Last chance for jumbo perch, crappies

The reason we call perch and crappies pan fish is because they’re so good to eat.
Dust a pile of fillets in seasoned flour, dip them in a bowl of beaten eggs, coat them with corn flake crumbs, and then slide them into an inch or two of hot canola and you’ll have to beat away the neighbours when they smell them cooking.
There is no finer eating.
For a whole pile of reasons, crappies and perch head up my ice fishing hit parade. Unlike warm water species that sleep away the winter, perch and crappies are eager cold water feeders.
And for the most part, they keep sensible banker’s hours. They’re also social animals that enjoy each other’s company, so they travel in schools. That is why when you catch one, you’re going to catch more.
Plenty more, in fact, especially if you scale down your tackle and sharpen your sonar reading skills.
In large featureless lakes, you’ll find perch roaming close to the bottom in moderately deep water (if you ever get the chance to ice fish for perch in the south end of Lake Manitoba, do it).
Twenty-five plus feet is prime for perch; however, if the lake is generally shallower than this, look for the deepest water available. In lakes where you find plenty of points, bars, shoals, and underwater reefs, though, perch will be drawn to the structures.
Because they have poor night vision, yellow perch typically feed during the day. That is why, if you can pull yourself out of bed early, you’ll find them up on top of the structure, eager to bite.
I can’t do that. So if you’re like me and you head out at the crack of noon, you’re more likely to locate the fish hanging slightly deeper along the edges of the point, bar, reef, or shoal.
Sharp, distinct drop-offs are the best. By the way, if you hang around until dark, you’ll see the reverse pattern unfold.
Give black crappies a chance to hover around the same structures as perch and that is where you’ll find them, as well. But they typically position themselves differently.
While you’ll find perch glued to the bottom and structure edges, you’ll discover crappies are like mosquitoes. Crappies will relate to the same breaks and bottom transitions, but at a distance—often seemingly floating in the middle of the water column.
That is why you can spot them so easily on your sonar.
Now that we know where to start looking for perch and crappies, let’s not make the mistake of drilling just one or two holes and patiently waiting. Punch at least eight per angler before you wet a line. Then keep drilling and moving from one promising looking spot to another.
This strategy works throughout the ice fishing season. But at last ice, especially in large lakes, you should concentrate your search around the structures that lie closest to the spring spawning areas—the places where you’ll find perch and crappies after the ice leaves.
These are typically shallow vegetated backwater bays and bottleneck areas with current.
But enough talk. Let’s fish. And without sonar, you’re fishing blind. So turn it on and scan the bottom. What do you see? Nothing? It tells you something about the attitude of any crappies that might be around.
When they’re aggressive, they suspend and are easy to spot. Lower down a 1/8th ounce jigging spoon—like a Williams Ice Spoon, Lindy Rattl’R, or small jigging Rapala—with the head of a minnow draped over the hook for scent.
Vertically jig it up and down a foot or so off the bottom. Now pause and give it a shake. If you see a fish follow but it doesn’t bite, chances are it’s a crappie.
If it scoots back to the bottom, it is likely a perch.
Fast vertical jigging like this is the way to begin every day. It’s an approach geared to catching aggressively feeding fish. When perch and crappie are co-operative, every other approach is too slow and unproductive.
Sometimes you can catch them vertically jigging all day long. Other times you’ll see flurries of brisk activity, especially early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
You have to let the fish tell you what they want.
When they pine for a slower, in-your-face finesse approach, I grab a rod with ultra-thin diameter four-pound test Fireline on the reel and a 1/32nd ounce Marmooska, Fat Boy, or Genz Worm jig dangling from the end. I’ll tip the jig with a Power Wriggler.
The reason I want a tiny but fat horizontal jig, with the line tie coming out the top of the head, is so I can spot it on my sounder in deep water.
When the fish want a delicate touch, you will not feel a bite. But you will see your rod tip bend ever so slightly—as though kissed by the wind-blown sigh of an unseen angel.
• • •
Backlash:
If you’re attending the Mid-Canada Boat Show in Winnipeg this weekend, be sure to drop by the seminar area. I am going to be premiering the new In-Fisherman Ice Tech Jigging Secrets video that Doug Stange, Jeff Simpson, and I filmed over the last two winters.
There is some great footage, and we can talk more about catching winter perch and crappies.

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