If you can hook into an active school of perch, you’re bound to have a blast out on the ice all day long. Perch are some of the milder tasting fish, along with crappie and bluegill. Hooked from the ice cold waters, you’ll find their flesh looking white while being a yummy, fresh, healthy meal to bring home. In most fishing zones, the limits are usually quite generous.
On this particular day we set out to one of the bays on the north western shores of Lake Superior. We left at 7:30am with an hour’s drive ahead of us. It was a cold morning, with temperatures dipping to -30C by the time we arrived. Luckily, clear sunny skies were upon us and temperatures were forecasted to rise by noon. The winds were only 1km/h North East, which made the 9km sled ride out to the spot bearable.
We were right out in the open, about 1.5kms away from an island. We rented a shack and also had a pop up hut along with us, as we were a group of six. We talked to the local owner of the ice shacks and had asked how the fishing has been, what has been working, etc. If you have the opportunity to ask the locals in the area for tips and information, do so as it`s a great way to gain knowledge to better prepare you for what techniques to use.
We began drilling the holes in the open bottom ice shack, and then drilled some holes outside to figure out where the pop up would go. Using our portable Lowrance sonar/fish finder, we found a ten foot hump that was holding a few fish on bottom. By 10:00am all of our lines were finally in. We set up just ten to fifteen feet away from the ice shack. The depth of the water was about thirty feet in the shacks and our rods outside were in the twenty to twenty five foot range in the water column. Perch are known to hold in anywhere from three to eighty feet deep. That seems like a big jump, but in the larger great lakes you can find them in the deeper waters as there is a larger space and water capacity (whereas in smaller inland lakes sometimes they are as shallow as three feet deep but on average they’re typically in the twenty to thirty foot range). Today we had rods set up all in the twenty to thirty foot range so we could determine where the action would be.
Perch are usually found on soft bottoms along reefs, or slow-tapering drop offs near weed lines. Your best bet is to work any points, flats, and bars. This may mean drilling dozens of holes, especially if you are new to the spot/area and are unsure of exactly what structure lies beneath. Always keep in mind that every lake is different and you might have to change up your techniques to suit the given situation and conditions.
For perch, people typically like to use a lighter action rod, but for myself I prefer a medium light rod. This setup still has backbone on the lower end to help with hooksets and consistent line tension while having the lighter sensitive tip which enables you to feel those subtle bites. Perch are known to suck in the bait only to then spit it back out, so once you feel them starting to nibble your bait, it`s time to set the hook.
On this day we were using the classic 1/8oz jig and minnow combination. Colors that were attracting them were blues and greens. Other common lures used are Buckshot Spoons, Swedish Pimples, Rapala`s Jigging Shad Rap, and small Tubes, just to name a few. Liquid Mayhem attractant is always a welcome addition as well .Many anglers will use maggots, minnows, worms, or other live grub as tippers. I recommend using a fluorocarbon ice line that is anywhere between a three to six pound test line depending on the size of perch in the area you`re targeting. Keep in mind that fluorocarbon line is a lot more sensitive than monofilament lines. Also
something to note is that some people prefer the zero stretch properties of braided line. It is good to have a few rod/reel combinations along with you to adjust your techniques to that which will be most successful. Also, making sure your lure is the proper weight so it is getting down to the right depth, while maintaining the right amount of line tension so you can feel those little bites, is key.
On this particular outing we had about a dozen perch on the ice by noon. Most of the perch were being caught in the thirty foot range in the ice shacks rather than the rods set up outside in the twenty to twenty five foot range. The most successful presentation was jigging lightly, pausing every so often and then lifting our lines up about a foot and dropping it back down and repeating. A lot of success also came from the rods just sitting still/dead sticking in the rod holders, simply letting the minnow kick around and do the work.
When we would mark a fish on the sonar, we would lift/reel the jig to just right above the fish, lightly jigging then pausing the bait to spark the fish’s interest. Then we would start slowly reeling in the line while still continuing the jigging and pausing technique to keep them interested, and if the fish continued to follow the bait up the water column there was a good chance of the fish striking. It is important to try out different jigging sequences/cadences to figure out what the perch like, which can be tricky, and is a trial and error process.
By the end of the day we had iced twenty four perch. We had most of our hits in the morning with the activity dying down throughout the day, then picking back up in the early evening. It was a successful day out on the ice and we were all bringing home a healthy fresh meal for supper. The sun was just setting at 6:00pm and the temperatures were just starting to drop again.
The perch bite is slower in the month of February whereas December and January are usually great months for perch fishing (late winter/late ice also is a great time). Something to note, because perch are schooling fish, when you hook into one, usually there are plenty more to come. Sometimes they can be finicky though, and you can go a whole day only catching five to ten, whereas other days you can catch upwards of forty or even sixty. All around it’s beautiful to just get out, catch some fish and get some fresh clean air. It’s always a learning experience, and it`s always an adventure in Northern Ontario.