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Searching for Giant Yellow Perch

Searching for Giant Yellow Perch
Ice fishing on Michigan's Lake Gogebic can result in jumbo yellow perch. (Photo by Ron Sinfelt)

Giant Yellow Perch
Ice fishing on Michigan's Lake Gogebic can result in jumbo yellow perch. (Photo by Ron Sinfelt)

Special regulations and size limits make Michigan's Lake Gogebic a hotspot for taking giant yellow perch.

Based on our DNR's Master Angler Award entries for yellow perch from 2017, 3 p.m. is prime time to be ice-fishing for giant yellow perch from the western U.P.'s large boot-shaped Lake Gogebic.

Fourteen inches is the minimum length necessary for entering a yellow perch into the Master Angler Award Program. 


Three perch that qualified were pulled through Lake Gogebic's ice and were entered during the first three months of 2017.


One of those fish was 14 inches long and the other two measured 14 1/2 inches in length.

Even though those perch were iced on January 23, February 19 and March 3, the time each of them were hooked was listed as 3 p.m. That timing has to be more than a coincidence, and bears considering if you plan on ice-fishing for Gogebic's jumbo perch this winter.

Something else of interest from those three Master Angler perch, and another one entered during March of 2016, is that they all came from the Ontonagon County portion of the lake.

Lake Gogebic is so long — 14.29 miles — that it stretches across both Ontonagon and Gogebic counties. The lake is close to being equally divided between those counties. The bottom of the boot, or the foot portion, is in Ontonagon County and the top half is in Gogebic. The community of Bergland is located under the toe portion of the boot.


Jumbo perch are distributed throughout the lake and can be caught in the portion of the lake that's in each county. Some of the biggest jumbos may swim in Ontonagon County waters, however.

The giant Lake Gogebic perch from 2016 that was entered in the Master Angler Award Program, by the way, was 14.38 inches long and it was caught at 9:30 a.m. Some of the biggest perch from this lake weigh over 2 pounds.

giant yellow perch
Sometimes getting away from the crowds is the way to find topnotch yellow perch action. (Photo by Ron Sinfelt)


CATCH LIMITS

Before you get any ideas about catching a bucketful of giant perch from Gogebic, it's important to point out that special size and creel limits have been established for perch fishing on the lake to ensure the fishery will be maintained into the future.

The daily creel limit for yellow perch across most of the state is 50 fish. On Gogebic, anglers can only keep 25 perch per day, but only 5 of those fish can be 12 inches in length or longer. 

Five 12-inch or larger jumbo perch provide enough filets for a meal for an average-sized family. Fish surveys of the lake have shown that Gogebic perch grow up to 15 inches in length.

There are far fewer of those than 14-inchers, of course, and more 13-inchers than those that make it to 14 and so on.

During a fyke net survey the DNR conducted on Lake Gogebic April 13-28, 2005, for example, only 4 perch that were in the 14-inch size class were handled compared to 61 that were 13 inches long.

Perch that were 11 and 12 inches in length were most abundant during that survey, with 236 and 221 respectively, in each size class. Ninety-three of the perch that were netted were in the 10-inch size class and 55 were 9 inches long. 

Yellow perch in Gogebic grow fat on a diet of wigglers (larval mayflies) and other insects, according to DNR district fisheries biologist George Madison, who works out of the Baraga office.

He said that perch from the lake start looking pretty impressive when they reach 8 or 9 inches. Those that attain 10 inches are of jumbo proportions.

Due to the more restrictive size and creel limits on perch from Gogebic, serious ice anglers often release the smallest perch they catch. Some release females, no matter what size they are, to allow them to spawn.

The minimum acceptable size to keep varies by angler, but the practice of releasing smaller fish and/or females helps maintain the quality perch fishery on the lake.

At the same time, ice-fishermen can't expect to catch a daily limit of 25 perch every time they are on the ice. The average catch of perch per day through the ice, according to Madison, is three to five.

WINTER CREEL SURVEY

Winter creel surveys done on Gogebic during 2006 and 2016 produced identical results in terms of catch-rate and harvest, according Madison, and so ice-fishing success has been fairly consistent over the past 10 years.

A final report from the 2016 survey has not been completed yet, but Madison emailed me a copy of the 2006 report. 

The winter creel census that year was conducted on Lake Gogebic from Dec. 22, 2005, through March 27, 2006. A total of 742 anglers were interviewed. They fished 15,484 hours and made 3,995 trips to the lake.

Their cumulative catch was 1,879 fish, and yellow perch were the most numerous fish caught, at 57 percent of the total. Ice-fishing for walleyes is popular on Gogebic and they were the second most common fish in the winter catch, at 29 percent, followed by northern pike.

Winter anglers during that survey reported releasing 26 percent of the perch they pulled through the ice (377). They released about half of the walleyes they caught (571 fish) and 81 percent of the pike they iced (320).

For perch fishermen who happen to catch walleyes, special size and creel limits are in effect for that species on Gogebic.

Anglers can keep up to two walleyes that are between 13 and 15 inches in length. All other walleyes must be at least 15 inches.

giant yellow perch
There are more 13-inch yellow perch than 14-inchers, more 11- and 12-inch fish than 13-inchers and so on. (Photo by Ron Sinfelt)

WHERE TO GO

Giant perch can be caught almost anywhere from Gogebic during the winter in 10 to 15 feet of water over a bottom that is made up of organic material or sand.

That's the type of bottom material where wigglers spend the winter and where perch will be searching for them. The DNR's George Madison said weedbeds in Bergland Bay at the north end of the lake are popular locations to catch jumbo winter perch.

He said perch could be caught both in the weedbeds and along the edges of them. Madison added that the best fishing is during first and last ice, but perch can be caught from the lake anytime during winter. 

Last ice, which usually is during March, can be just as good, if not better, than first ice. Days are getting longer then and perch are preparing for spring spawning. An increase in appetite often coincides with preparation for spawning, making this species of panfish easier to catch. The weather can be more pleasant for ice-fishing during last ice, too, with air temperatures normally much warmer than the dead of winter.

Aquatic vegetation that serves as cover for perch can be found near the mouths of rivers, creeks and brooks that enter the lake. One of those inlets is Merriweather Creek, which flows into the lake at the heel of the boot at the north end of Gogebic. Hendrick Creek enters the lake on the west side just south of the Gogebic County line and Bingham Creek flows into Bingham Bay about two miles south of Hendrick.

Montgomery Creek enters the lake on the east side in Gogebic County near Montgomery Point and Bay. Trout Brook empties into the lake several miles south of Montgomery.

Because there's moving water at all inlets to Lake Gogebic, that current can retard ice formation, so use extreme caution when approaching areas where rivers and creeks enter the lake.

Although ice may be thick enough elsewhere, it will most likely be thinner at the mouths of those inlets, and, in some cases, may be too thin to support the weight of a person or snowmobile.

Fishing off some of the lake's points such as Alligator, Porcupine and Montgomery can be productive, too. Sand bars are good spots to try. Varying the depth you fish can pay off as well.

If you don't find perch in 10 to 15 feet of water, look in water that's less than 10 feet deep and then deeper water that's up to 20 feet deep, until you get some action.

Most of the best spots have clusters of shanties or anglers visible on the ice. Setting up a safe distance from other anglers is a good place to start. If you want to find your own spot without company, search likely locations until you find fish.

CATCHING FISH

At times, small minnows can be the best bait for big perch. Due to the large number of predator fish in Gogebic, minnows are in short supply in the lake. That fact makes live bait a top choice on many days. Minnows can be fished several ways. They can simply be put on a hook (short-shank size 6 or 8, or smaller treble hooks) under a tip-up or bobber on 4- or 6-pound-test monofilament.

If you use tip-ups (each angler is allowed up to three lines), a flying flag signals a bite. When you get to the tripped tip-up, pull the device out of the water and feel the line to determine if the fish is still there. If it is, set the hook.

If you use a bobber, a sliding bobber is best. A sliding bobber is a float that is set to suspend your bait at the desired depth, usually 1 to 3 inches from the bottom.

A small stick, match or swivel is attached to the line to serve as a stopper, so the float will always keep your bait at the same depth. Most ice-anglers determine the proper place to put the float stopper on their line by clamping a heavy weight to the end of their line before they start fishing, drop the weight to the bottom, lift the weight the desired distance and then put the stop on the line where it enters the water.

After a perch pulls the bobber down, you set the hook. When a fish is hooked, a sliding bobber slides down the line as you reel the fish in.

Once the fish is unhooked and the hook rebaited, the bobber slides up the line as it's lowered toward the bottom until hitting the stop. A split shot is normally clamped on the line 5 inches or so from the hook or hooks so the bait goes to the bottom quickly.

Since perch can sometimes be light biters, some ice-anglers prefer spring bobbers that attach to the end of their rod tip.

They prop their rods up over holes in the ice with forked sticks, tackle boxes or something similar and watch for the spring bobber to move to signal a bite.

Dead minnows can be impaled through the head on small jigs, Swedish Pimples, or teardrop lures and worked slowly up and down with an ice-fishing rod to give the bait action. 

Wigglers or mousies are effective baits for Gogebic perch, either fished on a single hook as bait or when combined with a jig, Swedish Pimple, or teardrop lure.

Wigglers can also be used as bait under tip-ups. Three of the four jumbo perch from Gogebic entered in the Master Angler Awards Program the last two years were caught on wigglers.

The fourth was hooked on a wiggler and jig. Some anglers put two wigglers on single hooks and others put three on trebles.

When jigging with minnows or wigglers, a tactic that often generates a strike when things are slow is to bounce the lure on the bottom several times to mimic a wiggler kicking up sand.

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