Lake.
Contacts & Information: Lake Country Outdoors, George Fiorille, 315/497-3006 or 315/497-3082; Marion Manor Marina, 315/762-4810; Canastota Chamber of Commerce, 315/697-3677. West end — Cicero Chamber of Commerce, 315/699-1358.
3 Devils Lake, North Dakota
This ever expanding perch mecca is again on the upswing for trophy-size perch. North Dakota Fish and Game reports that the lake's perch population is at the highest level since 2003. With strong year-classes from both 2006 and 2007, perch in the 10- to 14-inch range will make up a large percentage of the catch this year. Contact: Guide Jason Mitchell, 701/662-6560, fishdevilslake.net; The Perch Patrol, 701/351-3474, perchpatrol.com
9 Lake Michigan, Indiana
Big water means plenty of opportunities to intercept roving schools of jumbo perch that can number in the thousands. High winds in spring have reduced angling pressure during the last two spawning cycles, and 2013 should be a banner year for fish in the 12- to 15-inch range. The prespawn bite starts in deep water over clay bottom during early spring, with fish moving to shallower rock and weededges in summer and fall. Contact: Capt. Ralph Steiger, 219/688-3593, captainsteiger.com
7 Finger Lakes, New York
Perch thrive in these 11 glacier-formed, deep, clear waters. Multiple lakes in close proximity allow for lake-hopping for beautifully colored perch. Seneca Lake draws much of the attention, but perch over 12 inches are in all of the lakes. Contact: Capt. John Gaulke, 607/319-0450, fingerlakesanglingzone.com
4 Glacial Lakes, South Dakota
With more than 50 lakes near the town of Webster, each year sees different lakes peaking for perch in the 9- to 13-inch range. Fertile waters from recent flooding help to ensure consistent good year-classes of perch. Bonus fish include a nice mix of crappies, bluegills, walleyes, and pike. Contact: Guide Cory Ewing, 605/929-3894, waubaylakeguideservice.com
1 Interlake, Manitoba
Situated between the mammoth waters of lakes Winnipeg and Manitoba, local fisheries range from natural valley lakes of 30 square miles, to shallow inland lakes of modest size. Fantastic perch fishing runs from early December through ice-out. Plenty of perch hit the 12-inch mark in these fertile lakes, and there is a good shot at 14- to 15-inchers. Contact: Dino Branfield, 204/362-2945, nelsonvilleoutfitters.com
10 Lake Erie, Ontario
Along with its 'walleye factory ' moniker, Lake Erie produces more perch than any other lake in North America. A hot bite exists in fall along Erie's north shore. Once fish are located, 50-fish daily bags are the norm. Manmade structures, including midlake gas wells and underground pipelines, concentrate massive schools, making the fishing reminiscent of the Gulf of Mexico. Contact: Capt. Frank DiMarcantonio, 905/933-4834, niagarasportfishing.ca
8 Lake Gogebic, Michigan
Despite being the largest inland lake in the Upper Peninsula and producing more state angler award fish than any other fishery in the area, this trophy perch fishery somehow remains under the national radar. While not a numbers fishery, perch surpassing 2 pounds are caught each year, both during the open-water and hard-water seasons. Contact: Barry Drews, 906/842-3361, ninepinesresort.com
; Gogebic Lodge, 906/842-3321, gogebiclodge.com
5 Lake Simcoe, Ontario
Abundant freshwater shrimp and other small invertebrates allow this heavily fished lake in southern Ontario to continually produce good numbers and sizes of perch. While ice fishing generates the most angling pressure, some of the biggest fish are taken shortly after ice-out in shallow bays around Beaverton. Schools of big perch roam deeper water throughout summer. Contact: Guide Greg Klatt, 416/580-2541, profishntanglingservices.com
6 Lake St. Clair, Michigan
Lake St. Clair provides incredible summer and fall fishing for numbers of 8- to 12-inch perch. Target them just outside thick vegetation in 6 to 18 feet of water. By fishing shallower water, deep-water mortality among sorted fish isn't an issue. One hundred- to 200-fish days are common. Contact: Capt. Steve Jones, 586/463-3474, fishpredator.com
2 Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota
A big-water favorite in central Minnesota, this year-round fishery puts out jumbos averaging 12 inches, if you know where to hunt them, and fish in the 15-inch range aren't out of the question. For those willing to put in the work to locate a mess of jumbos, the rewards can be huge. Contact: Guide Tony Roach, 763/226-6656, roachsguideservice.com
Where To Catch Perch