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Hole Jumping Jumbos
Ice Out Perch and the Matter of Gray
Fishing Paradise and Pre Spawn Perch
Gearing Up for Late Perch
Jumbo Perch with ATV Mobility
Perch: A Fairytale Story
Hole Jumping Jumbos
By Matthew J. Breuer
It‘s that time of year… fish houses are coming off the lakes, driving a vehicle on the ice is getting iffy, and walleye and pike season is long gone. Many anglers give up on fishing once the toothy-critter season comes to a close, and others stick to crappies to fill their days and buckets until the ice melts, abandoning walleye waters. Possibly the best, and most enjoyable activity during late ice is to get out perch jerkin’!
Many people argue that perch fishing is too sporadic, they’re tough to clean, size is hard to pattern, and that they are tough to stay on top of. Well hopefully these tricks will help you make those long days awaiting open water go by a little faster, and help instill some confidence in the game of perch fishing!
Perch, like other panfish, are a great fish to target when you’re looking for some action, as well as some great table fare. While finding perch isn’t usually a huge issue, getting into a large school of jumbo perch is. A giant pod of jumbo perch under your ice hole is like finding the fountain of youth.. It’s fast action at it’s finest, with the fight to boot! Late season is the best time to get into these schooling sumo’s, and it is also the quietest time on the ice. Solitude and sumo perch, who could ask for more?
When rigging up for a day of perch fishing, tie on some 4-6 lb. monofilament on an ultra-light reel and thread it through a 28” medium/light action St. Croix Premier. Team this set-up with some comfortable waterproof boots, your Strikemaster auger, a bucket, and your Vexilar® and you’re ready to be deadly! The importance of a flasher while perch fishing is high. The zoom feature on the Vexilar FL-18, 20, and 22HD models makes chasing these bottom huggers a much easier task. If it’s chilly, you can tote your Fish Trap Scout or Pro onto the ice with you. If you’re lucky, you might even get to sit in it…
The tackle to bring along is mostly made up of jigging spoons. Custom Jigs and Spins Demon Jigging Spoons or Vertiglo Lightning Spoons in 1/8 oz. are always great choices. Color preference can vary from day to day, so be sure to tinker around with a variety of colors. Usually tipping one of the hooks with the pinched off head of a minnow will trigger some bites. You can also pack the treble hooks on your spoons with euro larvae or wax worms. The advantage to a minnow head is that it keeps those smaller fish at bay. If the fish turn finicky, and you need to downsize, switch to a crappie minnow on a size 6 Rat Finkee or a plain hook under an Ice Buster Bobber. The Ice Buster allows the angler to make the bait hang virtually weightless. You can trim the bobber to make it neutrally buoyant, so the fish don’t feel any resistance. This will usually get a few of those sluggish perch to bite and not let go.
When using a spoon, start off by dropping your bait down until it’s about a foot or two from the bottom. Give it a few snaps or wiggles, and if nothing rises up on the Vexilar, drop down and stir up the bottom content by bouncing the spoon off the lake bottom. Since perch are a curious fish, the stirred up bottom may relate to a feeding perch or struggling baitfish, and this will make the hungry ones come calling. Always keep your bait moving, a lift and fall, or snap and pause motion seems to trigger the most bites. If the perch are finicky, you may have to use a subtle quiver to entice them. Always try to keep your bait moving, even if it’s very subtle, just to prevent your spoon or bait from spinning.
Perch relate to water of depths ranging from one to 100 feet and beyond. That’s a hard pill to swallow, but if you look for the right structure and choose the lake carefully, it simplifies the process of choosing the right depth. Points, humps, shoreline breaks, and deep flats are all good choices. A lot of Minnesota lakes don’t reach much deeper than 50 feet, and finding those steep breaks around the shorelines or close to that deep water are good places to search for actively feeding schools of jumbos. Drill holes with your Strikemaster looking for the spot you want to begin, and check the depth with your Vexilar along the way. Once you’ve located a good starting point, and are marking some fish, drill 15-20 holes in the area allowing you to stay semi-mobile, and keep on top of an active school of fish if they‘re moving. Since the majority of large schools of jumbo perch are found on bigger waters, you may have to do some serious hunting before you find what you’re looking for.
Hopping between pre-drilled holes, drop your bait down looking for active fish on your flasher. More than likely you’ll mark perch throughout the day, but if you’re on a hole for more than a minute or two without a bite, it’s time to move on! Once you locate a school of feeding perch, you need to try to keep their attention, or as sure as the sun sets, they’ll move on. Perch will roam an area looking for food, and essentially you’re doing the same thing. As long as you keep what they want in front of them, you’ll keep them under you. Be fast with your un-hooking, and even faster with your re-baiting and dropping. The faster you get the bait back down, the less time you’ll have to spend running from hole to hole. If you do lose their attention, don’t fret, they’re probably 30 feet away, and part of the excitement is the anticipation you feel while shuffling to that next hole in the ice.
It’s a run and gun fishing game, and if you play along, you’ll have a blast, and hopefully a nice bucket loaded with tasty perch!
Since we’re talking late ice, use extreme caution, and wear a PFD! Good luck out there, and remember to only keep enough for a meal! Keep the eaters, and let the big girls go to ensure that our children will have the resources we’ve had available to us!
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Ice Out Perch and the Matter of Gray
Looking for Black and White Answer for Catching Perch After Ice-Out
The ‘Perch Pontiff’ and author, Brian “Bro” Brosdahl hoodwinked this early spring fatty with an old reliable Northland Bro Bug and minnow. Photo courtesy of www.frabill.com.
By Brian “Bro” Brosdahl
Rocket scientist I am not. Heck, I have to speculate at the exact reasons fish behave the way they do. Take perch after ice-out, for example. There are any number of reasons why they are, where they are, and why they’re eating what they’re eating. The catalysts behind it all, in my mind, are more of a conglomeration of conjectures over clear-cut calculations.
Instead of focusing on one particular answer, I’ll go through the mental gymnastics of trial and error and develop several educated guesses. As a result, I’ve found perch in some peculiar places, and picked plenty from the pack with less-than-popular ploys.
While it’s well-known perch congregate in shallow water during the end of winter, what’s overlooked by most anglers is that they stick around these areas well after the ice has melted away.
For me, it started with a notion that just because the ice left, didn’t mean the fish followed. This led me to looking in the same places right after the ice peeled away. And the openwater bite this time of year, honestly, is better than it was when I was walking on water.
Sorting Through the Gray
Anglers tend to seek out black and white answers as to where to fish and what to use. Instead, I sort through all the gray matter in-between and approach matters based on several theories, as well as employ a plethora of ploys and lures to land them.
This we know: Perch during last-ice congregate in shallow water, in and around the weeds, in depths from 10 feet to as shallow as two.
As for the types of weeds, I find perch aren’t particularly picky. From stalks of cane and bulrushes, to straggles of still-standing cabbage and coontail left over from last year – all are fair game.
Perhaps these vagabond fish stay in preparation for the upcoming spawn; after all, they’ll be going through the motions in the same area very soon. Maybe the majority of forage has moved to these shallow weed beds, and because there’s a hunger factor involved, the pickings are easy. More than likely, however, it’s a blend of factors.
And then there are the theories as to what initially triggered the migration, back at winter’s end. It might have been the warm, well-oxygenated melt-water rolling off shore; the daylight hours gradually lengthening; the elevating angle of the sun. Again, it’s likely a combination of them all.
Ultimately, the exact reason doesn’t really matter. Point is that the perch are present and hungry.
Feast, Not Famine
The main meats on a perch’s buffet this time of year are minnows and young-of-the-year fishes, with the occasional aquatic insect. Last year’s fledglings of perch, which their brethren have been cannibalizing on since mid-winter, are as wanted as a fresh batch of baked chicken breasts in the steamer pan, while tiny bluegills are slammed like McSunfish Nuggets.
I discovered the ‘gill gorging’ late one winter, after catching a fat-bellied perch that regurgitated fourteen 1-inch bluegills when it hit the ice. Several of the fish where so freshly eaten they still wiggled. I released the survivor back into the system to try their luck again...
Match the Hatch
In clear water, while donning a pair of polarized Costa Del Mar sunglasses, I can actually see schools of perch within the weeds chasing down tiny bluegills. When this is taking place, there’s only one thing to do: Get to the bow of the boat and cast to the pods of perch with a lure that matches the hatch.
Northland’s new LIVE-FORAGE® Minnow Jig is heavy for its size and casts well when fished on light line. The single-hook configuration is perfect for pulling through weeds, as it rarely fouls up. Often, I’ll add scent by nipping a few maggots onto the hook, or skewering on a wax worm.
The LIVE-FORAGE Minnow Jig’s banana shape affords it a slow decent, yet with lots of wobble. Either the 1/16- or 1/4-ounce size, digitally imprinted with the likeness of a bluegill, is the perfect match to last year’s hatch.
It’s important to fish a slow-moving lure that has a lot of side-to-side action this time of year. The water is still very cold and the perch—with bellies well-rounded from eggs, milt, and/or food—often have a tough time catching up to a lure that’s moving too quickly.
As soon as the lure hits the water, I close the reel’s bail and let the jig fall on a taut line, which lets it fall with a pendulum motion rather than a straight plummet. Just before the lure hits the weed tops, I’ll quickly flick the rod tip up about a foot, drop it, reel in the slack, and then repeat the process. Most hits occur on the fall, and may only be felt as a light “tick” telegraphed through the rod tip, or, if I’m staring into the water where the lure should be, I’ll actually see the flash of a fish’s mouth as it sucks in the jig.
The technique works best with light, but strong monofilament line. Northland’s 5-pound-test BIONIC Panfish line is ideal for this application. And when using ultra-light jigs, I’ll tie the line directly to the lure rather than use a snap or snap-swivel.
Livelier Than Live
On days when the perch get picky, it’s time to break out the fins and scales. A shrunken shiner minnow, by far, is the best perch bait going.
Like the abovementioned jig, I want to employ a minnow method that allows it to hang in an area as long as possible, but still imparting action. After culling the liveliest shiner from my Frabill Min-O2-Life aerated bucket, I nip the minnow just under the dorsal fin. Then, it’s time to hang the sacrificial minnow right above the weed tops by means of a weighted Northland Super-Pro Series Lite-Bite slip bobber. The weighted bobber lends extra oomph for distance, which is important when casting to clear shallows and spooky fish.
On even lighter line, such as a 2-foot leader of 3-pound-test BIONIC Panfish, a shiner is able to wiggle wildly on its own. I connect the leader to the 5-pound-test mainline by an InvisaSwivel—a fluorocarbon swivel that’s transparent and nearly neutrally buoyant—which won’t add weight to the leader and allow the minnow to swim freely. If the minnow refuses to go subsurface, I pinch a small split-shot onto the mainline between the InvisaSwivel and float.
Pick a Peck of Perch
In short, ice-out perch are widely overlooked, and catching them is as simple as forgoing the black and white answers and searching out the gray matter in-between. Look for them in the same weedy shallows they occupied at last ice and tempt with them by matching the hatch with lifelike lures and miniscule minnows.
Brian “Bro” Brosdahl (Max, Minnesota) is a professional fishing guide and renowned ice fishing expert. For nearly two decades he’s been sharing his insights and innovations with the fishing public. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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Fishing Paradise and Pre Spawn Perch
By Jerry Carlson
I have always enjoyed catching big perch. It is an activity I have experienced on a number of different lakes in several states. Although most of my perch have been caught through the ice, I recently learned about a new open water opportunity for popping jumbos.
It all came together at a sport show in Minneapolis. I was visiting with celebrity angler, Brian Brosdahl, about the spring panfish bite taking place in his part of the country. Somehow, our conversation drifted from crappie and bluegill to jumbo perch.
As Brosdahl explained, it had been years since he had discovered the secret to locating big jumbo perch in their pre-spawn mode. More recently, he had refined his approach into something that is quite simple and logical.
Perch like to spawn in and around vegetation. On many big, windswept bodies of water, the preferred vegetation is bulrushes. Bulrushes grow in areas that have a pretty firm bottom and are a favorite spawning location of many fish species including bass, crappie and sunfish.
According to Brosdahl, pre-spawn perch stage in areas close to their spawning grounds. Sand flats in 10-12 feet of water that are adjacent to bulrushes are ideal, especially if they contain light weed cover and forage opportunities.
After all of this perch discussion, I became pretty interested in a spring fling with some football shaped jumbos. It didn’t take long before a tentative date was set.
It was cool and brisk when fishing partner, Charlie Simkins and I met Brosdahl at a designated landing in Northern Minnesota. As we added on extra layers and loaded gear into Brosdahl’s boat, we talked about the prospects of the day.
During the discussion, Brosdahl made it very clear that we would not be keeping many fish. He explained that the perch were very vulnerable at this time of the year and it would be easy to hurt a lake’s population by keeping limits of big jumbos.
As we motored through a channel to the main lake, Bro went on to tell us that this spring perch phenomena took place on all good jumbo perch lakes. The examples he gave were Cass, Winnie, Leech, Bemidji and Black Duck. In Central Minnesota, he suggested Osakis, Minnewaska and Mille Lacs.
Our fishing strategy was much like walleye angling. With the aid of a LakeMaster map chip (www.lakemap.com), we located a 10-foot shelf that was close to a bulrush spawning area. Next, we cruised the flat and looked for fish on our electronics. Brosdahl also watched for signs of remnant weeds and new growth cabbage.
Once a school of fish was pinpointed, we fished these perch pretty much like walleye. The combination we used was a Northland 1/8 ounce Thumper Jig tipped with a small minnow. The drop spinner on this jig offered a little extra flash that the perch couldn’t resist.
For the next couple of hours, we drifted across the flats taking perch of many different sizes. Although we did not break 13 inches, we had lots of fish over 12 inches. Several of the fish spit up tiny crayfish.
When it was all said and done, I was a believer in the spring perch theory. The fish we caught were fat, scrappy and plentiful.
I could also see how easy it would be to decimate a population of big, spawning perch at this time of the year. When Brosdahl said they were very vulnerable in the spring, he wasn’t kidding.
Many anglers think of perch as a small, bait stealing pest. Under the correct circumstances, perch are anything but small and pesky. Getting into a school of jumbos is like stepping into fishing paradise.
Visit Jerry's new web site at www.jerrycarlsonoutdoors.com.
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Gearing Up for Late Perch
Perch provide angling activity all winter long but bite best during the late ice period.
By Jerry Carlson
I don’t know of very many honest-to-goodness rags-to-riches stories, but I would have to say perch come about as close to a fairytale as any fishing story I know. These golden beauties that were once maligned as trash fish now sit near the top of the heap.
I find this whole perch realignment to be quite fascinating. There was a time when they were thought of as a worthless bait stealer. When anglers did catch them, many threw
them on the ice in an effort to show their disdain for this pesky marauder.
Today, jumbo perch are looked at much differently. Today, anglers will drive hundreds of miles to have a crack at catching big perch. Perch undoubtedly generate a lot of excitement.
When it comes to perch lakes in the Upper Midwest, there are quite a few good ones. Usually these lakes are large and sustain a healthy walleye population along with the perch.
A classic example of this is Mille Lacs Lake in Central Minnesota. This 132,000-acre fish factory is home to a very respectable population of jumbo perch. Many of these perch measure in at 10 inches, but you will also find 11s and 12s in the mix.
From my experience, late ice is always a good time of the year to be thinking about chasing perch. These fish get quite aggressive and hungry as they start their annual migration to shallow water to spawn.
To get more specific information on Mille Lacs perch, I talked with Mike Christensen from Hunter Winfield’s Resort, located in Isle on the south end of the lake. According to Christensen, the Mille Lacs bite has been pretty consistent all winter.
Although anglers have been catching perch in his rental houses throughout the frozen water season, Christensen believed the best bite didn’t really get going until after the first big thaw. Once the snow was off of the ice, the perch activity really picked up.
As far as location, Christensen felt the deep water transitions where the gravel turned to mud were key areas. He believed the insect larvae available at these locations were responsible for concentrating the fish.
Christensen went on to say that these fish can be pretty finicky at times. He preferred to use spring bobbers and even a camera to help detect the light bites. When asked about the best bait, he felt anglers should try to mimic baits that look similar to what the fish were spitting up.
From my own Mille Lacs experiences, I have had good luck using Euro larvae, or maggots as they are often called. It seems the larva smell associated with maggots is something perch like. I have also utilized small jigging spoons tipped with a crappie minnow head. Some anglers are successful with a small minnow under a bobber. Plastics, such as Northland’s® Slug Bug® tipped with maggots, have also produced fish for me.
There is one other technique I like to use that often works. Many times I will drop my jig right down to the bottom. There is something about stirring up the sediments on the bottom that brings fish in and makes them interested in eating. Pulling your jig slowly off of the bottom may mimic emerging larvae.
I was in total agreement with Christensen when he mentioned the need for mobility. Perch will roam in large schools and can create a feast or famine situation if you are in the wrong spot. Waiting them out does work, but I have had more success hole hopping and trying to follow the fish.
Jumbo perch are certainly a quality quarry for anglers. Not only are they scrappy fighters when you hook them, they are excellent on the table. With so many lakes available for perch fishing, it is not hard to understand their rise in popularity.
Listen to Jerry Carlson’s “In the Outdoors” on the radio at WJON 1240 AM, Thursday mornings at 8:35 a.m., and on WWJO (98 Country) 98.1 FM, Sundays at 8:45 a.m.
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Jumbo Perch with ATV Mobility
Brian “Bro” Brosdahl holds a puppet minnow and a nice jumbo perch.
Never spend too much time in one place. Mobility is so critical at this time of the year. I don't spend more than 15 minutes in one particular area before moving on.
By Bob & Ginny Riege
I received a call last January from a fishing buddy of mine, Brad, and he said, "Hey, I hear that the big jumbo perch are biting like crazy up on Mille Lacs.What do ya say we hitch up our Polaris® ATV's and make a weekend of it?"
It didn't take me very long to throw some clothes in a bag and gather up the fishing equipment. I hitched up my Polaris Ranger® 800 and drove over to Brad’s house to load his gear as well. Within four hours we were on the ice with our ATV's moving to our favorite fish haunts.
When looking for a productive perch lake, I usually look for a lake that is large. It seems that in order to grow the jumbo perch you need a lot of water. For example, Mille Lacs Lake in Central Minnesota is perfect for these dandy jumbo perch. Also lakes like Devils Lake in North Dakota are great because the large lakes are not subject to fishing pressure and anglers will not really hurt this prolific fish. These fish are so prolific that on a normal large lake anglers probably won't make a dent in their population. Now jumbo perch start at about 12 inches and move the scale from there. If you are catching them less than 10 inches, then move.
Never spend too much time in one place. When it requires some effort to make a move sometimes it's just easier to sit and wait for the fish to come to you. With all the innovations in ice-fishing gear, making anglers more versatile and more mobile, it makes sense to have an attitude that will have you moving, searching for active fish. Both of our Polaris Rangers allowed us to pick up and move to any point on the lake that day. These are awesome machines and the reason that I prefer them is they have 4WD and the payload allows me to haul my StrikeMaster Auger, Thermal X Summit ice shelter, rods, minnows, ice skimmers, Vexilar® units and even lunch.
The key to ice fishing as it is in any fishing is location. For perch and other gamefish, try long tapering points; inside channel turns; rock humps, neck downs, and structure near spring spawning areas. Use the sonar to spot fish. Try submerged brush piles and blowdowns for crappie and bluegill. Watch the screen or flasher. You can actually see fish appear on a graph. My Vexilar will track your lure so you can put it right in the fish’s face. I have actually seen a day when a mark appeared on the sonar screen while reeling in a lure. A pause and the mark moved closer to the bait. A twitch of the wrist brought a powerful strike. A heart-racing fight put a nice jumbo perch on the ice.
After about five minutes of this type of action I was ready to move to a new location, when all of a sudden I noticed a wide flash at about 20 feet. I quickly released the spool and watched the Northland® Forage Minnow Jig sink to about 18 feet. The perch immediately rose to the lure and I tightened the line and set the hook. A nice jumbo perch poked its head into the hole in the ice and I was off to a great day of ice fishing.
What I try to do is to drill a series of holes along a particular structure. I will start shallow and drill a couple of holes about six feet apart. Then I will move along the breakline of this structure until I reach a depth of about 22 feet or so. Depending on the weather I usually like to start in the shallow areas to see what type of activity is there first. Then I move along my series of holes until I reach a productive hole and the active depth.
This is why mobility is so critical at this time of the year. Your series of holes could be along a line of a 100 yards or so. If you are moving from point to point looking for the active perch it is essential that you arrive to your next destination quickly and relaxed. With the smooth ride of our Polaris Ranger ATV's they got us there with very little effort and we spent more time fishing than if we had had to walk a great distance. In essence, what we did was create a tour of fish holding hot spots and we kept on the move as much as possible fishing the active perch.
I have good luck locating fish holding structure through the ice using my portable locator. By making use of the zoom feature, I can identify fish that are holding very tight to the structure being checked. By simply wetting the ice and placing the transducer on the wet spot, you can examine the bottom make-up before drilling your holes. This saves you both time and work.
I don't spend more than 15 minutes in one particular area before moving on. I don't over-jig either; my rod tip constantly quivers about one-eighth to 1/16 of an inch. Or it remains stationary. When selecting an area to fish you might have to come rigged up with a variety of lures and color combinations.
Don't forget to bring along those minnows. I like to tip my spoons with a head of a fathead minnow, that way both flash, and smell are a triggering factor to the perch. Your lure selection might have to change also. If that color isn't productive move on to other colors. The style and shape of the Forage Minnow Spoon allows it to flutter as it falls. This will simulate a wounded minnow and turn those inactive fish into active ones. Another type of lure that suspends the rate of fall is the Northland Puppet Minnow®. I like to start with a tiny #2 Puppet Minnow and tip the center treble hook with either a tasty morsel of the fathead, either the head or the tail. These types of jigs have a swimming action and they dart as they fall. This will give the fish the impression that minnows are darting and swimming towards them and escaping from them, and it will trigger a response from the perch.
With a number of jumbo perch in the bucket, Brad and I loaded up our Polaris ATV's and headed back to our homes knowing that there is no special mumbo jumbo to catching jumbo perch, only the ATV mobility that allowed us a great time on the ice.
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Perch: A Fairytale Story
By Jerry Carlson
I was making the rounds between a series of open fishing holes when I came across a dead perch lying on the ice. As it happened, there were fish showing on the electronics in a hole next to the perch so I sat down and worked the fish.
It was during the process of trying to coax a bite out of the stubborn panfish that I got to thinking about the perch. Times have really changed for this species.
It was not that many years ago that the lowly perch was considered a trash fish. Anglers that would be frustrated with their tenacious appetite and nonstop pecking would often throw them on the ice instead of back down the hole.
Somewhere along the line, the word got out that these fish were beneficial. If they were big enough, they were excellent table fare. As for the small ones, they were a critical part of the food chain in our lakes.
Over time, perch fishing became a very popular event. Anglers would travel hundreds of miles to get in on good perch bite. Resorts and guides quickly learned the value of big perch and began catering to the perch customer.
Eventually, over harvest of perch became a concern and limits needed to be adjusted to accommodate the fishing pressure. In recent years, we have learned that perch populations can fluctuate all on their own regardless of fishing pressure. A bad spawning year, a large number of predator fish, or too many cormorants can make a difference.
Most anglers find perch to be a very entertaining fish. They will bite a variety of presentations and are scrappy fighters for their size.
One of the best methods for taking perch is to use a standard number six or eight ice jig that is loaded with maggots or wax worms. This presentation is simple and will usually produce results.
Sometimes, a scaled down walleye jigging spoon tipped with a minnow head will out fish the larva presentation. A 1/16 ounce Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon is hard to beat.
Perch can be real bottom huggers and need to be fished accordingly. Pulling them off of the bottom may be a necessary part of the strategy as they don’t always show up your electronics. I have also found perch to be very curious. Even though nothing is showing up on the screen, once a jig is bouncing around, they come in to take a look.
One other strategy that works well for perch is to poof the bottom. By dropping your jig onto the bottom, you will stir up a small amount of sediment that will attract perch. Sometimes I have found that they like to suck in bait that is laying motionless right on the bottom.
As for perch destinations, there are plenty. Lake of the Woods has some huge perch that are often mixed in with the walleye. Leech Lake, Cass Lake and Winnie are also noted perch hotspots.
Mille Lacs perch have been down for a few years but have come back substantially. Lots of jumbos are starting to show up on this fishery. Devils Lake is another well known perch factory as is the glacial lakes area of South Dakota.
Finding a place to go perching is not that hard. The internet is a great source of information. A few phone calls to resorts on big lakes will tell you where the bite is taking place.
The lowly perch is not that lowly anymore. It has gained a lot of respect as a fish that is entertaining to catch and excellent to eat.
Perch are truly a rags to riches fairytale story.
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