The Wayward Perch and Their Wandering Ways
By Daniel Kiazyk
The title does say a lot about my experiences last winter on what has become one of Manitoba's hottest perch fisheries. Perch have a reputation for wandering throughout the year, this reputation is not unfounded but it is also to some extent tempered by certain times when there is some predictability to where they might be found.
As a major source of forage perch themselves have as a foundation to their behaviour the necessity to stay out of the jaws of those who'd eat them. Staying in one place for any given period of time would mean that any number of other species would be able to key in on them as a particularly reliable food source.
Perch tend to be a very fecund species with females laying hundreds of thousands of eggs to preserve the species. Their spawn is one of the last to occur and it has perch moving into shallower areas where there is a tendency to spawn near weed growth or rocky/gravel substrate both in shallower water.
Perch too have particular food preferences that do not necessarily always focus on other fish. Perch for a large part of their existence are reliant upon other benthic life. Bloodworms, emergent underwater life (eg.nymphs), zoo plankton are very much a part of their diet for most of their life. It goes without saying that part of the success of the Shoal lakes is related to the enormity of aquatic life that this boay of water supports. Upon a visit to the lake last summer I was amazed at the humungous number of dragonflies that live next to or near theses lakes. It follows that with such a large population just the dragonfly nymphs that would be available as forage would support a gigantic population of fish.
The combination of their behaviour (survival from predation and necessity to reproduce) and food preferences do dictate to a large extent where perch will be found throughout the season. I've caught perch in deeper lakes as far down as a hundred feet and have caught them in that same lake in the weeds throughout the summer. Certainly the habitat they find themselves in and the food sources available in different parts of the lake will dictate where they will be found.
OK so it's the fall of the year and you're looking for perch…. Where? Well to be honest they can be anywhere from shallow to deep and most probably relating to the most abundant food source. To be sure you're not going to find them in any great concentration unless their food has concentrated itself in a particular area. Summer is going to be similar in nature with perch being shallower at the beginning of the season and then moving all throughout the water column as summer progresses. This scattered pattern is what characterizes perch location throughout the summer.
With the onset of winter perch seem to move off into the deeper basins. This move puts them into contact with benthic food that they seem to be drawn towards naturally. These large non-descript areas are characterized by mud some rock and little other life. The mud bottom has life emerging from it all throughout the year. In winter when the rest of the lake is slowing down these deeper flats keep chugging along with a certain availability of forage. The large flats also allow perch some security in so far as it's relatively easy to spot marauding predators or at least scatter when one of the group is preyed upon.
Finally the movement of perch is driven by their reproductive cycle. Perch in this mode make a movement towards the shallows or even more precisely shallower areas where there will be some cover for their spawn process. It seems as though this movement towards shallower areas occurs at least a month in advance of their actual spawn date and becomes an area of hot and heavy activity as the ice starts to rot and the hours of daylight increases.
As for the bait selections during these various periods there's a bit of variety possible. I find that small minnows are especially effective for the spring period while wax worms and other larvae are effective for the winter ice period. As for summer regular garden worms or crawlers seem to be very effective at attracting hungry perch.
The actual form of delivery to the perch we fish during the season is going to change to some extent through the seasons. In the summer something moving quickly with a lot of flash like that you'll find with a spinner seems to work quite well. During the summer period there is an abundance of food so being successful means catching a perch's attention. In the winter I tend to size down to imitate a lot of the benthic life that perch will be focussing on during this time of the year. Tiny dressed jigs are top producers with the possibility to add some bait to convert any reluctant biters. Finally spring seems to require simplicity and a decent meal to fish that are probably in need of the additional caloric intake that an upcoming spawn may require from them.
I've still got a lot to learn about these little creatures and how to fish them. In the past my effort has been aided by fisheries that were "no-brainers". Finding a fishery that's productive and offers the possibility of quality fish can be a worthy pursuit. It can be very rewarding to put it all together when fishing for perch at any time of year. Of course it goes without saying that these fish are the finest of table fare and if harvested responsibly will provide us with many fine memories for many years to come!