Once considered a trash fish, yellow perch are now hot targets among New England's anglers.
The more you know about a specific species of fish, the better you will be at targeting and catching it. That's obviously true of trophy brown trout and lunker smallmouth, but it's also true of less wily fish like perch.
At a minimum, it helps to keep in mind perch are found in most warm and cold water habitats throughout New England, but prefer certain locations within those habitats. Those locations are apt to change from day-to-day, even hour-to-hour, depending on the availability of food.
A popular ice-fishing tactic is to drill a series of holes relatively close together, using several tip ups set at various depths loaded with bait to help locate fish. Those anglers will also actively jig a flashy lure at the same time drawn the attention of passing perch.
Over the years, I have found this approach works best in large lakes where perch might be scattered or in waters with where perch numbers are low or moderate. Once a school is found, action can come quickly. But when the action cools for an hour or so, moving to a new location might be a critical help in finding the next bite.
The second option is to use the same tip-up and jigging tactic but to wait patiently for perch to come to them. This often works best in lakes and ponds with large populations of perch where competition for food is higher and schools are always on the move to find it.
The first task is setting up in locations that should hold perch. Shallow back coves, especially those with known or exposed weed beds, weed lines, brush piles or sunken timber, provide prime cover for small minnows and baitfish, nymphs, plankton, freshwater shrimp and other aquatics. Hungry perch follow bait, making these locations likely hotspots.
Other locations like mud flats and soft-bottom areas, hard bottoms and deep flats where hard bottoms meet soft are locations offering a smorgasbord of food that attract perch. Available lake fishing and bathymetry maps can prove helpful in finding these locations. Many maps are downloadable from the various state fish and wildlife department websites, and some of the maps are in color and provide great detail.
The important thing to remember is perch are mobile critters, in one area one minute, somewhere else the next, until they find a sufficient food source. They can also be in shallow or deep water, but they are always near the bottom. Anglers simply need to be mobile to track them down, or be patient enough to perch make their way to the baits. Both tactics work.
Perch also have certain feeding habits and preferences that anglers can use to their advantage. Perch have rather poor eyesight and rely on sunlight to locate food. At this time of year, the best perch action is typically late morning to early afternoon when the sun is well up. That tendency is particularly marked on overcast days and in lakes or ponds with stained water and restricted visibility.
Perch can be reluctant to hit jigging lures in dark water and most of the action will come on the tip-ups, but it is the action of a flashy lure worked up and down that draws attention. Phosphorescent and metallic 1/8- and 1/4-ounce lures in silver, gold, green and orange work well. Another good set of options includes the No. 3 and No. 5 Jigging Rapala, Acme's Sidewinder and Kastmaster and Swedish Pimple.
For added incentive attach a mealworm, waxworm or other natural bait to the treble hook. These lures also work in clear water where visibility is unrestricted, but keep in mind perch are reluctant to hit a moving bait, so hesitate once the bait hits the bottom.
Almost every lake and pond in the Pine Tree State holds perch. They are not as heavily targeted as they might be, because many anglers focus on the trout and bass species. On the other hand, that means more fish and action for those who dedicate effort to perch fishing.
One of the better perch lakes in central Maine is Maranacook Lake in Kennebec County.
The lake forms two basins, the deeper south basin in Winthrop and shallow basin in Readfield. To target perch hit the north basin. Access is available from the public lands on Route 41, also known as the Winthrop Road, just south of Readfield Village.
From there anglers can head towards the weedy north end, but some of the best perch habitat will be found to the south. The lake is not as wide or deep there and it has a number of small coves, points and islands with shallow surroundings that offer plenty of places to set up.
Maine has no daily bag on length limits on yellow perch so catch all you want.
For a list and more information on Maine lakes offering yellow perch visit www.mefishwildlife.com.
Winnipesaukee Lake, New Hampshire
New Hampshire's biggest lake is a popular winter angling destination and yellow perch, supported by a healthy forage base, are among the reasons why. Running into big yellow perch measured is possible here, although the big lake produces its share of pan-size examples as well. The yellow perch population is healthy and the action often second to none.
Yellow perch are found through the lake but some of the bays often produce the most consistent action.
These bays and coves include Moultonborough Bay, the Langley Cove area off Moultonborough Neck, Shelter Cove and Melvin Bay near Melvin Village off Route 119, and Nineteenmile Bay near Center Tuftonboro, and Bulrush Cove and Ash Cove in Center.
Heading down the lake, the area of Weirs Beach and any of the numerous coves all the way to and including Alton Bay are worth fishing. The same is true across the lake from Wingate Cove in Tuftonboro to Wolfeboro Bay.
Lake Winnipesaukee's water is quite clear and jigging with lures is often a productive method to catch perch. Anglers should keep in mind only two ice fishing devices or lines are allowed when fishing Winnipesaukee (and other designated lake trout and salmon waters). For that reason some anglers start off using one tip-up and a jigging outfit until fish are located. They then switch to two jigging rods in holes in close proximity, which allows for faster retrieval while the bite is on.
For more information of New Hampshire yellow perch, other perch waters and particular visit www.fishnh.com.
Lake Champlain, Vermont
Yellow perch are found throughout the Green Mountain State, but Lake Champlain is tough to beat when it has safe ice. The problem is that although the big lake can offer safe ice by early or mid-February some years as it did in 2015, it doesn't completely freeze every year — and according to the National Weather Service it has been happening less frequently in years.
During "warm" winters ice fishermen hunting yellow perch generally start the season off south of the Crown Point Bridge, which typically ices over early, and move northward as ice conditions allow.
When ice is available over the rest of the lake there are numerous perch hotspots. Among them are The Isle La Motte area, Windmill Point and Mud Point areas in Alburg, St. Alban's Bay, Keeler Bay in South Hero, the Allen Hill Point and Collymer Point areas in Shelburne Bay and Masllet's Bay.
Winter fishing yellow perch is a major activity on Lake Champlain and once the bite is on in a certain area word quickly spreads. Inquiries at local bait and tackle can point anglers in the right direction.
Lake Champlain perch are caught on tip-ups but jigging is quite popular too. Small luminescent and fluorescent horizontal jigs are preferred. The Rapala Jigging Shad Rap, Lindey Slick Jig, Blue Fox Lil Foxee Jigging Minnow and other similar 1-ounce jigs are part of the standard arsenal, and most fishermen also tip the center treble hook with bait for added incentive.
For more information on Lake Champlain ice conditions and bait and tackle dealers telephone the Lake Champlain Area Chamber of Commerce in Burlington, at 1-(877)-686-5253. For information in the north end of the lake contact the chamber's office in North Hero, telephone 1-(802) 372-8400.
CAPE COD OPPORTUNITIES
Yellow perch are widely distributed in Massachusetts. Some of the best late-winter angling opportunities will be found in the kettle ponds on Cape Cod. Of particular interest are the cluster of ponds in Barnstable County around Brewster. This would include Long, Seymour, Hinkleys and Upper and Lower Mill Ponds. All are relatively close to each other, making it possible to fish one of several during a single outing.
Each of these ponds contain yellow perch in good number, but what makes them different is that perch here tend to grow to above average sizes due to an abundant forage base of alewife.
The ponds vary in size — Long Pond at 716 acres being the largest on the Cape — but none are so big as to be intimidating. Each also offers public access, good water clarity during the winter months, plenty of cover for perch and, compared to many other ponds and lakes in the commonwealth, experience relatively light winter fishing pressure.
Safe ice is also generally available at this time of year, but even during warm winters when open water persists or comes early there is no closed season on perch in Massachusetts and no daily creel or minimum length limit.
For access information anglers should take advantage of the updated bathymetric maps from MassWildlife, available at www.mass.gov/dfw/pond-maps. The maps are designed using new technology that indicates more detailed depth, structure and underwater terrain that is helpful in locating fish.
Winchester Lake, Connecticut
Located in the hills of Litchfield County, Winchester Lake freezes over early most years and is one of the latest in the state to thaw, ensuring winter perch anglers a long season and plenty of time to take advantage of the year-round, no creel and minimum length limit regulations.
To access Winchester Lake from the Winchester Center area, take Route 263 west to West Road. A state-owned, year-round access facility is located next to the dam on the south end of the lake.
Winchester Lake covers about 247 acres, and some of the best winter fishing is generally found in the shallow areas along the west shore. Yellow perch in the lake typically spawn before ice-out, in early to mid-March. Whether you are fishing through the ice or open water, the weed beds, sunken logs, stumps and other structure in these areas are a natural draw.
The two large coves on the west shore also hold large schools of baitfish and can be especially productive for anglers fishing live minnows. For those willing to make the trek, there is good perch habitat on the shallow north end, but heavier leaders are advised to counter the infestation of submerged debris left over from when the dam was built — and because there is the possibility of hooking one of the pike that also inhabit Winchester Lake.
Tucker Pond, Rhode Island
Most ponds and lakes in Rhode Island are made-made, but 101-acre Tucker Pond in South Kingston is all natural and deep, with a maximum depth of just over 30 feet. The pond is home to various fish, including bass and pickerel, and it's stocked annually with trout but the healthy yellow perch population are a major draw during the winter months. The lake is open year-round, and there is no creel or minimum length limit.
To target yellow perch, most fishermen concentrate on the shallow, flat north end that is blessed with weed beds and attract and hold schools of baitfish. Tip-ups or jigging with live bait are often productive.
There is also some good perch water and weed cover around the points and in the coves on the large island about halfway down the lake. These coves also offer some shelter when the wind blows in from Block Island Sound.
To access Tucker Pond from the west or north take U.S. Route 1 to Perryville, and then Route 110 to Turkertown Four Corners, turning right onto Tuckertown Road; it passes the public access area, and is generally plowed and kept open for winter anglers.