Lake Erie's yellow perch simply abundant
Written by Pittsburgh Tribune-Review   
Monday, 26 June 2006 16:16

Circumstance has Jeremy Lawson living in Kingsville, Ohio. Choice had him on Lake Erie in Pennsylvania this past week.  Lawson made the trip across the border to fish for yellow perch aboard the Edward John, a party boat run by Gary Heubel of Poor Richard's Bait Shop.

It was a familiar trek. He went perching a half dozen times last year and has already made two trips this summer. Tuesday, he took home about two dozen fish. The weekend before, he had boated 25.

"They were all nice jumbos, too, about 11 1/2, 12 inches," Lawson said. "I had a lot of fun."

Those kinds of catches are not surprising, given that Lake Erie's yellow perch fishery is in "very good shape" these days, said Chuck Murray, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Erie biologist.

"We've got a dominant year class sitting out there from 2003. Those fish should be about eight to nine inches long," Murray said. "But we've still got a lot of jumbos out there, fish 12 and 13 inches and almost a pound apiece."

A lot of people enjoy the sport they provide. Last year, according to Fish and Boat Commission statistics, anglers devoted 198,382 hours to fishing for perch on the open waters of Lake Erie. By comparison, fishermen spent just 109,000 hours fishing for Erie's walleyes.

Those hours may even out a little this year, as Erie's walleye population rebounds -- Murray is expecting some of the best fishing since the 1990s -- but perch will always remain popular, he added. That's partly because they are so abundant. Anglers caught an estimated 543,000 last year, harvesting 360,000.

Perch fishing -- especially as it's done aboard one of the party boats that launch out of Presque Isle Bay -- is also a simple sport. Once the captain runs you out to the "perch grounds," as the hot spots are called, you simply drop a line rigged with two hooks baited with minnows or shiners over the side. A heavy weight that separates the hooks carries them to the bottom. A crank or two on the reel handle picks your bait up just a bit, then you wait for a hit.

On board the Edward John on Tuesday, there were periods -- especially early in the morning -- when the fishing was spotty. Later, closer to 11 a.m., things picked up, and some anglers were catching two fish at a time.

That's the way things go sometimes, said Brian Staaf, a crew member on the Edward John.

"Sometimes you get into a school of all big fish, other times it's a little tougher. It varies all the time," he said.

"But the fishing has already been better this year compared to last year. It's picking up quicker this year than last."

And things only figure to get better over the next couple of weeks, Murray said. The best perch fishing generally occurs in late June or early July, when the water warms a bit.

"Once that thermocline sets up, that's when you're going to see good perch fishing day in and day out," Murray said. "Once the lake stratifies, anywhere from 50 to 60 feet down is where you'll find them."

This year, for the fist time, there's no limit to how many Erie perch you can keep in a day's time. There are no size restrictions either, meaning that it can be pretty easy to go home with a cooler full of fish.

Lawson will be among those seeking to land some deep-water perch. They make great fodder for fish frys, he said, and he's looking forward to enjoying several this summer.

"I don't even bother buying an Ohio fishing license any more. The last two years, I've just been coming here because the opportunities are so much better," Lawson said.

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