By Steve Piatt
Watkins Glen, N.Y. — It wasn’t too long ago that Seneca Lake was the place to go for yellow perch – in both quality and quantity.
That may still be the case for some anglers in the know, but more often than not it’s a frustrating fishing outing for those seeking those hefty ringbacks that have seemingly done a disappearing act in recent years for even knowledgeable lake anglers.
Even DEC Region 8 fisheries personnel don’t have all the answers, and some of that is the result of anglers being tight-lipped about their perch-fishing successes.
“A lot of perch anglers don’t want to share their information,” said regional fisheries biologist Pete Austerman. “There are some anglers we talk to out there who still do fairly well. They’re doing different things and they’re out there a lot so they can follow the fish, whereas someone who comes two weekends a month is starting from scratch.”
Too, in many cases, Austerman said, anglers are locating big schools of perch but are unable to entice them to hit their typical offerings such as minnows.
“Some anglers are locating perch every time out, but catching them is another story,” he said. “With their electronics, they’re seeing fish – sometimes seeing a thousand fish and spending all day catching five.”
Anglers weighing in on the lakeontariounited.com message board offer up similar accounts.
“My fishing buddies and I know how to perch fish, and it seems like we either catch 50-plus or absolutely none at all,” posted one angler.
And some anglers agreed with Austerman that successful anglers aren’t divulging their Seneca secrets.
“They are still there (yes, I run a camera) and no, I can’t tell you where,” one angler posted on lakeontariounited.com.
“I know that some guys on (the message board) who use cameras, etc., say they are still there and that my thinking is all wet, but although I admit there are still some perch out there they are not nearly as plentiful as in the past,” another angler wrote. “And many of my close buddies who are expert perch guys say the same.”
Austerman says DEC is trying to resurrect an angler diary program to get additional information on the quality of the fishery, which over the past couple of years has led anglers to migrate to nearby Cayuga Lake for bass, trout, and now perch.
“We don’t have a lot of survey data right now where we could say perch numbers are up or down,” Austerman said. “We’re trying to get a diary program started, which is tough. And trying to get some sampling in a lake that size that tells us something is difficult.”
Austerman, however, does believe that the perch may be moving into deeper water with more regularity.
“We think that at times they’re pretty deep, especially during clear-water periods of early spring and all winter,” he said. “When we do catch perch (during surveys) they’re full of scuds. But scuds are on the bottom of the lake all over the place, so that doesn’t really narrow them down. And if they are going deeper it’s more challenging for us to survey; we’d be looking at 10-70 feet instead of 10-30.”
Many anglers believe the area of the lake around Sampson State Park, at one time a red-hot perch ground, was decimated by anglers, especially in years when safe ice offered good access and great fishing through the winter. Many anglers filled their 50-fish limits in multiple outings on the ice.
“Many will say it can’t happen,” one angler wrote on the message board. “Do the math – three guys, 50 each times 50 boats for seven days. That’s 52,500 fish and that school was there for well over a month.”
Austerman admits DEC fisheries staff is, at times, as perplexed as the perch anglers.
“Right now we really don’t have information other than anecdotal evidence,” he said. “We do enough other types of sampling where we also catch perch, so we have a decent idea that they’re still out there. We want to get the diary program started so that when these things happen and we get complaints we can have an answer as to whether the population is up or down.
“But anglers certainly aren’t volunteering their information.”