Good old days of perch fishing might not be finished
Good old-fashioned perch fishing on Lake Erie is not yet a thing of the past, it turns out.
Ever since the start of the current walleye boom, Erie’s prized yellow perch seemed to be missing in action, including in the shallow western basin where the perch population is said to be strong right now. Schools of fish seemed to be dispersed and no longer seem to relate to the bottom reaches. Moreover, shiners, the traditional bait of choice among perch anglers, have been in short supply and some anglers resorted to using what they found in perch bellies – spiny water fleas in many cases.
These microscopic zooplankton, a quarter to five-eighths inch long, often accumulate in goopy strings on downrigger lines with trolling. And they are a bear to thread onto a fishing hook. But anglers who register success with water fleas find their bait in perch bellies. (Some of them use ice flies and small jigs and wax worms, varying their depths to catch that first perch and their bait.)
But a long-time fishing buddy, Steve Hathaway, and his spouse Melissa, recently filled out their limits, 30 apiece, in three hours of fishing during an afternoon outing in western Lake Erie Niagara Reef area. They were using the traditional tactic of wire spreaders and crappie rigs, hook dressed with shiner minnows.
“Our 60 fish weighed 15 pounds and butterflied out to 6-1/2 pounds,” said Steve Hathaway, who was clearly pleased. Four fish to the pound is acceptable for size, though not great and not the 2-1/2 to 3 fish per pound of recent years. Also, the veteran angler noted, “we were catching three white perch for every yellow perch.”
Hathaway, of course, had heard the horror stories that the good old days of perching were over and done because of a change in perch feeding-behavior and food-base in the lake, not to mention the current walleye explosion. But a couple of disappointing walleye trips in mid and late July in the western basin were a disappointment. It seemed that the hordes of fish that produced such easy quick limits since spring mostly had moved to east of Kelleys Island, and the doldrums period of High Summer had begun.
All of which prompted the couple to try the old way for perch.
“We figured that we at least would get a nice boat ride out of it,” he said.
They left the mouth of the Portage River at Port Clinton and headed west-northwest on an easy meander, zig-zagging and watching the fish-finder. Off one rockpile in 24 feet of weather, Hathaway noticed a lot of “bottom clutter.”
So, they dropped anchor and started shiner-dunking. He barely had time to set his second rig when he had a perch on the first. Then he hooked up on his second rig, quickly reeling in both outfits and putting two fish in the box.
“I said, ‘Melissa, grab your pole’,” Hathaway said.
Thus began their afternoon, and the promise of a decent perching season ahead. The couple had success with both stacked crappie-style rigs and side-by-side spreader rigs. But Hathaway said that most of their fish were take “on the bottom,” indicating that the side-by-side traditional spreader was a bit more effective,
Of course, one trip is not proof that yellow perch have not changed their ways. And other anglers also are reporting good perching across the western basin. Perhaps having all those eating-machine walleyes in the western basin till lately may have suppressed or altered perch feeding behavior and habits. In any case, only time and fishing will tell, but the experience showed that it ain’t over till it’s over, and it ain’t over, Yogi Berra.