Perchin’ on Erie: A rite of spring

Lake Erie perch fishing was on fire this spring. Seeing 150 to 200 empty boat trailers at the parking area of Sturgeon Point Marina in Derby is not an uncommon sight when the perch are “on.” Finding the fleet of boats to mark the best spot is not a difficult task. However, it really doesn’t have to be that way. There are a lot of “best spots.”

When Capt. Joe Fonzi of Thumbs Up Charters (716-998-8373) called to say he had an open date (albeit short notice), I quickly moved my schedule around to make room. For the day in question (which was less than 24 hours away), the forecast called for northeast wind and a few sprinkles. The day before, Sturgeon Point Marina had been packed with boats on a day with nice spring weather and a calm breeze. The weather forecast must have kept people off the water on our day of adventure. It didn’t matter. Fonzi prefers to fish alone anyway, using spots in the lake he’s found between Sturgeon Point and Cattaraugus Creek. Thank God for GPS.

Fonzi brought along an old trapping buddy, Mike Lewis of Pembroke, a corrections officer by trade. They used to fish, hunt and trap together all of the time before families and life got in the way. They still come up with ways to reconnect … like perch fishing or fishing in a bass tournament together. The three of us headed out in Fonzi’s brand new 2016 Ranger 621 Fisherman Series outfitted with a 250 Yamaha CFX Offshore. The coolest thing on the boat was the Minn Kota Ulterra trolling motor with a GPS chip in the head. He could also raise and lower it as needed by remote control. More on that later.

Fonzi had been out the day before and done well, so he headed back to the same general area marked on his Lowrance HDS 12 Gen 3 unit, another amazing piece of technology. The boat cut through the waves like a hot knife through butter. The hull design didn’t produce a single splash despite the wave action. It didn’t take him long to find the fish and we started hitting perch almost immediately in 56 feet of water. Watching a pod of perch cross the fish finder, Fonzi touched the screen of the Lowrance unit and it save the spot to where the fish were. Amazing! Then the trolling motor took over and helped to keep us on the spot where we marked the fish. No anchor. The only thing it didn’t do was follow the small schools of fish around. “It’s almost like cheating,” said Fonzi as we worked magic his electronics.

“We spend a ton of money on these electronics and most people won’t pay attention to what it’s telling them,” he said. “If we are not marking fish below us, there aren’t any there. They’ve moved. We just need to find them again.”

We did that a few times, seeking out pods of perch that were moving around for whatever reason: chasing baitfish or moving away from potential predators. At one point Fonzi caught a nice lake trout of about 8 pounds. The perch disappeared around us instantly and it took us 15 minutes to find them again. A few times we were able to cast our perch rigs to the pods and pull some fish in. “Sometimes you can move a whole school back under the boat by casting into them,” said Fonzi.

Pulling fish up from the bottom in 56 feet of water didn’t allow for catch and release. Almost everyone had its air bladder expanded into its mouth cavity and beyond. While move of the fish were 10 to 14 inches in length, a few of the fish were under the mark. They went into the cooler, too. It’s a waste if they can’t survive – you are killing more fish than you need to.

Which brings us to the daily creel limit. The daily creel of yellow perch is 50 fish per person per day. Three guys in a boat could kill 150 in a day, and when these fish are biting, that’s entirely possible. Big fish, too. We fished five hours and boxed 126, using a “clicker” to try and keep track of our fish. In looking at the states to the west of us, both Pennsylvania and Ohio allow for “only” 30 yellow perch per day. That should be enough. There should be some commonality between the states anyway.

With the popularity of yellow perch fishing increasing in Western New York, we need to take this change under serious consideration. At the Greater Niagara Fishing and Outdoor Expo in January, the perch seminars were among the most popular educational classes. Combine that we recent success rates (2014 was the best catch rate ever on Lake Erie, according the DEC) and the improvements in technology, we have to realize now that perch are not an infinite resource. We need to manage them accordingly. Reducing a daily limit isn’t going to happen overnight and we need to act now before it’s a necessity. If you catch 30 perch, that’s 60 fillets – plenty for one person. Let’s not be greedy out there. They sure do eat good, though! A fresh perch dinner is tough to beat.

Categories: Blog Content, New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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