Abundant, hard-fighting and quick to bite, these feisty little panfish are common throughout much of the northern United States and Canada, where they provide easy fishing for novice and experienced anglers alike.
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Yellow perch are fun to catch, but they are also prized as some of the tastiest fish in fresh water. And because they congregate in such great schools throughout most of year, catching enough for a meal is seldom a challenge.
Yellow Perch Identification
Yellow perch are fairly easy to pick out of a lineup. They have an elongated body shape—think miniature walleye—with two dorsal fins separated into spiny and soft-rayed sections.
True to their name, yellow perch coloration ranges from pale yellow to rich yellow-gold, with seven dark vertical bars along each side.
Typical adult size of yellow perch is 6 to 10 inches. But perch measuring longer than 12 inches and weighing over a pound are not out of the question.
Perch often congregate in large schools of similar-sized individuals. So, if you’ve caught one, chances are there are more nearby.
How to Catch Perch
Yellow perch are native to the Midwest and Northeastern United States, as well as large portions of Canada. They are very abundant in the Great Lakes watershed.
Perch also have been widely transplanted to areas south and west of their native territory, including as far west as Washington and Oregon.
Lakes and Reservoirs
Yellow perch inhabit lakes and reservoirs of all sizes, but they tend to thrive and reach the greatest size in deep, clear bodies of water with a variety of habitat.
In small lakes and ponds, perch tend to rapidly overpopulate, leading to stunted growth.
In the lakes and reservoirs that perch call home, these fish can be found in a wide range of depths, often with the smallest fish staying closest to shore throughout most of the year.
The biggest perch in any given lake are more likely to be found in deepwater, except in spring when they head toward the shallows to spawn.
Yellow perch often like areas with a mixture of rocks, gravel and aquatic vegetation, and they hunt near the bottom more often than not.
Drop-offs and shallow reefs surrounded by deeper water are great places to find perch.
Perch don’t always thrive in rivers the way they do in lakes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a successful perch fishing trip on your local river or stream.
As a general rule, any river that supports a healthy walleye population can also harbor plenty of perch.
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Large, slow-moving rivers are typically your best bet for perch, and major waterways like the Ohio and Upper Mississippi rivers are often great perch fisheries.
Transplanted perch are also common in rivers outside their native range, including in the Columbia River system in the Pacific Northwest.
Perch can inhabit smaller rivers and streams as well, especially slower-moving waters.
Yellow perchoften gravitate toward deep holes and pools where the current isn’t as strong.
They tend to stick close to rocky cover in rivers much like they do in lakes, often hovering around drop-offs, but moving toward shallower areas to feed during warm weather.
When to Catch Perch
Perch offer year-round fishing opportunities, but their movements are seasonal. In many lakes, you may be able to catch more or larger perch by adjusting your tactics and techniques as the calendar changes.
Yellow perch head toward shallow water to spawn when waters reach45 to 52 degrees.
Timing varies from as early as February to as late as June depending on location, but as a general rule perch start spawning just aswalleye finish spawningin most waters.
Spring is one of the best times to go perch fishing, as the biggest perch gather in great numbers in shallow water.
Small perch can usually be caught in fairly shallow water year-round, but large adults head toward deeper water as spring turns to summer.
By June, rocky areas in 8 to 12 feet of water are prime targets. By August, you can expect to catch perch as deep as 25 to 35 feet.
Autumn is a transitional season for yellow perch, and while they usually continue to inhabit deep, rocky habitats, they will often be on the move as they actively look for food ahead of winter.
Fishing for yellow perch through the ice often requires some searching, but once you find fish, you’re likely to find a lot of them.
Mid-depth basins and flats are the best places to find perch under the ice in most lakes. Perch are more likely to suspend far from the bottom in winter than in other seasons.
Time of day
In addition to seasonal changes, be sure to take time of day into account as well.
Yellow perch feed most actively in the morning and evening, and these are often the best times of day to be on the water.
There is frequently a good late afternoon bite as well, especially in the cooler seasons and during overcast weather.