If there is one thing avid perch anglers want, it’s more perch! Yet, we don’t always get what we want. Perch might be easy to catch but they’re not always simple to find. I have spent many hours fishing for perch without success only to find out later that I was fishing in the wrong spot.
On a lake you fish often, finding perch is a breeze. Especially, as you discover some secret spots that always produce. However, targeting perch on a lake you’ve never fished before is a whole other ball game. Where do you even start?
Well, you are starting in the right place. We have dedicated some serious fishing time to decoding perch patterns so you can isolate the most productive spots. Perch might be abundant but they don’t occupy all areas in a lake. That’s why we are going to show you how to look at a new lake and instantly know where you need to fish.
Keep reading and you’ll see all the simple pieces we use to put together the perch fishing puzzle. Pretty soon, you too can learn how to easily find perch on any lake.
Finding perch simplified
I guess you could argue that perch fishing isn’t rocket science but a little science certainly doesn’t hurt. Perch swim in places that satisfy their basic needs. Understanding those needs is where the science comes in so let’s distill it down to the basics.
All perch want is to eat and spawn; and then survive to eat and spawn again.
Once you figure out their motives, it’s easy to see all the elements required that allow perch to achieve this task.
- Food sources: Every lake has a unique ecosystem with a varying prey base. Perch are adaptable and eat a huge range of forage. Food sources in lakes are hardly constant and schooling perch follow the boom and bust of food cycles.
- Temperature and oxygenation: Perch are among the most hardy of panfish but it doesn’t mean they won’t seek out more comfortable water. Changes in water temperature trigger seasonal movements that corral fish to specific spots where conditions are ideal. Spawning depends greatly on temperature and oxygenation.
- Escapement: Perch tend to be near the bottom of the food chain. Bass, walleye, pike, muskie and even other perch tend to feed heavily on perch populations. Survival hinges on the ability of yellow perch to escape from predators. There are two ways they achieve this. Use the camouflage of weed beds to hide or see the threat coming on mid-lake flats.
These are the barest elements to finding perch. Find the food, cover and ideal temperature for perch and you’ll find the perch. How these three factors figure into finding perch is influenced by seasonal timing. Sounds simple enough but we’ll dig deeper to give you the full picture.
Decoding seasonal patterns to pinpoint perch
From the cold of winter to the heat of summer, seasonal perch movements are actually not that large. Whether it is a simple basin lake or a more complex, multi-basin lake, perch have simple patterns that are defined largely by spawning and forage needs.
Generally, perch spawn in schools near shoreline vegetation in early spring. You’ll typically find them in 5-10 feet of water until late spring. As water temperatures rise in summer, perch move to deeper weed beds. Once lakes ice up and vegetation dies off, perch move to deeper mid-lake basins where they stay in search of food throughout winter.
Now, let’s break it down in more detail for each seasonal stage.
Pre-spawn is a short transitional stage occurring immediately after ice out on most northern lakes. It might only last 10-12 days before water temperatures above 40 degrees flip the switch to spawning mode. This is your best shot for consistently bagging a full stringer of plump perch. Plenty of jumbos are to be had for those who know what to look for.
The key to locating pre-spawn perch is to first identify spawning grounds. Most schools will hold near shallow spawning flats in 10-15 feet of water. Look for areas with light vegetation where food sources are the most abundant in early spring. Primary breaks that act as pathways from mid-lake basins to shallow weed beds are good places to start. You can easily identify these zones with lake mapping.
The once dispersed schools found in deep water during winter now form huge schools that are easy to locate using side imaging technology around these transition zones. Where water clarity is good, sight fishing with polarized glasses is also highly productive. Anglers can cruise the 10 to 12 foot contours and spot packs of aggressive males clinging to egg laden females waiting for their chance to claim first dibs on fertilizing eggs.
Tracking down schools of perch in the pre-spawn transition mode is the easy part. Their feeding attitude tends to be neutral or negative so enticing a bite is a bit challenging. Downsized tackle and bait presentations produce better strikes. Consider using some ice fishing inspired presentations during this period.
Perch start spawning when water temperatures are between 44 and 52 degrees. Larger pre-spawn schools start breaking into smaller groups. Smaller males are the first to make an appearance in shallow spawning areas. Perch favor submerged brush or shallow vegetation like bullrushes for spawning. This is the time for shore bound anglers to take advantage of some fast action perch fishing. Most spawning areas are in less than 10 feet of water.
Not far behind anxious males, plump females show up to deposit long strands of eggs adjacent to ideal structure. A single female perch will probably have 15 to 25 individual males tagging along. As soon as a female expels her eggs, she heads to deeper water to recover and feed. Males continue to stay in spawning areas for a short time guarding eggs until the need for food overrides any paternal instincts they might have.
The recovery period right after the spawn is the most challenging time to target perch. Food is now the primary concern. Perch are likely to be scattered in fertile lakes with abundant food sources. Loose schools meander around healthy weed lines in 10-12 feet of water.
The post-spawn bite is among the most dependable times to catch yellow perch by the bucket full. Post-spawn action is the culmination of warming water and a change in priorities from spawning to eating as much as possible. Perch seek out the deepest vegetation where cool, well oxygenated water persists into summer. Food is plentiful and vegetation provides cover from predators.
You don’t need to travel far from spawning areas to find ideal summer time habitat for perch. Shortly after the spawn, perch move out into the lake at depths of 15-25 feet. They begin reforming into large schools as well.
Now is the time to make use of electronics. You’re not necessarily looking for schools of perch though. Instead, zero in on deep water weed lines. When you nail down the depth where vegetation ends and a featureless basin continues, you found the money spot. Hold to this contour and start searching for schools of perch. Bottom rigs like a drop shot or small jig tipped with a minnow are killer presentations this time of year.
The habitable zone for post-spawn perch in summer and fall varies greatly from one lake to another. Small lakes and ponds might simultaneously hold perch in shallow water and in pockets as deep as 30 feet. While large, multi-basin lakes harbor most large schools in 30 feet or more.
Winter ice anglers find perch where they left them in the fall. Perch start edging towards expansive basins where they’ll spend the rest of winter cruising for food near the bottom. Not long after first ice, large schools of perch formed post-spawn fracture into dispersed bands. Sporadic food sources like mud worms, invertebrates and shrimp keep perch roving over big flats, constantly on the feed.
Target winter perch in basins that are most closely adjacent to pre-spawn transition zones. Basin depths are drastically different from one lake to the next but 25-40 foot depths are the most productive.
It’s going to be hard to pinpoint schools though. Your best bet is to drill lots of holes in a small area to find localized pods with electronics. As long as you’re marking fish, stay put. Just be ready to hole hop a bit to track them down as they move on.
The great thing about ice fishing for perch is the ability to reliably catch fish from the same area all winter. Once you find a basin that has decent numbers of fish moving around, start dissecting it to find the spot within the spot.
You can get a boost in winter perch fishing success by utilizing online mapping for the lake you plan to fish. Find the mid-depth basins and you’ll find the perch.
Follow the weed lines
The importance of vegetation can’t be overstated when it comes to finding perch. Weed edges provide a nursery for newly hatched perch as well as a smorgasbord of prey for adult perch.
Seasonal perch movements are closely tied to vegetative structure in any lake. If it’s your first time to a new lake in search of perch, spend your time searching for weed lines before you even make your first cast.
Google satellite imagery is a great resource for finding and marking vegetation in lakes before you even leave your house. Obviously, that only works on clear lakes. Otherwise, finding vegetation that holds perch requires time on the water with a good fish finder that will show you weed line transitions.
The only time vegetation is not a critical factor for finding fish is during the winter season. Vegetation rapidly decays once lakes develop a solid ice cap. Ice reduces light penetration and vegetation dies. As plants decays, oxygen is used up and perch vacate the area in search of deep, oxygen rich water that exists in mid-lake basins.
Know the food source
Perch eat pretty much anything so it might seem pointless to stew over the details of their diet. Yet, I can assure you that figuring out the main diet of perch on any lake will help you catch more. Not only will you be able to tailer your bait to what they want, you can also zero in on where the food source originates from.
Most state fishery departments have a fair amount of ecological information available on many popular fishing lakes. Take a few minutes to search your fish and game website for lake information to see if they provide details on prey base. On some lakes, adult perch feed on crayfish and minnows. Other lakes may support shrimp and other invertebrates.
When finding information online fails, it’s time for some direct investigation. By that, we mean sacrificing the first perch you catch by slicing open it’s stomach. In general, perch feed on a mixed bag. Perch with bellies full of small insects and crustaceans are likely feeding close to vegetation. If instead they have stomachs packed with shrimp and worms, consider targeting soft bottom flats.
Get a boost with electronics
Want to really up your game and find more perch? Then invest in good electronics. Without them, you are flying blind. Sure, during the spawning season and even throughout late summer, you can find perch without a fish finder. But to instantly find perch on any lake you need to know contours, find vegetation and gauge depth to see where the big schools are.
Modern electronics leave nothing to chance and boost your odds of success. We exclusively use a Humminbird Helix 7 which locates schooling perch with ease. The Helix 7 works equally well on ice as it does in open water. Get one for yourself from BassPro Shop.
Isolate jumbo perch from the pack
Simply finding more perch isn’t always enough for all anglers. When you have fat jumbos in your cross hairs, it takes some different tactics to isolate them from the pack. Anglers looking to consistently hook into 12 inch plus perch should take heed of these few critical points.
First, individual schools of perch mostly consist of similar sized fish. It makes sense because small perch eat small invertebrates and insect larvae. Jumbos, on the other hand, slurp down food that maintains their bulk like minnows, crayfish and crustaceans. So when you are only catching 7 inch perch, move on to another school to find larger fish.
Second, jumbos can swim among the predators. A 14 inch perch is a big meal for the average walleye or bass. Jumbos often push out into better feeding grounds where larger forage is present. Most small perch won’t follow.
Lastly, most of the biggest perch are spawning females. Pay close attention to water temperatures to determine where females will be at any given time. Remember, these spawning jumbos hang back until the ideal water temperature is reached. If you are fishing spawning flats and dragging back tiny males, it’s time to push out to transition zones. Your odds of hooking up with an egg heavy jumbo goes up exponentially.
Speed up your search by trolling
Big lakes make the job of finding a few small perch like finding a needle in a hay stack. It’s daunting to say the least. Clearly, it may not always be enough to find spawning areas, primary transitions or deep summer vegetation. That leaves one more tool in your arsenal. Trolling. While not exactly the most popular way to chase down schools of perch, it is amazingly productive. Few anglers put trolling to use and they are missing out.
Trolling for perch still relies on your ability to eliminate unproductive water and get close to some fish. The rest of the guessing game is about covering water.
A few anglers I know who swear by their perch trolling tactics like using worm harness bottom bouncer rigs usually reserved for walleye. You can also troll small crankbaits or grubs. Either way, pay attention to where you start connecting with perch. Mark the depth and follow tight to that contour.
With perch, trolling speed needs to be slow to keep your gear snuggled up to the bottom. Back trolling is the best way to keep speeds in the right range.
It takes some trial and error but try utilizing trolling tactics to find big perch on your next fishing trip.
Save time with online mapping
You can avoid many hours of frustration on the lake by finding perch before you even leave home. Contoured lake maps are your best friend. You can cross off a lot of sterile water and mark coordinates on the most likely perch hot spots.
In conjunction with a basic understanding of seasonal perch movements, online mapping is invaluable. One of our favorite free sources of bathymetric maps for many perch lakes is navionics.com. Use their online chart viewer to get an idea what kind of depths and topography you’re dealing with.
Any newer model fish finder likely has built in mapping which allows you to input coordinates as well. Make use of it and learn to get the most out of your mapping tools. It will pay off big time in the form of a pile of perch.
Putting it all together
That’s a lot of information to digest just to catch some perch. But, some anglers are nuts about perch. Myself included. So a little bit of homework is no sweat. Let’s sum up the steps to maximize success on any new perch lake you fish.
Think about your timing and where most perch will be when you hit the water or ice. Decode and demystify the spawning patterns and feeding habits of perch to hone in on the best areas.
Pour over online lake maps to cross off unproductive areas and find contours, shallows or basins that hold the most fish.
Get to the lake and head straight to spots on your list of “must check” areas. Pick apart the vegetation layout and use electronics to key in on weed lines and transition zones.
Cover water and move often until you start patterning schools of fish. A single visit to a lake may be all you need to get it figured out or it could take several.
Once you catch a few perch, figure out what they are eating and dial in your spot on the spot.
At the end of the day, it’s all about keeping your bait in the water. Don’t give up and keep fishing until you improve your skills. Learning to instantly find perch on any lake is a worthwhile endeavor for panfish enthusiasts. Use our methods for putting together the pieces of the perch fishing puzzle and you’re all but guaranteed to catch more fish.
Want more tips for locating your favorite gamefish? Don’t miss our popular guide where we share our best secrets to finding crappie on a new lake.