Perch Fishing Tips
Many sunfish are referred to as perch but the fish I am covering here is the yellow perch. It is native to eastern and midwestern states, but has been widely transplanted…especially into many waters of the Rocky Mountain states. While some anglers still consider perch to be nothing more than bait-stealing pests…that compete with their other favorite species…there is a growing legion of “perch hounds” that rank them at the top of their favorite fishies list. In the Great Lakes and on other large ponds in the upper Midwest good perch fishing spots may be miles offshore…not good for tubers. The good news is that there are plenty of inshore hotspots on those big lakes and plenty of smaller lakes with good perch populations. Perch are decidedly good targets for tubers and tooners.
As with many species, perch are easier to find and catch if you have sonar. They are schooling fish that tend to hang out close to the bottom. If you can find a school you can usually catch a bunch of them. Tubes and toons are ideal for perch searching and for making the vertical presentations that are often the most effective way to fish for them. Sonar alone is sometimes not enough to stay right on top of a small holding area. When fishing for schooled perch it is wise to carry a couple of small marker buoys. Toss them out a short distance away from the school for a close visual reference. Just don’t drop the buoys right on the school or you will risk tangling the buoy cord while reeling up fish. Perch are very democratic when it comes to munching bait or lures. They feed on many different invertebrates but prefer minnows when they can get them. When perch are the predominant species in a lake they feed heavily upon their own fry. Lures in a perch pattern can be very effective. And, tipping a jig or other lure with a perch eye or strip of perch flesh usually helps.
Utah Lake has never been known as a prime perch pond. Perch prefer deeper and
colder lakes with good visibility. None of those descriptions fit Utah Lake. Nevertheless,
there is a population of yellow perch in Utah Lake and there are a lot more caught than
most folks might suspect.
It is doubtful that perch were actually planted in Utah Lake. It is more likely that
they found their way downstream in the Provo River after high water spills from Deer
Creek Reservoir upstream. There are no records as to when they first showed up in UL
but I remember catching a few inside harbors while ice fishing as early as the 1970s.
There are several reasons that perch have probably not proliferated in Utah Lake.
First…as mentioned…it is not ideal perch habitat…shallow and murky rather than deep,
cold and clear. Second is that there are lots of large predators in Utah Lake that dearly
love a meal of perch when they can get one. Third is the spawning problem. Perch need
vegetation upon which to spawn. They do not make nests on the bottom. Many years the
lake is so low right after ice- out…when perch typically spawn…that there are no aquatic
weed beds or sunken brush upon which to lay their eggs.
The first few years of the 2000s were drought years in Utah. The water level in Utah
Lake dropped dramatically and most fish species had a tough time making a living…or
getting in a good spawn. And if fish did spawn there was no protective cover for the young
to hide in. Anything that hatched did not last long when exposed to all the hungry mouths.
The last drought broke in 2005. Record snow packs in the mountains were enough
to refill Utah Lake. After the lake came up to historic high water levels the shoreline reeds
and aquatic weed beds really grew in again. Whatever perch remained in the lake had a
good spawn that year…and each year since. The current perch population in Utah Lake is
probably as high as it has ever been. But it is still subject to low water years.
The last two winter ice fishing seasons…2009 and 2010…have seen a lot more perch
hitting the ice for anglers fishing in all the popular ice fishing spots. Ditto for crappies and
bluegills. Previously white bass have been the mainstay of Utah Lake’s ice fishing crowd
but other species are increasingly adding to the mix.
Perch have also been showing up on anglers’ lines during open water months too. It
is becoming far more common for a few perch to join the bluegills, white bass and crappies
in a daily harvest from inside the harbors. They also smack the baits and lures being
fished for other species in the open lake as well.
There is still not a large enough perch population in Utah Lake to warrant making a
trip specifically for them. However, they will readily accept just about any of the baits and
lures you might be fishing for other species so there’s always a chance of catching some.
Possibly one of the reasons that anglers seem to catch more perch from beneath the
ice is because an ice covering allows the lake to clear up a lot. Since perch are a schooling
species the clearer water allows them to find each other, group up and establish a more
characteristic schooling formation.
Another interesting phenomenon of the increasing perch population is that they are
becoming a larger part of the food base for walleyes and other predators. The wallies
seemingly search for perch whenever they can find them…to the exclusion of some of the
other more plentiful forage species. And baby perch show up in large white bass more
frequently too. Seems like everything likes little perchies.