Lake Erie Perch are out there – if you can find them
The weather forecasters were wrong on their wind prediction for the morning on Lake Erie. A light 5 mph breeze from the southwest was more like 10 to 15 mph. We were looking at some white caps when we headed out on our early November mission in search of gold – yellow perch. This wasn’t going to be easy.
Yellow perch action has been very good so far this year in New York waters. However, not everyone on the lake is enjoying similar success. In the Central Basin off Ohio, daily limit regulations were being reduced to 10 per person per day due to low population numbers.
“The central basin (of Lake Erie) has been experiencing a run of poor recruitment in recent years, which has led to major declines in perch abundance and fishing quality,” says Dr. Jason Robinson, head of DEC’s Lake Erie Fisheries Research Unit. “Yellow perch fishing in New York is currently above the long-term average. The 2019-year class looks to be well above average, but multiple strong year classes are typically needed to support a strong yellow perch fishery. The east basin has the highest pounds of perch harvested per hour in the lake currently, and the highest average size at 11 inches. If your goal is to put big perch fillets on the table, New York waters are the place to be in Lake Erie now.”
We just needed to find the fish. With limited numbers of anglers on the lake on this day, because it’s November, the angling grapevine was suspect. Capt. Frank Campbell of Lewiston and Capt. Mike Capizzi of Niagara Falls teamed up to make this trip happen, fishing out of Capizzi’s 24-foot Century center console. It was clear that Capizzi doesn’t take his boat on the lake when the conditions are rough.
As he drove his boat from Buffalo Harbor into the lake toward Seneca Shoal, 30-something degree air temperature and the first snowflakes of the year (for me) were slapping us in the face. As we hit the waves, spray from the lake was also dousing us on a regular basis.
About half-way to our destination, Capizzi turned and asked: “Are you getting wet?”
“I’d be drier if I walked to our spot,” I replied. That was how the morning started at sunrise. I began to question my sanity. Yes, I love perch, but my first set of gloves were already soaked, and I was looking for set number two between wave crashes. My fingers didn’t bend.
We steered to a set of GPS coordinates that would put us in the general area of some decent perch schools in 48-50 feet of water. Before we would put a line in the water, we had to find some fish. When we did find schools of perch on our Garmin electronics and put our bait in the water on the bottom, we caught perch right away. We were handicapped a bit when we found out that our bait source in Buffalo didn’t open until 8 a.m. and we had a limited amount of time to fish this morning. It was more of a reconnaissance mission to find fish closer to home instead of running down to Cattaraugus Creek. Instead of Emerald shiners we were forced to use Golden shiners. Another handicap was that we couldn’t feel our fingers, it was that cold.
As we moved around seeking better schools of perch, we eventually found some that were 12-13 inches long. I managed to catch the smallest perch ever, too, stretching the tape measure to 4.5 inches. What a fight! You need a sensitive touch to catch something that small.
The sky was darkening to the southwest. As I looked to the clouds, I saw the formation of what could have been a waterspout. Rain and/or snow was coming and who knew what else. It was time to call it quits for the day. I was into my third set of gloves. It was a better day for duck hunting.
As we motored back into Buffalo Harbor, we encountered ducks hunters along the way. They did better than we did. However, mission accomplished in finding the fish. I can guarantee the next trip will have more favorable weather conditions.