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Published: Friday, 8/13/2004

Following the fish: Yellow perch plentiful and are great eating

Yellow perch you just can t seem to get away from them in these latitudes. They re everywhere.

About three weeks ago I was targeting bass while teaching the fishing merit badge to Scouts on a 90-acre lake at a summer camp in New York s Catskill Mountains. But along with nice catches of largemouths to three-pounds-plus, a goodly number of perch struck four-inch plastic Slider worms and mini-spinnerbaits as well.

They were strikingly colored compared to their paler Lake Erie brethren, with much darker backs and yellowed sides with deep red-orange chins, bellies and pelvic fins. But 10-inchers there were long and lean, about the girth of a Lake Erie six-incher.

Then last week, while trolling for steelhead trout 18 miles offshore from Fairport Harbor, every so often one of the rods would not be be acting "right." Invariably, on reeling in, a chunky 10- or 12-inch perch would be on the spoon. These hefty little fish easily were double the weight of the ones of the same length from the Catskills lake.

The two foregoing experiences are oft repeated, with perch being taken incidentally to other fishing. But it helps demonstrate that these are gamefish, that they will smack artificial baits under a variety of conditions. That said, nothing beats a live emerald shiner for bait when perch are the specific target.

In any case, perch sit atop the food chain the fish-dinner food chain, that is. Anyone who doesn t salivate over the prospect of a fresh fried perch dinner just does not know what good is.

This time of year on into October, or even November, is perch "season" on Lake Erie, even though they are sought year-round by some anglers. Walleye action tends to slow down somewhat, and maybe fishermen become a little lazier and start to spin down somewhat as well. A perch trip is the perfect fit.

"There are a lot of them out there," summed biologist Jeff Tyson about perch abundance. "We have been tearing them up."

Tyson, supervisor of the state s Lake Erie Fisheries Research Station at Sandusky, said the waters off Lakeside and Marblehead, east of Port Clinton, and Clinton reef, along the west side of the Catawba Island peninsula off Port Clinton, have been prime perch venues of late. So have many areas around the Bass Islands and Kelleys Island.

Most fish there have been in the eight-inch class, with some to the 10-inch range, Tyson said.

Further west, at the Toledo end of the lake, the area around Toledo Harbor Light has been producing some seven- and eight-inch perch, and in Michigan waters the area around the E-Buoy off Bolles Harbor and waters off Luna Pier have been producing. But perch action locally has not quite been up to par for this time of year, added Rick Ferguson, proprietor at Al Szuch Live Bait in Jerusalem Township.

In the lake s central basin, the waters east of Kelleys Island have been producing well, as have nearshore waters off Vermilion and Lorain. Perch there have been running larger. If you are leaving Vermilion harbor, just look for the pack of boats a mile or so offshore, Tyson said.

Overall, he added, the Lake Erie perch stocks are down slightly from 2003 because of little production from 2002, but the fish remain relatively abundant, especially compared to the other Great Lakes. The bulk of fish in the stock are from 2001, 1999 and 1998. The 2003 year-class was exceptional, as was the walleye production a year ago, but those year-old fish still are not keeper size.

Many Erie perch fishermen use a classic wire spreader, fishing two baits at a time. Others use a tandem crappie-style rig with one hook stacked above the other.

Yellow perch fishing also can be very good this time of year in northwest Ohio s upground reservoirs, using the same techniques as on Lake Erie. Small boats usually are the ticket to better catches.

"[Upground] anglers may need to drift around until the fish are located," said Joel Plott, a fisheries biologist with Ohio Wildlife District 2. Inland perch are abundant enough at some reservoirs to target a trip just for perch. Sizes range from eight to 10 inches, with occasionally larger fish.

Plott lists the following reservoirs as good places to try inland for yellow perch:

Bresler, Metzger and Ferguson reservoirs and Lima Lake, all in the Lima area in Allen County; Findlay reservoirs No. 1 and No 2 near Findlay in Hancock County; Veterans Memorial Reservoir and Lake LaComte at Fostoria in Hancock County; Wauseon Reservoir No. 2 at Wauseon in Fulton County; Raccoon Creek Reservoir at Clyde in Sandusky County; Beaver Creek Reservoir near Green Springs in Seneca County; Willard Reservoir near Willard in Huron County; New London Reservoir near New London in Huron County; and Shelby No. 3 Reservoir near Shelby in Richland County.

Last and not least, perch fans may want to plan ahead for the annual PerchFest in Lake County, Sept. 10 to 12.

PerchFest celebrates the species with fish fries, a perch fishing contest, bands and other activities, all headquartered at Lakefront Park in Fairport Harbor. The event attracts some 50,000 visitors. For details, call toll-free to the Lake County Visitors Bureau, 1-800-368-LAKE, or visit the event Web site, www.perchfest.com.

It took a catch averaging better than three pounds a fish excellent for Lake Erie s western basin in August, awesome in most lakes elsewhere to win the annual captains tournament Sunday for members of the West Sister Charter Boat Association.

The top three teams, by captain, with their seven-fish entry weights, were: Paul Pacholski, 21.66 pounds; Craig Adams, 21.48 pounds, and Mike Patterson, 21 pounds. Sixteen teams vied for the association s annual bragging rights in this casting-only event.

Contact Steve Pollick at: spollick@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.



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