Yellow perch are one of, if not the most, popular species taken through the ice by Michigan ice-anglers. The reason for their popularity is simple. When you find them, yellow perch are easy to catch. Winter perch are voracious feeders and are very active under the ice. Marauding perch schools patrol the shallows when first ice forms gorging on shiners and other baitfish. Some of the best and most exciting perch action occurs just after the ice is safe enough to walk on. Seeing a hole turn black with the stripped backs of a school of perch in a feeding frenzy is exciting and a quick way of icing the ingredients of a tasty perch fry.
Later in the winter perch move to deeper water, but persistent anglers with the right equipment can still take buckets of yellow bellies right through the winter. Power augers, flashers or graphs and portable shelters help ice-anglers to be mobile and stay on active schools of perch. Often the key to locating perch during mid-winter is cut holes and keep moving until you find an active school of perch. Generally, shallow Great Lakes bays and deeper inland lakes produce the best winter perch fishing. There are exceptions.
Michigan has no shortage of outstanding winter perch waters. If you have an affinity for golden perch fillets and you like catching perch through the ice here’s a sampling of lakes where you’re sure to find great sport this winter.
Saginaw Bay is a winter Mecca for walleye anglers, but the bay serves up some pretty respectable winter perch action too. “The winter perch fishing was off the charts two winters ago,”said Jim Diedrich of Hoyles’ Marina in Linwood. “We had a lot of good ice early on the inner bay. Ice-anglers were able to get out to 3 or 4 feet of water. The baitfish hide under the ice at that time of the year and the perch are right in there after them.” Diedrich said that last year was different. Lots of snow on the ice last winter made travel difficult and perch fishing suffered.
“If we get the right conditions the perch fishing can be dynamite on the bay,” claimed Diedrich. “Most of the perch you catch on first ice will be 71/2 to 9 inches. Sometimes you have to do a lot of sorting.” Diedrich said that first-ice action usually occurs in the marinas surrounding the bay. Access is often limited or for a fee. Fishing here can get started as early as late November. Usually by late December the ice is thick enough on the bay itself to support foot traffic. Prime locations are off Linwood, Pinconning, and Wigwam Bay then. Hot action can occur in as little as a foot or two of water.
Although Saginaw Bay perch love minnows, anglers need to capitalize on a feeding frenzy and baiting hooks means your line isn’t in the water. Most Saginaw Bay perch fanatics use barb-less spoons adorned with a red or green bead. Russian, Ken’s and Jack’s spoons trigger quick strikes from aggressively feeding perch and it’s a simple matter of hoisting a perch quickly through the hole, and dropping them on the ice and getting the spoon back down the hole before the school moves off. There are times when you can ice a limit from a single school. “The trick is to keep moving to stay on top of the schools,” advised Diedrich. He also said that if the ice is clear fishing can be tough. Try to fish on ice that is milky or snow-covered.
Later in the winter the perch head offshore to depths from 14 to 20 feet. A prime location off Linwood is called “The Black Hole,” one of the deepest spots in the inner bay. Perch can be caught right along with walleyes then. “Most days I’ll catch 3 or 4 perch in the 10- to 12-inch range right along with the walleyes,” said Diedrich. Another hot time is when the Bay’s perch move back into the shallows on last ice prior to spawning.
For bait, tackle, fishing reports and advise on ice conditions on Saginaw Bay contact Frank’s Great Outdoors in Linwood at (989) 697-5341 or online at www.franksgreatoutdoors.com .
Roscommon County’s Higgins Lake is a buzz of activity of summer months, but come winter ice-anglers reclaim the lake. Many of them are in search of Higgins Lake’s tasty perch.
9,600-acre Higgins Lake is a deep body of water with depths exceeding 130 feet so it’s slow to freeze. “We usually have good ice by the middle of January,” said Higgins Lake perch angler Jack Murlick. Hot first-ice action usually starts on the south end of the lake off South Higgins Lake State Park. Perch schools roam the 15- to 25-foot contours there and around the sunken island. Most perch will be in the 8- to 10-inch range with the occasional foot-long jumbo thrown in. Perfect for eating. The perch can be caught on a variety of live baits and it pays to have an assortment with you. Wigglers are often the best choice, but small minnows often take the bigger fish. Waxworms or spikes can be good when the perch are finicky.
As safe ice covers the lake the perch action shifts to the north end of the lake off North Higgins Lake State Park and in water from 30 to 50 feet deep. Most anglers use a heavy bell sinker, perch rig and slip bobbers when targeting perch. Doubles are common when schools move in and you want to get your bait back down as quickly as possible.
One key to catching a bucket full of Higgins Lake perch is to be mobile. The perch schools are constantly on the move and you need to move with them. A portable shelter, gas auger and a snowmobile are just the ticket.
For more information on bait shops, guide services and lodging in the Higgins Lake area contact the Roscommon/Higgins Lake Area Chamber of Commerce at (989) 275-8760 or online at www.hlrcc.com .
Missaukee County’s 1,985-acre Lake Missaukee has turned into a real sleeper for winter perch in recent years. “The first thing we did was remove a lot of the trash fish that plagued the lake,” offered Northern Lake Michigan Management Unit supervisor Tom Rozich. “We removed tons of white suckers and bullheads from the lake a few years ago and the panfish have really responded.”
Although a sizable lake, most of Lake Missaukee is relatively shallow with lots of water between 10 and 20 feet- perfect for winter perch. A good place to locate winter perch is on the expansive flats in the center of the lake north of the public access off Green Road. Key is to keep moving until you make contact with hungry schools of perch. Minnows fished near the bottom account for the majority of perch, but wigglers are a good choice when the yellow bellies get picky. You can expect plenty of fish in the 8- to 10-inch range.
For bait, tackle and fishing reports contact Lake City Sport Shop at (231) 839-4875. For information on lodging and other amenities in the area contact the Lake City Area Chamber of Commerce at (231) 839-4969 or online at www.lakecitymi.com .
“Fife Lake is one lake that has really come on strong in recent winters for perch,” said fisheries biologist Mark Tonello. The one thing that a lake has to have to grow lots of good-sized perch is forage. Fife Lake has no shortage of food. Tonello said the lake is loaded with shiners, trout-perch, fatheads, and an abundance of aquatic insects. Perch love them all.
“Fife Lake has some monster perch in it,” claimed Dan Doherty of Jack’s Sport Shop in Kalkaska. “14-inch perch are not unheard of on Fife Lake,” said Doherty although he admitted that the majority of fish will be 8 to 10 inches. “First ice is by far the best time for the big perch,” offered Doherty. “Hit it right and you can take a bucket full.” A good starting point is right off the public access near the Village of Fife Lake. A perch shantytown develops there during the winter months as anglers probe the 15- to 45-foot depths. During mid-winter a 55-foot hole near the south-central portion of the lake can be good. Wigglers and minnows both produce, but experts say that walleye-sized shiners take the biggest perch.
For live bait, tackle and fishing reports contact Jack’s Sport Shop in Kalkaska at (231) 258-8892. Information on lodging and other amenities in the area can be had by contacting the Kalkaska Area Chamber of Commerce at (800) 487-6880 or online at www.kalkaskami.com .
Little Bay De Noc
Most ice-anglers that head to Little Bay De Noc are in search of walleye, but if the ‘eyes don’t cooperate the bay has a good population of yellow perch to fall back on. “We generally have some pretty good perch fishing during the winter,” said Naomi Johnson of Bayshore Resort. “You have to move around to stay on top of the fish. Generally, they’ll be in deeper water, say 25 to 30 feet, than the walleyes.”
Johnson said that on the reefs south of Gladstone is a prime perch location. Perch can also be found o the reefs at the north end of the bay. Again, the key is to be mobile until you find the perch mother lode. Johnson said the perch will range from only 5 or 6 inches up to about 11 inches. Keep punching holes until you find the jumbos. When you do, both minnows or wigglers will work, but minnows seem to take the bigger perch.
Johnson said that several guides operate in the area. Contact Hawg Heaven Guide Service for shanty rentals and guide service. Guide Mark Beloza can be reached at (906) 428-3809 or online at www.hawgheaven.upmichigan.net . For bait, tackle and lodging contact Bayshore Resort at (906) 428-9687 or online at www.bay-shore-resort.com .
One of the U.P.’s most famous perch venues is in the midst of a perch rebound that should hit full stride this winter. “During a normal winter you’ll catch a lot of perch in the 10- to 12-inch range on Lake Independence and a few jumbo 14 to 15 inchers,” said Bruce Cookham of the Gander Mountain store in Marquette. “Last winter we caught mainly 8 to 10 inchers. That bodes well for this winter.” With another year to grow perch on Lake Independence this winter should be that much bigger and fatter.
1,860-acre Lake Independence is relatively shallow for its size. Few places top 30 feet, but a deep, expansive flat in the center offers ideal winter perch habitat. Locate a weed edge or hump on the mudflats that will concentrate roaming perch schools. Many of the bigger perch come via tip-ups baited with a lively shiner minnows intended for walleye. Ice-anglers targeting perch usually anchor a slip bobber with a bell sinker and a perch rig baited with waxworms or wigglers. Anglers jigging with Swedish Pimples or Jigging Rapalas take some of the biggest jumbos.
Hot perch action usual can be had by early December when first ice forms, but persistent anglers take good catches of perch right through the winter months. Another hot time is on last ice, which many years is in April.
For tackle, live bait and fishing reports contact the Gander Mountain store in Marquette at (906) 226-8300. For information on lodging and other amenities in the area contact the Marquette County Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 544-4321 or online at www.marquettecountry.org .
There aren’t too many things better than a heaping platter of golden fried perch fillets. Fortunately Michigan has no shortage of places where you can secure the main entrée.