The temps have started to drop, the days are getting shorter, the feeling of fall is in the air, school is in session, and I love it! School for me doesn’t mean a new pair of bright white sneakers and a bag of books; it means a bucket full of minnows and some new jigs! The perch are starting to school up, and this is one of my favorite bites of the year.
Perch are funny fish. At times, they’ll bite on anything; other times they really need to be finessed with the smallest lures. Catching perch while trolling crankbaits is fun and a great tactic to locate active schools, but my favorite way to catch them is to anchor and vertically jig or slip bobber fish. That is why I love to perch fish in the fall.
The most effective way to find perch is to use your boat’s sonar and to scan high probability areas before ever dropping a line. I can cruise through areas at 5 to 10 mph and watch for marks on the bottom. This fall, I’ve been finding perch (along with walleyes and white bass) in 12 to 16 feet of water. Currently, the perch have been roaming flats and haven’t been relating to structure or weed lines. Perch schools like to feed on those flats, eating bugs, worms and other invertebrates that they can stir up in the mud.
Perch feeding on small critters are much more likely to bite on a downsized presentation than a crankbait. Fishing on the flats usually means small minnows, pieces of crawlers or even wax worms or spikes. A small jigging spoon with a drop chain tipped with a minnow head or spike is a great setup to target basin perch.
When I get into an area with a lot of marks on the sonar, I will jig and move the boat (anchored with the electric trolling motor) until the bottom shows a lot of activity. Once I find a school, I like to drop a slip bobber with a plain hook. Watching two bobbers is too boring for me. I need to be actively jigging and only watch one bobber. Really, feeling the taps on a perch bite and setting the hook is almost therapy for the soul.
My favorite advancement to perch fishing is that I rarely drop a real anchor any longer. I’ve got a Motorguide electric trolling motor that allows me to “anchor” on a spot. If the fish move, I can just hit a button on the remote to move over 10 or 15 feet and try to find the school again. Most times, I don’t carry a real anchor in my boat. One of my favorite places to fish is Lake Thompson, and I can store a handful of anchor points in an area and jump from one to the next as the fish move around. It saves a ton of time (and work) as compared to a traditional anchor.
Another great piece of tech for fishing a basin is side imaging. I had a tough time convincing myself to spend the money, then I went for a few seasons not really using it because I didn’t know how to properly adjust the settings to get a good view. Now, I’ve got it. I have the brightness and contrast adjusted and the transducer properly placed to clearly see what is on the bottom of the lake. Schools of perch look like pieces of rice on the screen. I can easily drop a waypoint and anchor on top of them. A wonderful thing, I just have to make them bite.
Every angler needs to find a school before winterizing their boat. As the water cools off, the perch are starting to school up, and the walleyes are moving shallower. Take advantage of the short lines at the boat launch and get your fishing in before you need an ice auger! A lot of guys transition to hunting this time of year; the jet skis are off the lake, so now is the perfect time to get out and find some fish.
Reprinted from the Outdoorsmen Magazine