Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Yellow perch are a dinner prize for everyone

They are not the gamest fish that swims, nor the biggest. They sometimes turn up on a walleye rig and are taken for granted.

Not much to say about yellow perch then - except that under the right conditions you can catch them by the bucketful and they probably make the best fish-fry anywhere.

Filleted yellow perch “butterflies” - battered or breaded and deep-fried - are a signature dinner-fish wherever they can be caught in good numbers. Lake Erie may well be the center of their universe, but they can be found in inland lakes and reservoirs as well.

In short, yellow perch may be everyone's fish. Even Gov. Bob Taft, who did not attend a walleye excursion on the official Lake Erie Fish Ohio Day last month at Port Clinton, managed to catch some perch at his own “Governor's Fish Ohio Day” on Wednesday off Cleveland.

“The biggest thing is locating them,” summed Larry Goedde, fish management supervisor for Ohio Wildlife District 2. That advice applies at inland impoundments and on Lake Erie. If you do not catch perch in 10 or 15 minutes, move, and keep moving until you find them. Then settle in and get to work on a limit, which is 30 a day in Ohio and 50 a day in Michigan.

Perch may be caught incidentally on almost any rig, from walleye spinners and worm harnesses to crankbaits and jigs used for smallmouth and largemouth bass.

But the bread-and-butter rig for targeting perch is a two-hook wire spreader, in which the hooks hang side by side, or a “stacked” two-hook crappie rig, with one hook above the other. Attach a lead sinker - just enough weight to keep the line vertical in the prevailing current conditions - and tip the hooks either with shiners or other small minnows, or waxworms if you're fishing inland.

When a school of perch starts “working,” it is not uncommon to catches doubles - two fish at once. Most often, just keep your rig within a crank or two of the bottom.

Time was, not so long ago, that August through October was perch season on Lake Erie. But a decade ago the Erie perch stocks were in dire straits. Now the perch numbers have rebuilt well, thanks to the 30-limit and commercial net quotas and good spawning seasons.

“We've had a recovery in the mayfly population, and I'm sure that has something to do with it too,” said Jeff Tyson, supervisor of the state's Lake Erie Fisheries Research Station at Sandusky. “[Perch] eat [mayflies] like popcorn.”

Nowadays at least some Lake Erie fishermen are targeting perch from April until ice-up, after which ice fishermen may focus on them as well. Many walleye fishermen, when the action is slow, also switch to shiners and perch-spreaders.

Following are some of the reliable locales to begin a western Lake Erie perch trip: Close to Toledo, along the Toledo Ship Channel at the Toledo Harbor Light; the “new structure” or electronic platform further out the Channel; the “Sputnik” or navigation platform-buoy next to last at the end of the Channel, and the Turn-Around Buoy at the Ship Channel's end. Also try the area marked on charts at Gravel Pit, between the Channel and West Sister Island.

On the Michigan side, the E-Buoy, used for sailing events, four miles off Bolles Harbor, is a consistent producer.

In the Port Clinton area, try northwest of Green Island, east of Ballast Island, east of Starve Island Reef, or northeast of Kelleys Island out to Gull Island Shoal. In spring and fall, the waters off Marblehead Lighthouse and between Marblehead peninsula and Kelleys often are worth a try.

Right now, in fact, the 40-foot depth east of Kelleys' airport reef is hot, as is 30 feet of water north of Marblehead Light. Perch are running 7 to 12 inches.

Some of the larger catches come in east of Cleveland in the lake's central basin. Try a mile north of Beaver Creek, two to three miles off Fairport and Geneva in 44 to 50 feet of water, three miles northeast of Wildwood State Park in 42 to 46 feet, and two miles north-northeast of Conneaut in 42 feet.

All of which is not to overlook some fine perching to be had in northwest Ohio's up-ground water-supply reservoirs.

Larry Goedde's picks for best inland perch reservoirs include Findlay No. 2, in Hancock County; Bresler and Ferguson, Allen County; Shelby No. 3, Richland County; Willard, Huron County, and Wauseon No. 2 in Fulton County.

Some inland perch can grow very large, though most range 8 to 10 inches. John Vanover of Montpelier, for example, took a 145/8–inch, 1.59-pound yellow perch from Wauseon No. 2 in May. The state record, from Lake Erie, was a hair shorter, 141/2 inches, but weighed 2.75 pounds.

Mostly the inland reservoir angling is a small-boat proposition, with most impoundments having either low-horsepower limits for outboards, or electric-motor-only rules. As with the big lake, Goedde noted, keep moving till you find them, and try different depths too. Many anglers slowly troll, or drift with the breeze until they locate fish and drop anchor.

This time of year, he added, they may be holding in deeper waters, as long as those waters are not oxygen-depleted. “That's hard to tell. You've got to do some hunting.”

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