March 04, 2021
Of all the different fish species in New England, there probably isn’t one that Paul Mueller has not targeted and caught. From large game fish such as pike, bass and walleye to all the different panfish species one can target through the ice. One fish in particular gets an underrated label from Mueller—the white perch. For a fish that some believe to be less superior and easier to catch than a yellow perch, and in some cases that may be true, but Mueller believes targeting big white perch through the ice is a rewarding yet challenging feat. Combine that with how delicious they are in the frying pan and they just may to indeed prove to be a bit underrated.
White perch are considered an invasive species in some bodies of water and therefore present no keep limit. Many Fish and Wildlife agencies push to remove as many fish as possible from some lakes because they eat a large variety of forage and compete with salmon and trout species. With numbers of species to target, and guide trips targeting specific fish, Mueller doesn’t get to fish for them all the time, but he enjoys catching white perch when he can.
“They are one of the top-five fish to jig for, and really, top three because New England isn’t known for the walleye resources compared to other places. They are like the carp of panfish; carp are so fun to catch but not that many people target them. They are fun for beginners and getting people into fishing in general. There are a whole lot of them in some places and most of the time they are easy to catch.”
When selecting bait for white perch, Mueller keeps it pretty simple. He has a one-two punch for these fish, and it basically comes down to the body of water he is fishing. Depending on the phase of winter, early, mid, or late ice, and the main forage present, it is one of two things: Minnow-style baits or bug- or shrimp-style baits.
“Even when bigger fish are present, I still opt for a smaller presentation, regardless of the type of forage the perch are on. White perch will eat a smaller bait better, or even a smaller spoon. One bait that I always have on is the Euro Tackle T-Flasher. That comes in three different sizes and six colors—and it is just perfect for those fish.”
For plastics, again, the style varies for either minnow- or shrimp-type of forage, but Mueller believes the style is less important than color. If it looks like a bug or shrimp, it doesn’t matter, they absolutely love something that is red, pink or orange.
“There is something about it; it just works. It does not match the hatch, per say, in color, but I have witnessed it several times. Something about those colors gets them fired up – they love it. I make my own jig head from Do-It Molds that glows and pair it with a red, pink, or orange plastic from Euro Tackle or Do-It Molds. I also will use a tungsten jig and pair it with a plastic that glows.”
Muller targets white perch differently depending on how far along winter is and it varies depending on the type of body of water as well. He also used the location of yellow perch and crappie to dictate where he may be able to find big whites.
“For early- and late-ice situations, do not overlook areas with natural spring or where a stream or river dumps into the lake. A change is water temperature is great place to look for white perch, otherwise, for mid-winter situations, the main-lake basins are where you should expect to find perch. The soft bottom, muddy areas within the basin will attract forage, and therefore baitfish and perch. It is similar to areas you would expect to find crappies.”
On Mueller’s home body of water, Candlewood Lake, pinning down big white perch is more difficult. Being that it was once flooded, there is a lot of man-made structure such as walls, foundations, stump fields—even areas where streams enter and old river channels.
“The cover and structure make it more complicated, as the fish have so much to relate to, and same for the baitfish and forage. On Candlewood, they eat alewives and small worms that grow and live in the many stumps all over the lake. The fish gorge on and then puke them up all the time,” he said. “I am not exactly sure the name of it, but the fish absolutely love them. Find the stumps, find the fish. If you are not matching those worms, I don’t care how long you fish for, they won’t bite. If you can find fish that are more minnow oriented, they will bite a larger variety of baits and will be easier to catch.”
Like the crappies, Mueller used the yellow perch, which he admits he targets fairly often, to locate the white perch. In the late winter when the prespawn for perch approaches, the whites will be behind the yellows in timing during their migration routes.
“Prespawn, they will be shallower than the main part of winter. Not necessarily shallow, but shallower. A hard-bottom hump adjacent to where they have been living is a prime example. They stage longer than yellow perch prior to making the migration. The white perch spawn later and won’t move shallow as fast as the yellow perch. If water is deeper, and food is there, they will be there. Each place is different depending on the type of water, depth, etc., but white perch are food motivated. If you find the bait, they will be there.”
Fish Fry Ready
Mueller loves a good fish fry and white perch certainly fit the bill. Although the taste varies depending on what the fish are eating, and what lakes you are in, they are good tasting fish. It also helps that there is more fillet per fish of similar size as compared to yellow perch.
“First off, you get about 2/3 more meat from a 12-inch white than a 12-inch yellow perch. A decent meal can be made from six to ten whites. They vary by taste based on what they are eating also. In my experience the perch that feed on plankton, freshwater shrimp, bugs, worms etc. will taste better than the minnow-feeding fish. I try and stay away from perch that are strictly on alewives. Alewives make the perch tase slightly fishy, and that is lake specific, as some lakes don’t have alewives.”
If you find yourself struggling to catch certain types of panfish for a fish fry, or are getting a beginner into the sport, white perch are the ticket. They are less spooky, which makes for good power fishing. You won’t have to drill holes and let the areas rest, you can drill and fish as you go. White perch school a lot and the more fish within that school, the more aggressive they will be. Give it a try, it just may be the most action you have had on the ice all winter.