Growing up in Kenora and around Lake of the Woods, known as one of the top walleye fisheries in the World, you would have never been caught dead keeping a perch. I have told that story several times in recent years as perch on the big lake and across Northwest Ontario seem to be thriving and gaining more respect from anglers.
As a kid, I had it ingrained in me by my friends and family, other guides when I started guiding as a teenager, pretty much everybody I shared the boat with – that perch were nothing more than bait stealers, they were wormy and not good for anything. Much like catch and release was a foreign thought a couple generations ago, people simply didn’t keep perch.
As I grew older and studied through every fishing magazine I could find, I noticed that in many areas away from Northwest Ontario, people actually fished for perch and kept them to eat.
Part of the problem for perch in our part of the World is the fact that the walleye fishing is so good. They are plentiful, the grow larger, they are easier to clean and they are great eating. We are all taught that walleye are the king when it comes to the fish to catch around here.
The turning point for me came in the mid-2000’s when I was participating in an ice fishing competition that went on throughout the winter in the Kenora area. It was a competition where anglers could submit their biggest catches of six different species – walleye, pike, burbot, lake trout, whitefish and perch – and earn points for each entry that met a certain size. My fishing buddy Dean Howard took me out to one of his perch holes on Lake of the Woods and we caught some of the biggest perch I had ever caught. We landed some up to around 14” and I ended up winning the competition and the $10,000 first place prize.
Over the past several ice fishing seasons my friends and I have been catching solid numbers of large perch while we fish for walleyes. These are on spots that we have fished for years and before the last six or eight years never caught a perch on. Eventually I started adding them to my bucket and found out they are really good to eat. The texture is slightly different than a walleye, otherwise, you could never tell the difference between the two.
When it comes to the worms that many bring up when they refuse to keep a perch, I have seen perch that are full of them but it’s rare to find one in the perch that we’ve been catching in recent years. When you do see one, they are a small white worm, about the size of a pencil lead and maybe a half a centimeter long. If I see one, I cut it out of the flesh but everything I have ever read says that they are harmless if you consume one that has been cooked.
My experience catching perch is as simple as just running into them on the same spots that I fish walleyes. If there is a good school of perch around then I take advantage of it and add a few to my bucket. I’m just catching them on the same ¼ oz Buck-Shot spoons tipped with a minnow head that I’m using for walleyes. Perch are not typically very picky so as long as the bait is not too big, they’ll bite whatever you put in front of them.
The good news for walleyes that receive much greater angling pressure is that maybe a few more people will keep perch and let the walleyes go. I might be wishful thinking but I have turned back plenty of walleyes on recent trips because I’ve captured some nice perch. If you aren’t on the perch wagon, keep a few on your next outing and try them for yourself.