It wasn’t long ago that I kept wondering when the local lakes would form a solid surface of ice so I could make swiss cheese out of it with my auger. Now the ice is off of the lakes, but it seems that the cold weather doesn’t want to loosen its grip on us yet.
With glimmers of sunlight shinning through the ever present rain clouds the weather has been slow to warm, however that hasn’t kept all fisherman inside. The southern end of Lake Michigan has started to come to life with the jumbo yellow bandits of the big water.
The yellow perch have schooled up and are feeding heavily in the warming water. This has brought out the flotilla of boats looking to put limits of these tasty fish in their livewells.
Personally this is one of my favorite times of year to be out in the boat. The weather is cool and the fishing can be hot. This year is no exception as the weather has remained quite cool and the fishing is just starting to really turn on.
The Lake Michigan perch is a great opportunity for those that run smaller boats to get out and find these fish. These fish are holding in the 35 to 45’ of water range and because of this they are not far from shore and the local launches.
In my personal opinion the small boater actually has an advantage over the larger boats when it comes to finding and holding on these large schools of perch. The smaller boat can utilize the electric motors to hold tight on a school and slowly move with the school as it moves to find more forage. Often big boats have to drift or anchor to stay on the school and this limits their chances of keeping on the fish.
The important part of being a small boater is to pick and choose your days wisely and make sure the winds and waves are in your favor. Safety is key and should always be your number one concern. Remember, no fish is worth risking your safety.
Now back to the topic at hand, perch, how to find them and how to catch them. The process is pretty simple when you break it all down. With limited gear and some live bait or plastics you can put your fair share of fish in the livewell.
Locating these schools of fish is important to your success. A good set of electronics on the boat is an invaluable tool to aid in this process. However, this time of year it is usually just a matter of finding the large pack of boats and joining in.
Once you are on a school you can adjust your sensitivity on your electronics to allow you to keep close watch on what these fish are doing and how you can keep yourself on the school. Like I mentioned earlier an electric trolling motor is a great way to hold your position in the wind as well as allow you to move your boat with the school.
As far as gear goes it is all in what you feel comfortable with. Personally I like the 7’ med light spinning rods spooled with 6lb fluorocarbon or braid with a flouro leader. Smaller reel and lighter rods make the experience that much more fun.
Live bait is used by most when chasing down these schools, but plastics can also be quite productive. A simple double hook drop shot rig tipped with a couple minnows is your standard fare. Some get fancy and use pre-tied rigs that have feather tipped hooks or even spinner style blades near the hook.
Whatever you choose to use the key is getting your offering to the fish and keeping it in the strike zone. In the deeper water you may need to use an ounce of weight to keep your presentation on the bottom where the fish are holding and feeding.
A little trick I like to use is putting a good snap at the bottom of the rig that allows me to constantly change my drop weights to optimize my presentation. The snap will allow me to remove one weight and add another to change with the changing winds and waves.
Another good idea is to mix things up a bit and offer a couple different styles of baits to these fish. Different types of minnows or even adding a worm to the mix might just change your chances of finding those jumbos that are out there.
If you want a challenge you can always switch up to using plastics to entice these fish into biting. Small fluke or darter style plastics in white or baitfish colors work really well and can often limit the small fish you catch and improve your odds of catching those true jumbo perch.
A rather simple rig for fishing plastics is to use a small swivel tied onto your line. On one end of the swivel tie on a leader of about 24” with a small darter jighead trailing. Take another leader about 18” long and tie that to the top of the swivel. This will give you two offerings at different distances to make it look more like a couple of darting baitfish.
Don’t fret if you can’t get out in the next few days as these fish will still be out there as the spring progresses. You will find them making an appearance up and down the lakefront and they can also give the shore anglers an opportunity at catching their limits if the winds are right.
Spring is here and so are the perch so don’t get caught sitting around wishing you were out fishing. Grab the gear, hook up the boat, and fill up the minnow bucket because it is time to join in on the fun of catching some jumbo perch.