Perch activity peaks as lake ice disappears, sun shines
It's pretty easy to curse a perch. When rascally 2- to 3-inch perch steal half of your nightcrawler in the summer or invade the territory of your ice hole during winter, things can get frustrating. Yet it's not very common to hear anglers complain about big perch.
It's unfortunate to see small, frozen perch on the ice, left by anglers who thought thinning the school would provide a better chance to catch a bigger or different species of fish. Sadly, those perch tossed on the ice could have grown into adult fish over time or been forage for other fish.
Unbeknownst to many anglers, perch are sometimes forage for other perch too. In the early stages of development or when food supplies are scarce, perch will eat their same species, though the practice is not overly common.
In about a month the ice on our area lakes will release its grip on the shorelines, shift and complain in the wind, then finally surrender to a tepid spring rain or sunny April afternoon. During that time the reproductive process for perch will approach culmination.
Right now, while perch are still swimming beneath a thick sheet of ice, their bellies stretch to accommodate their nearly developed egg sacs. The number of eggs a perch carries is relative to their size, but commonly ranges from 40,000-100,000.
Not long after the ice dissolves and the water temperature climbs near 50-degrees, female perch release gelatinous ribbons of eggs that often entangle within vegetation, rocks or debris. Several male perch then fertilize the eggs. After an incubation period of about three weeks, larval perch leave the egg sac to begin a new life in the lake, reservoir or stream.
Yet anglers today aren't thinking about the upcoming spawn, they're enjoying the heightened fish activity on bodies of water with prolific populations of yellow perch.
Those looking to land a few jumbo perch should first target lakes that have strong perch populations. Big bodies of water like Leech Lake, Mille Lacs and Lake Winnibigosh are some angler favorites. However, you can run into schools of nice perch on smaller lakes too.
As the snow melts and gradually seeps into our lakes, fish like bluegill and crappie situate themselves higher in the water column, often times just beneath the ice. These panfish species are attracted to the aerated, slightly warmer water that additionally acts as a food delivery system, flushing tiny organisms into the water.
Perch, however, won't typically move higher in the water column, but remain bottom relative - usually within a few feet of the lake bottom. To take advantage of the trickling runoff and subsequent food supply, perch move into shallow water environments, sometimes only a few feet deep.
Angler presentations to catch perch from now until the ice is unsafe for travel include small jigs and spoons tipped with live bait, like crappie minnows, fatheads or waxworms. Soft plastic worm and minnow imitators are also good options, especially when the fish are extremely aggressive and less discerning, which brings up a final observation; perch primarily locate food sources visually, which means the periods of greatest activity revolve around the daylight hours, especially at first light and just before dark. Just be sure to count your fish as you throw them in the bucket since a flurry of activity may cause you to lose track.