Feb 27, 2020
By Andy Mack
The state of Wisconsin offers many choices for the fisherman. Numerous inland lakes, rivers and two Great Lakes provide anglers endless possibilities. Anglers are passionate about walleye, musky, bass and trout. Millions of dollars are spent annually on boats and equipment to pursue these fish. If you pay attention to television shows about fishing, most are focused on the above-mentioned species. But there is one species of fish in Wisconsin and the upper Midwest that grabs everyone’s attention when word gets out about a “good bite.” That is the Perca flavescens, AKA the yellow perch. The yellow perch is known for its excellent table fare. Perch are the main course at many fish fries. Perch tend to be a schooling fish and where you catch one, chances are you will catch several. They are also an aggressive fish when “on the bite” thus making them a blast to catch. Perch are often targeted in winter by ice fishermen. Everyone remembers the “Perch Express,” a train that went to Devils Lake, North Dakota, for ice fishermen in search of jumbo perch. But perch can be caught year-round if you know where and when to look.
I admit that perch are not at the forefront of my mind when I go fishing. I am a walleye fisherman, but I am also an opportunist. I have stumbled across a bunch of jumbo perch several times when fishing for walleyes. Whether it was when I was trolling or jigging, I would take note of where I caught those perch and would return to those areas to fish for them. In early spring I do a lot of fishing on the Winnebago system. It is no secret that Lake Winnebago has an excellent population of nice perch right now. Last summer and this past winter, fishermen had tremendous success catching perch. As soon as the ice goes out on the Fox River in Oshkosh, I will begin fishing for perch and walleye. A good number of perch will enter the river in early spring in order to spawn. Sometimes, there is no rhyme or reason for when they show up; they just do. Water temperature is the biggest factor, but it is not always a reliable indicator. I like to use a “Wolf River Rig” which is a three-way rig. Basically, it is a three-way swivel that attaches to your main line. On the second eye, you tie a short (10-12”) piece of monofilament that has your weight on the end. On the third eye, you attach a longer piece of monofilament (up to 6”) that has your hook on the end. The lengths of the monofilament can be adjusted depending on how deep you want to fish, etc. I usually use just a bare hook with an emerald shiner or fathead minnow. Sometimes instead of a bare hook, I will use a fly with a minnow. Color options are endless, but I like either a red and white or all purple fly. Key locations in the river include bridge pilings, slack water where piers are breaking the current and other structures that allow the perch to “rest” in slack water. For perch, I like to anchor and cast out down river and slowly drag the bait to the boat or just let the bait sit. Another method I like to use in the river is vertical jigging. I use a stand-up style jig tipped with a minnow. What I like about vertical jigging the river is that you cover a lot of water quickly and you will catch perch, walleye, white bass and who knows what else. During the summer, the reefs of Lake Winnebago are perch producers. Jigs tipped with half of a night crawler, slip bobbers with a crawler or leech and dead sticking with a worm are all effective. Sometimes the dead stick is the star, but the perch can be finnicky. It takes some experimenting to determine how high off the bottom the perch want the bait. The most important thing to remember when fishing the reefs on Winnebago is to not stay in one place too long unless you are catching fish. I will fish a spot for only twenty minutes before moving if I don’t catch anything.
Lake Michigan is probably best known for its tremendous trout and salmon fishing. But not too long ago, it was also known for it’s goliath perch. Fourteen-inch perch were common and often came bigger than that. However, the population has been on the decline and now it’s harder, but not impossible, to catch these giants. Biologists have been perplexed about why the perch population has declined. Right now, the limit on Lake Michigan is only five. On Green Bay, the limit is fifteen. Also, consult the regulations for special season dates. On Lake Michigan, I like to fish the harbors and areas around the power plant and “boils” in Oak Creek. Several methods will catch perch, but I have a couple that have worked best for me. A simple hook and split shot tipped with a minnow is deadly. At the power plant in Oak Creek, I will cast this set-up into one of the several discharge chutes and let the current do the work. While at the power plant, I will also use a Kastmaster spoon tipped with a minnow. Cast it into the current created by the discharges or jig it in the slack water adjacent to the chutes. Another method I like around the powerplant is casting along the boulder shorelines south of the power plant. I use either the hook and split shot tipped with a minnow or a slip bobber and minnow or crawfish tail. North of the power plant is an area known as the “boils.” These “boils” are created because of treated wastewater being returned to the lake. I will anchor near these “boils” and cast out the same aforementioned hook and split shot and minnow. Slowly dragging it back to the boat is an effective method. I will also “dead stick” the same set-up off the side of the boat.
On Green Bay, perch are making a come-back. More and more perch are being caught and the size is impressive. The structure along the east shore is a good place to look. Jigs and minnows, slip bobbers and flat lines all produce. On the bay, the limit is fifteen; but again check the regulations for season dates.
Perch are present in almost all inland lakes of Wisconsin. Their size and fishable populations can differ greatly. I will not name any specific lakes but once you discover a good lake there are a few presentations that will bring you success. During the summer months, perch are where you find them. I like to fish the weed edges. Whether its deep weeds, or pencil reeds near shore, the edges are a good place to start. A slip bobber with a jig and plastic, worm, leech or minnow are all good bets. I will also look for areas that have sand grass. Perch like to use sand grass as a place to ambush prey. Dragging a jig and half a crawler or minnow will catch perch and other bonus fish.
No matter what type of fish you fish for, it is always nice to catch a few jumbo perch for a fish fry. Perch are delicious, plentiful and offer lots of action. The most important thing is to get outside, go fishing and get hooked up!