The Perch-Bluegill Connection

Before we get started, just a quick note to say that this is
something we have not written about before. Dave didn’t want to
talk about it in print until he was convinced it’s something you
can take to the bank no matter where you fish. It’s a dynamic that
is still a theory, but it has held true for years, in many lakes
across the Ice Belt… 

Dave Genz revolutionized ice fishing by seeing what the sport
could be, rather than what it always had been. By noticing what
others miss, he continues to help us catch nice fish.

One of Genz’s more recent connect-the-dots theories has to do
with jumbo perch and big bluegills. In essence, it’s find one and
find the other, in waters that hold both.

Among ice anglers, these are two of the most prized specimens.
When they come in a mixed bag, it makes for a memorable day on the
ice. Over the years, Dave has come to see that it’s worth the
effort to seek bull-nosed bluegills where big perch swim, and vice
versa.

“Granted, there are lakes that only have one or the other,” says
Genz, folding his hands together and looking off into his memory
banks. “I can think of lakes in South Dakota that don’t have weeds,
and they only have perch. But there are plenty of places with
both.

“On Okoboji (Iowa), the perch size is good, and it has really
nice ‘gills. Cutfoot (part of Lake Winnibigoshish), Tulibee Lake,
Reno, Blackduck (all in Minnesota) have nice perch and big
bluegills. In New York, there’s Silver Lake, with decent bluegills
and nice perch.”

There are others, including numerous lakes so small that Dave
wrestles with whether to name them, which he chooses not to do. The
big takeaway, no matter where you fish, is that this connection
between bluegills and perch is worth looking for.

“If the perch are big, the ‘gills are, too,” says Genz.

A Working Theory on the Dynamics

So how is it that Genz’s theory tying jumbo perch to big
bluegills might work?

After all, when both species reach grownup size, neither is a
threat to the other. And, truthfully, it’s rare to sit and jig in
one hole, catch a big bluegill on one drop, then a jumbo perch on
the next drop, then a couple ‘gills followed by another perch. They
don’t really run under the same circles, you might say… a little
ice fishing humor there.

“Stunting is so common,” says Genz, “for both perch and
bluegills.”

(Stunting is a term that means there are zillions of little
fish, but few big ones. When there are zillions of little fish,
those cumulative little fish take up the lake’s capacity to sustain
fish life, and it becomes rare for any individual fish to grow
large.)

“Once a lake has a stunting problem,” Genz continues, “it’s
tough to fix it. But in lakes that have these larger perch, the big
perch control stunting of bluegills because they eat the small
bluegills. That keeps the bluegill numbers down, which lets more of
them get big.

“That’s why lakes that have large keeper-size perch are also the
key lakes for large bluegills.”

Genz believes that once perch grow to about 8 inches in size,
they can become baby bluegill eating machines. In order to have
this grazing impact, the big perch and little bluegills don’t have
to occupy the same places every day. They just need to come into
contact with each other at various points during the year. All
predators are opportunistic, and big perch will eat little sunfish
when they are available.

The natural forces regulating predator and prey adjust bluegill
numbers downward, which leaves abundant food per bluegill. This
naturally creates plump ‘gills among those that escape the jaws of
big perch and other predators. Surviving bluegills find plenty to
eat, and grow up to be saucers in their own right.

So really, the lake has to be a natural producer of big perch,
and have the right kind of habitat to support bluegills as well, in
order for this dynamic to play out. There are plenty of lakes
loaded up with “little green suckers,” which is Dave’s technical
term for small perch you can see through if you hold them up to the
sun while unhooking them.

Catching Jumbos and Bulls

When you find a lake that has big perch, suspect that it could
hold big bluegills, too. But don’t expect to be able to
consistently catch both in the same areas.

Here are some thoughts from Dave on how to find each, under the
ice.

“Perch tend to be deeper (than big bluegills),” he begins.
“Perch are more bottom-oriented. They’ll actually root things out
of the bottom. Bluegills can be in a wider variety of places, you
might say. They’ll feed on suspended food at different heights in
the water column. Compared to perch, you’ll also find bluegills
more commonly around old weed beds, feeding off the weed stalks.
Think deeper flats for big perch, and weedbeds for bluegills.”

At this point, the question begs: but what about those
sticky-bottom areas that Genz taught us about? Those places, mostly
in the middle depths, where bottom consistency is just right to
support burrowing insect life. Dave talks about finding big
bluegills on these sticky-bottom areas, often the biggest ‘gills in
the lake. Wouldn’t that mean you could easily find big perch and
big ‘gills in the same sticky-bottom spots?

“Not really,” says Genz. “The bluegills are there, but they’re
more on the side of the break, not even all the way to the base of
the break (where a dropoff levels off into a basin area, where
sediments accumulate, the ‘start’ of a sticky-bottom area).
Bluegills seem to choose to be on the side of the break, and feed
into the sides.

“Perch are more adjusted to feed straight down, so they can tip
their noses down into the bottom and root things out of the bottom.
That’s why you find perch out on the flats. Those tendencies keep
the fish mostly separated from each other. I have not been on a
bite where you catch a nice bluegill, then a nice perch, then
another bluegill. The other day, I caught an 11-inch perch where I
was catching bluegills, but it was just that one.”

Note: Dave Genz has been enshrined in the National
Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame and Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame
for his contributions to the sport of ice fishing. For more, go to
davegenz.com.

 

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