By Richard Martin
Big boats are great recreation vehicles. They're fine for long, leisurely cruises along Lake Erie, to visit islands and swim where few have swam before, and equally good for small, friendly parties, for water skiing, and similar sports. But they're prime vehicles for a little occasional fishing too, and a few hours with a rod can mean a substantial pile of golden brown perch fillets, perhaps washed down with a light Merlot or Chablis. All you have to do is catch the makings.
Veteran boaters who have plied the waters of Lake Erie for long years and know the feel of a rod in their hand need little advice on how to catch yellow perch. But too many make a spot decision, head out of the marina and drop their anchor anywhere on the theory that "One place is as good as another." It isn't. Perch are a schooling species, and while you might have literally hundreds here, bottom just 50 yards away may be barren of more than a few gobies. So, your first job is to fire up the fish finder and go looking for them.
In the Western Basin there are innumerable places to look. Around Cedar Point, off the Huron Pier, near the Marblehead shore, on the deep side of Starve Island, near almost any shore on Kelleys Island, and plenty of other spots around South, Middle, and North Bass Islands. The Central Basin is more featureless and lacks islands or much shore structure, but I've made some great catches off Lorain, which is more or less Central Basin, and in waters off Lake County and elsewhere. The schools are more scattered here and deeper, but fish often run larger in average size.
One simple way to find good perching without much looking is to check with local bait shops and ask the usual "Where are they hitting?" That can narrow down the possibilities. Another choice is to head out and look for clusters of boats. Check them with binoculars and make sure rods are bent here and there and perch coming aboard, then anchor and fish near the pod. But remember that perch move. The school (s) down there are feeding on anything from insect larvae to minnows and crayfish, and once the food is gone, they go elsewhere.
So, staying in one spot long after the fish have quit biting is no way to fill a cooler. Give any spot 15 minutes maximum, and if little happens, try elsewhere. Most larger boats have a fish finder as a matter of course, but if yours doesn't and winds are light, try wind drifting with a colorful float, 50 feet of line, and a several ounce sinker close at hand. Drift until you catch a perch or two, toss the marker over, then circle and anchor. If you start pullingin fish, fine. f not, move again.
There are little tricks that can improve fishing when perch are definitely down there, but temperamental and slow to bite. I fished with an old timer and several friends in Lake County a couple of years ago, and while the screen showed a nice school, we were catching little. "Get the dead minnows out of the bucket", our captain said. "Put about 6-8 on each hook, let them down to bottom and jerk hard. Let's see if a lot of free food won't get them on the feed." It did.
I suspect that 80 percent or better of all boaters do their perch fishing with spreaders, two wire arms with hooks hanging from each and a sinker in the middle on a short line. When perch are biting hard and with enthusiasm, spreaders work fine, but when they're being delicate and picky, a fish will often gently tug a minnow off the hook and the wire spreaders give no indication of a bite.
I far prefer using a "crappie rig", which is two No. 6 snelled hooks about a foot apart above a one ounce sinker with the lower hook just a few inches off bottom. The lines hang almost straight down, so the slightest nibble registers instantly, and with the weight on lines end, an occasional short up and down rod movement will keep you tapping bottom occasionally, making sure the baits are down there where they're supposed to be.
The bottom hook will take the near bottom feeders while the one above will catch those suspended a little. A spreader won't do that since both hooks are at the same depth, and if you're drift fishing and the bottom is uneven, it's easy for a spreader to be dragging mud first, then fishing several feet too high second. Still, whatever your choice of gear, perch aren't too choosy and if you're in the right place, at least a fair number should hit the cooler before long. Then it's time to make a few phone calls, invite some friends over, and have a great dinner and evening.
COMMON NAMES: Yellow perch, Lake perch, Ringed perch
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Perca flavescens
IDENTIFICATION: Sides are golden yellow to brassy green with six to eight dark vertical saddles with a white to yellow belly. Yellow perch have many small teeth, but no large canines.
RANGE AND HABITAT: The yellow perch is native to Ohio and is found in lakes, impoundments, ponds, and slow moving rivers. It prefers clear water with moderate vegetation and lots of sand or gravel bottoms.
LIFE HISTORY: Yellow perch spawn from mid-April to early May by depositing their eggs over vegetation or the water bottom, with no care given. The eggs are laid in large gelatinous adhesive masses. Adults feed on aquatic insects, larger invertebrates, and fishes.
ADULT SIZE: Yellow perch range from 1 ounce to 1 pound with some fish known to exceed 2 pounds. Rarely are they longer than 12 inches in length.
FISHING METHODS: Yellow perch can be caught with minnows, shiners, worms or cut bait fished near the bottom. Good angling occurs in spring near shore and during fall. Ice fishing often produces the best catches.