Lake Erie's Incredible July Perch

Want to take home a limit of yellow perch averaging 10 inches? Our expert has the details on where to find them from shore or boat this month.

By David Adams

Lake Erie's yellow perch may not be known for their elusiveness or intelligence, but their appetite for minnows (dead or alive) or a scrap of night crawler is the delight of anglers from Port Clinton, Ohio, to Erie, Penn. And that's just the beginning.

"The high point of Lake Erie's perch fishing came last year (2002), when over 6.5 million yellow perch were harvested," said Doug Johnson, Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) aquatic biologist.

According to the 2001 Ohio Lake Erie Fisheries Report, a strong 1998 hatch and an average hatch in 1999 means great yellow perch fishing for years to come.

Ohio has a 30-fish limit for perch (no minimum size) and offers the most choices to boaters. The waters of Lake Erie cover 2.25 million acres and stretch 262 miles across Ohio's northern shore. Ohio's Lake Erie perch fishery is considered as comprising two sections: The western basin and the central basin. No matter where you choose to fish, Interstate Route 90 will lead you to perch and a launch ramp.

Western Basin
Western basin anglers can expect an average water depth of 25 feet. There's an angler-friendly environment from Port Clinton to Marblehead, with plenty of bait and tackle stores, launch ramps, campgrounds and lodging.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

According to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, experienced anglers can expect limit catches of perch off Marblehead and Catawba Peninsula, south of Kelleys Island to Lakeside, north of Green Island to Rattlesnake Island, and between South Bass Island and Kelleys Island.

First-time anglers to the Port Clinton area need only follow the flotilla of boats in search of schools of perch.

By launching at Catawba Island State Park, which is off West Catawba Road eight miles northeast of Port Clinton, anglers can fish west to the islands and near the Catawba Peninsula. The Mazurik Access boat launch, which provides access to water east of Kelleys Island to Lakeside, is about 10 minutes east of the Catawba Peninsula on North Shore Boulevard off Route 163.

Use caution when returning to the Mazurik Access at the end of the day. During days of heavy recreational boat traffic, the resulting waves can create unusual conditions as they bounce between Kelleys Island and the shoreline.

For information on perch fishing in the Port Clinton area, contact Herb's Sportsman Supply at (419) 797-2455 or Catawba Island State Park at (419) 797-4530. The Ottawa County Visitors Bureau offers a listing of 37 area marinas that offer launch ramps. For details, call 1-800-441-1271.

Central Basin
Ohio's Lake Erie central basin averages 61 feet in depth, and catch rates are about three fish per angler-hour. But the perch are bigger here, and during the summer most perch are suspended offshore in the 40- to 50-foot depths.

"Fish anywhere from Cleveland to Conneaut," said Rockne DeNiro of Weldon Tackle in Cleveland. "Perch fishing was always popular in the spring and fall, but now we catch them there all summer."

Wildwood Park, in Cleveland's Lakefront State Park on Lakeshore Boulevard, would be a good choice for boaters, DeNiro added.

The best perch fishing, however, according to local anglers, is in Ashtabula.

"Most perch will average 9 to 12 inches," said Jeff Ames of Conrad's Bait and Tackle in the Ashtabula Recreation Unlimited Marina and Campground.

Anchor one to two miles from the Ashtabula harbor in 30 to 40 feet of water. Local anglers recommend a medium-action rod with a 3/4-ounce weight and a No. 6 hook with a small shiner for bait.

During periods of less-than-perfect lake conditions, try inside the harbor's east break wall, where most anglers get their limit within one or two hours.

Ohio regulations allow up to three hooks for each line. Local experts add a third snelled hook to the weight and rest the weight on the bottom. Often the bottom hook will catch the most perch.

Weldon's Tackle is an excellent contact for central basin perch anglers. Call them at (216) 531-2907. Conrad's Bait and Tackle can be reached at (440) 992-4220. For regional accommodations, call the Ashtabula County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-337-6746.

The ODNR has a Web site ( that includes the latest Lake Erie fishing report. Or you can call 1-800-WILDLIFE for general fishing information.

There are, of course, many other areas in which to fish for Lake Erie perch in Ohio, including Turtle Creek, Lorain, Conneaut, Geneva and Eastlake. Success is often credited to the information gained by checking with local bait and tackle shops. These are the best sources of timely information, particularly when you're targeting perch, which can change locations daily.

In Pennsylvania's Lake Erie waters, yellow perch are large and easy to catch, and they are often found close to shore. The Pennsylvania shoreline of Lake Erie is 47 miles long, and near the city of Erie the water depth averages 70 feet. But east and closer to the New York line, where the eastern basin begins, and depths will average 100 feet, Route 5 extends the length of the shoreline and provides access to three prime fishing areas: Presque Isle Bay, Walnut Creek Access and North East.

John Bowser, recently retired Pennsylvania waterways conservation officer, recommended fishing off Gull Point or near the lighthouse. Both can be accessed from Presque Isle Bay.

"Generally, the key is water depth," Bowser said. "If you find perch in 43 feet of water in one place, you can usually find them across the western side in the same depth. The perch follow the bait, and the bait follows the thermocline."

Target the 35- to 42-foot depths near the lighthouse (at the bay's entrance) or move two miles west to the 42- to 60-foot depths near Gull Point.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission marina at Walnut Creek is a popular alternative. Throughout July, large schools of fish are found just north of the marina in the 40- to 50-foot depths.

"We're having the best perch fishing since the '70s from the Walnut Creek access," said Gary Heubel of Poor Richard's Bait and Tackle.

When fishing at North East, anchoring in the right spot is the key. Anchor about one mile offshore and one-half mile west of the marina in 55 feet of water. Use a night crawler cut in half on a No. 6 hook and raise it a few inches off the bottom. On one trip, my wife, Cindy, took her limit of 20 hefty perch using this method, and I took mine on minnows. We only caught a few perch that were under the 8-inch minimum size.

Access to Presque Isle State Park is easy by exiting I-79 at Erie and following Route 832 into the park. The West Pier launch is at the first road past the administration building.

Bait and lake conditions can be obtained by calling Hansen's Sporting Goods at (814) 838-1642. The PFBC marina at Walnut Creek is about two miles east of Route 98 off Route 5. Poor Richard's Bait and Tackle can help with perch locations. Give them a call at (814) 474-5623. The PFBC marina at North East is 13 miles east of Erie on Route 5. Contact Tim Truit at (814) 725-8244.

Why is Lake Erie perch fishing so popular?

"I believe it's the ease of the catch," said WCO Bowser. "Newcomers with minimal skills can compete against seasoned anglers in the same boat. Plus, there's the attraction of catching a fish that sells for over $10 a pound."

That alone makes Lake Erie perch fishing a real angler's dream!

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