Fishing & Boating News
Ice Out Perch and the Matter of Gray
Looking for Black and White Answer for Catching Perch After Ice-Out
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 lead 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's 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 the 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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