There’s very little question that yellow perch are Lake Erie’s favorite fish on the table.  Crisp, brown fillets touched with tartar sauce disappear from plates like magic when they appear, leaving smiles of appreciation, and one of the prime times to take some is right now.  Action should improve through April, remain steady well into September, and peak again come October and into November.  With the Big Lake’s perch population very good to excellent, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t head forth and catch a limit of these pretty and good eating fish.  It’s definitely not a difficult business.

Soon after ice goes off on Lake Erie and temperatures rise a few crucial degrees, perch begin to move close to shore from their winter deep water retreats.  The females are swollen with eggs now, and the males burdened with twin sacs of milt.  Both are there to gather in large schools and drop their spawn to ensure the next generation, and while some may be only six or seven inches long, a surprising number will be chunky ten to fourteen inchers.  It’s the years best chance to catch big perch and plenty of them, either off a boat or along a handy fishing pier or breakwall.

It takes a lot of energy to maintain those eggs and milt, so fish feed avidly before spawning, during the process, and even more so afterwards to rebuilt energy lost in egg producton.  A magic combination, if you can handle the weather, and warm clothing, a heavy hat and gloves, and plenty of hot coffee can make comfortable even rugged days.

To catch perch requires an ordinary spinning rod or two, a bucket of shiners, and a two or three hook rig.  Some anglers use spreaders, which is basically a wire arm with hooks dangling below each end, and a sinker in the middle.  They’ll drop the spreader to bottom, reel up a few turns, and wait for a bite when boat fishing, and routinely try the same rig even when shore fishing.

It works just fine when perch are plentiful and hungry, biting hard, but boat anglers will find those free swinging arms less sensitive to gentle taps, and shore anglers will find their offerings lying in the mud where fish often can’t see them.  A better choice is two No. 6 snelled hooks on their short side lines above a sinker.  The lines hang almost straight down making even a gentle bite register nicely, and the sinker on lines end keeps anglers in proper contact with bottom even on a wildly swinging boat.  Such “crappie rigs” can often double your catch.

The right rig is important, but there are other factors that can improve a catch.  These early spring perch will bite all day, but as a rule of thumb the best action usually comes just after dawn and in late evening.  Many a time I’ve reached a pier or breakwall or dropped an anchor when it was just cracking dawn, caught fish hand over fist until 9-10 a.m., then had action slack off just as late rising anglers were arriving.

Always use two rods too, especially if you’re shore fishing, and cast one out while keeping the other near shore.  Perch travel in loose schools, roaming along the bottom and seeking food from minnows to bottom insects and little crayfish, and they might be close or 50 yards out.  By fishing two different distances, you can cover the area, and when bites on one rod become frequent, move the other to the same spot.

Use a little patience too, because those schools mean feast or famine.  When a school comes by, they’ll hit hot and heavy, and when it passes, action can slack off to nothing for minutes or even an hour or so.  So, boat anglers have a choice.  If they’re catching fish, just stay put and haul them in.  But if fishing thins, you’d best lift anchor and move until the fish locator finds another school.  Staying put is a bad business for boat anglers when nothing is going on.

Good places to fish?  April perch are found from Toledo to Conneaut, and any breakwall or pier is likely to yield a catch, but one usually top spot is the Huron Pier in downtown Huron, especially for those who walk clear out to the end.  Boat anglers will find good action off Marblehead, near Starve Island, around Kelleys Island, just off the Lorain pier, and parts east.

It’s a simple business.  Dress warm, carry the right gear, have patience, and move as necessary.  An easy formula for a skillet of prime eating.

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