Yellow Perch


Characteristics - sides bright yellow to brassy green with 7 dark vertical bars; lighter belly and dark olive green back.

Distribution - Province wide, greatest abundance in natural lakes.

Foods - small fishes, aquatic insects, small crayfish and snails.

Expert's Tip - Yellow perch are great fun to catch through the ice and tasty too! Use ice jigs with plenty of flash.

Other names -- "Little Thieves"

The yellow perch is essentially a lake inhabitant in Manitoba and reaches its greatest abundance in the natural lakes. It is rarely found in large numbers in flowing water with the exception of smaller slower moving rivers in eastern Manitoba where it is common in some localities. They are also found in a number of man-made recreational lakes and river impoundments.

The yellow perch is a beautiful as well as a hardy fish and quickly adapts itself to changes in environments. The sides of the yellow perch are bright yellow to brassy green, with seven dark, vertical bars. The belly is lighter, and the back is a dark olive-green. There are no canine teeth on the jaws or roof of the mouth. The dorsal fin has 12 to 13 soft rays and 7 or 8 rays in the anal fin. Scales in the lateral line range in number from 57 to 62. The cheeks are covered with 8 to 10 rows of extended scales. The somewhat humpbacked appearance of the fish is due to the head being slightly concave above the eyes.

Spawning takes place near shore in early springtime at water temperatures between 45 and 55 degrees F. Large schools may spawn in the shallows of small bays. They are not nest builders; instead the long, flat, ribbon-like masses of eggs are deposited over sand bars, submerged vegetation or brush, and other extraneous material on the bottom. Each gravid female may be followed by 15 to 25 males fertilizing the eggs as they are released. Females, depending on their body size, may produce from 10,000 to 40,000 eggs. The eggs swell considerably after fertilization, the ribbon-like masses becoming up to 8 feet long. There is no parental care, and many egg masses are eaten by other fishes, washed up on shore or stranded by low water. Depending on water temperature, 12 to 21 days are usually required for incubation.

Young perch school in or near weedy areas where food, such as cladocerns or insect larvae, is abundant. They are rather slow swimmers when young and must depend upon the aquatic plants for cover protection. Heavy predation from most fish-eating fishes and birds is common. They are a valuable forage fish for walleye, northern pike in many Manitoba lakes and to a more limited degree smallmouth bass in some eastern Manitoba lakes.

Although the yellow perch is found in ponds, slow moving streams and rivers, especially in holes around the bends, it is primarily a lake fish, preferring clear, cool water. The large fish usually prefer the deeper regions of lakes, leaving the shorelines to smaller individuals.

Natural foods of the yellow perch consist of small fishes, aquatic insects, small crayfish and snails. They feed throughout the daylight hours in deep water but often move into the shallows during evening to feed on schools of minnows. Midgefly larvae and both the immature and adult stages of mayflies often comprise a large part of their diet.

Growth rates and maximum sizes of the yellow perch vary from year-to-year and lake-to-lake, depending primarily on food availability. Average length in Manitoba natural lakes for perch from age I through age VII is 2.7, 5.6, 7.7, 8.9, 9.8, 10.5 and 10.6 inches.

Where to Find Them

Although most anglers agree on the best time of year for fishing perch, there is far less agreement on the best time of day. Perch feed by sight and need light to locate prey. Thus, they commence foraging only after sunlight penetrates the water depths. They may feed off and on throughout the day, but usually there are pronounced periods of foraging activity once in the morning and once in the afternoon. As night approaches the schools disperse and the fish are inactive until the following morning. As a result, perch are rarely caught at night.

The best time of day for catching perch can change abruptly on any day, although the rule of thumb seems to be that perch fishing corresponds with intense activity periods, and it is best in early morning or evening hours during late spring and early summer and late afternoon or evening periods during late summer. In autumn, both morning and late afternoon-evening periods provide excellent fishing. Under the ice and in low light the late afternoon-evening is usually productive; However, at Rock, Pelican and Oak lakes in south western Manitoba, fishing is often excellent from mid-morning to noon.

Angling Techniques

The vast majority of the successful perch anglers fish from boats during the open water season for two important reasons; fish location and fisherman mobility. Perch are found mostly in deeper water during much of the year, and as a result they are difficult to locate without a boat. In addition a major key for successful perch fishing is mobility, and a boat provides an easy means of seeking out fish by trying different locations.

Shore or dock fishing is good at times, particularly during spring and early summer. Perch congregate around bottom structures, such as rock piles, reefs, along the lee side of land points, beds of submergent aquatic vegetation, and bottom drop-offs. In late spring and early summer they are often found in water 10 to 20 feet deep, still near the bottom. One technique often used to locate perch during this time is to drift or troll until a school is located, then anchor and still fish or cast. Mobility, summer, fall or winter is key to a lot of Perch action

Tackle Selection

Perch fishing does not require an extensive nor expensive array of fishing tackle or gear. For open water fishing, most anglers use basic rod-reel combinations, although light tackle is the most popular. The type and quality of the rod is largely a matter of personal preference. For trolling or drift fishing, a somewhat stiffer rod of 6 to 6 1/2 feet in length with a medium to fast tip is one of the better choices. For jig fishing or casting, lighter rods, 5 to 5 1/2 feet in length, are preferable.

Perch are notorious bait robbers, and a fast action rod tip is superior for detecting subtle bites. Fly rods remain the mainstay of some perch fishermen, although their popularity has declined with the advent of light spinning and spin-casting rods.

Reels, like rods, come in a wide variety of styles, brands and sizes. Choose the one that fits your needs best. Open and closed-face spinning reels, in ultra-light or medium sizes are the most common and are satisfactory for most perch fishing. There is an exception to this choice: if the reel is used extensively for casting small lures, the better quality reel is superior in performance and durability.

Monofilament line should be your choice for perch fishing. As a rule of thumb, use the lightest line possible for the type of fishing you are doing. Lighter lines allow for the sensitive touch or feel, which is particularly useful when perch bite softly. For trolling or drift fishing, 4 to 8 pound-test line, depending upon lure size, is adequate. For still fishing or casting, 4 to 6 pound-test line is preferred by many perch fishermen, and 2 pound-test line is the choice with the smallest lures.

Most perch fishermen switch to short ice fishing rods in winter. These rods, no more than 3 feet in length, come in two basic styles; those fitted with a standard reel and the other with a short piece of fiberglass rod and a handle with pegs for wrapping the line. Tip-ups are also used by many fishermen during the winter season but are generally less productive then a hand held line.. Depending upon angler experience and the type of tackle used, heavier test line is better for ice fishing. Lighter lines allow a more sensitive touch, but at the same time they may weaken or break after being abraded by rough ice or frozen in the rod guides.

Lure Selection

For those anglers that prefer to fish for perch with artificial lures, the choice is as varied as it is with any fishing. Lures that are commonly used for perch include many of the same type used for the other panfishes. Small lures are best because perch have relatively small mouths and show little interest in a lure that is too large.

One of the most popular types of lures is a jig. These lures are made in an infinite variety of sizes and colors, but the one sixty-fourth and one thirty-second ounce sizes are most popular. They are alos outfitted with an infinite variety of skirts (rubber to feathers).

Bait Selection

Live bait is one of the stand-bys for perch fishing. The type of bait, like the type of lure, depends mostly on personal preference, although fishing style, fisherman experience, and season often deserve close consideration. Two effective and popular year-round live baits are small minnows and insect larvae. Minnows are the favorite bait while trolling or drift fishing with spinner rigs and three-way rigs using jig. Small minnows are also effective while still fishing in late autumn and winter. Nightcrawlers and small garden worms, although not as popular with anglers as minnows, are also effective at times while drift fishing or trolling, and they are usually rigged with a stinger or trailer hook. Insect larvae, mainly silver wigglers or maggots, are the most widely used bait in the natural lakes for perch.

Several other types of baits are also used by fishermen during certain periods, although they are not as well known. These include wax worms, mousees and a variety of grubs. All of these baits have the advantage of long shelf life compared to wigglers, which need to be stored where it is cool. Crayfish meat is an excellent perch bait, particularly during the mid- and late summer months. The meat is extracted by splitting the tail and rolling the flesh out with the thumb. Perch eyes are a standard bait and are used primarily in autumn and winter. The disadvantage of the cut baits is that they are often unavailable. The best way to assure a reliable supply is to freeze small quantities in individual plastic bags. For perch eyes, freeze 6 or 8 along the bottom of a plastic bag like a string of beads. This way individual eyes can be taken out without having to thaw an entire package.

Angling Tips

The most important part of becoming a successful perch angler is to learn to adjust and be flexible to different techniques, constantly vary the way in which the bait is presented until you catch perch, and become knowledgeable in perch behavior and location during different seasons of the year. Luckily, perch are less affected by changing weather patterns than most fish species, and they are often found in the same locations before and after changes in the weather. In spite of the type of lure, bait, or type of gear, success is often a matter of how well the bait is presented to the fish. Perch orient toward the bottom, and for any bait or lure to be effective it is essential that it is fished on or near the bottom. When perch are located, fishing may be slow at first, but most often action is fast and furious as schools of perch move through while feeding. When this happens, land each fish as quickly as possible and put the bait back down, because the next perch is waiting to strike. A strike may occur as the bait drops, but most often it occurs just as the bait is lifted off the bottom -- so be ready.

When fishing is slow, vary your techniques before moving to another spot, and be willing to try almost any trick. For example, if jigging produced good fishing and it suddenly slows, try casting in a circle around the boat. Remember to let the bait hit bottom before reeling in. If a strike occurs -- land the fish slowly. The flashing action of the fighting fish appears to draw other perch back into the vicinity. As action increases, land fish more quickly and get the bait back down.

Some methods for trying to trigger perch to bite seem to go against traditional fishing methods. When fishing in shallow water for instance, swishing a rod back and forth in the water will often attract perch and trigger some action. Running the boat motor, even while anchored, also can have some positive results, with the noise appearing to attract perch. Some anglers tie brightly colored flags to their anchor ropes to attract perch. If there's still no action after 15 or 20 minutes, move to a different location and try again. Perch usually need no invitation to bite, and once located they will provide plenty of fast action like few other fish.