In this column over the past couple of years I have mentioned that we are seeing more and more bigger perch mixed in to our walleye catch while ice fishing on Lake of the Woods. It could be happening on other waterbodies as well but I notice it frequently on the big lake because that’s where I spend most of my time on the ice. I have gotten reports from some of my friends fishing on Rainy Lake that they are seeing more bigger perch out there as well.
Growing up, perch were considered a trash fish by most anglers in Northwest Ontario. I can remember seeing them left on the ice for foxes and birds more than I can remember seeing them released or kept. I was always excited to get a new fishing magazine and for me, the In-Fisherman Ice Fishing Guide was the one that I looked forward to the most. I can always remember seeing articles inside focused on perch fishing and thought to myself, why would anybody want to catch a perch? They are small, they have worms and walleye are better. That was my perception. The reality is, our friends south of the border knew that perch were fun to catch and great to eat.
It has been five or six years since we’ve really noticed the perch take off. It was never unusual to catch a few perch but at some point, there was more of them and they were getting bigger. One of my long time fishing buddies, Dave Bennett was the first of my friends who would keep perch along with his walleyes many years ago. At first, I can remember making fun of him and he told us, they’re really good to eat and you can save a few walleyes. He was right.
Eventually I got onboard with keeping a few and now I get more excited for a few perch in my bucket than I do walleye. I know a lot of anglers out there really like crappies and they are great but I would way rather keep a perch over a crappie. Perch have a firmer texture and I have never tasted any kind of “muddy” or offensive flavour with them. They are the best.
When I have this conversation with folks who have grown up on the anti-perch program, their first remark is always that they are “full of worms”. I have cleaned perch that have worms in their flesh but for some reason it has become less and less common to find that. I got out fishing on the ice over the weekend and kept eight nice perch, all of which had perfect, clear flesh. The worms, which look like a small yellow cyst in the flesh are harmless to humans if the fish is cooked through. They can also be removed easily with the tip of a knife blade and they are killed if the fillets are frozen for more than 60 hours.
When it comes to catching perch, the good news is they share a lot of the same locations as walleye and they are aggressive throughout the winter. They eat a lot of invertebrates from the bottom of the lake that rise out of the mud flats, but they’ll eat crayfish and small minnows as well. I like to fish near the rock structure like humps and points that walleyes can often be found on but the bigger groups of perch will usually be found off the side of the structure on the flats. Typically 28-35 feet of water is where I find most of my perch but that is relative to the body of water that you are fishing. Experimentation will show you where they are because if you get around them you will catch them. I use the same ¼ oz. spoons that I use for walleye, tipped with a minnow head, nothing fancy.
If you get into some perch this winter and you don’t typically keep them, throw a couple in your bucket and give them a shot. They are a thin piece of fish that cooks quickly and is always delicious. You can thank me later!