Time to catch ‘best eating fish in upper Midwest’

I am a huge perch fishing fan and I make no excuses for it. Yes, I know they seldom make for heart-stopping trophy photos, but they are the best eating fish we have in the upper Midwest, and the time to catch them starts now in the early fall.

It’s jumbo perch time.Photo submitted
It’s jumbo perch time.Photo submitted

Perch numbers in Minnesota are mysteriously dwindling, but perch numbers in North Dakota and South Dakota are doing very well and attracting more attention from anglers than ever before.

There are still great lakes for fishing perch in Minnesota, including the bigger ones like Winnibigoshish, Leech, Red Lake, Lake of the Woods and Mille Lacs. Devils Lake in North Dakota has become a great destination for perch, too, as have some select areas in South Dakota.

The lifespan of a yellow perch is 13 years. They have been caught up to 18 inches long and a record yellow perch caught in New Jersey weighed a whopping 4 pounds, 3 ounces. However, for most of us, catching one over 10 inches long means we got an eater.

Perch are found in a wide variety of warm and cool habitats over a wide range of territory, although they are primarily lake fish. North Dakota and South Dakota are stocking perch in farm ponds where they have been doing really well when they have ample feed.

Adult yellow perch feed on larger zooplankton, insects, young crayfish, snails and aquatic insects, and in the fall, they often can be found chasing schools of small shiner minnows. They also feed on freshwater shrimp. They constantly move when feeding and feed during daylight hours when they are not as vulnerable to being eaten themselves.

I start fishing perch around the end of August and don’t stop until I put my boat away just before the deer season opener.

I like to fish them with very small jigs tipped with plastic imitation insects or small fish. Some days they only bite on live bait. On those days I tip my jigs with crappie or fathead minnows. I also cast tiny lures and small spinners.

Cold fronts, high winds, storms and other weather conditions can shut down the perch bite just like it does for other fish.

The best place to search for perch is around weed beds. They are almost always near the bottom and they are always on the move.

I start in shallow water, 3-5 feet, and work my way into depths of 9-13 feet until I find actively feeding fish.

It is also important in shallow water to be quiet. On windless days it is easy to visually spot the perch in shallow water just by sneaking up on them.

Perch are not great fighters, but with really light tackle, 2-3-pound test line, they are really fun to catch. Some days it takes catching over 100 to get enough eaters to take home for lunch, but that is the best part – just catching them.

Ray Gildow writes an outdoors column for ABC Newspapers.