Winter Open Water Perch Tactics

by Paul Lewis, January 10, 2021

It’s the middle of winter in Washington and usually that means Blackmouth salmon in the Puget Sound and the pursuit of trophy winter steelhead across our rivers. However, as we all know by now, our options have been severely limited by the state this year, which has left many of us looking for different opportunities for a great day on the water. Lots of times, this means more trout fishing or spending hours in the car just to find some quality fishing opportunities. But consider this: the ability to fill buckets with fish and delicious white meat fillets perfect for the pan, for the deep fryer, or the oven! That’s right, we are talking yellow perch! Perch are a practically endless resource in our state that is often overshadowed by our more sought-after species such as trout, steelhead, and salmon, but perch are fantastic eating, are easy to catch, and in most areas have no limit or a limit of 25 per person. On top of this, they make for the perfect kid’s outing for winter fishing because they bite all day, run in schools, and one you find them, the action is nonstop.

Perch are in almost all our area lakes, and they are one of the most common summertime catches off area docks and shorelines. I remember going to the dock in the summertime as a kid with a little nightcrawler and a bobber and catching my fill of these beautiful green fish any time I felt like it. Winter perch fishing is very similar to fishing in the summer, just in deeper water. So, we trade the bobber in for some weight and drop down to them on the bottom. An added bonus of winter perch fishing, often times they are schooled up even tighter, making for instant action!

As stated, perch fishing is simple, bountiful, and effective in many ways. However, there are some tips to make you a better winter perch angler and help you fill your bucket. For the purposes of this article, we will be talking about perch fishing from a boat, which is the recommended way to target perch in the winter time. If you are a boat-less angler, try to find a shoreline with a fast drop off into deep water that can be casted to. As we try to find the fish, let’s start by taking a look at the water column. In the winter perch sit in deep water and prefer a sandy bottom to most other structure. Depending on the lake, I start my search in 50-75 feet of water, carefully watching my fish finder looking for a large school of fish, similar to a ball of herring in the saltwater, or a reading on your finder that looks like the bottom suddenly rises. If you don’t have a fish finder, I highly recommend looking up a topographic map of your lake to find a starting spot, then fishing on a drift to find a perch ball. Once the ball of perch is found, it’s time to anchor up and get to fishing!

Now that you have found the perch, you have successfully completed the hardest part of the day! There is very little guesswork in finding a bait for perch as they are voracious feeders and will bite just about anything, especially of you have a little scent or bait on the end of your lure. Rod-wise, I use an ultralight setup with four-pound test line. Another good option for line is braid to eliminate any stretch, then a 4-lb leader of mono. In reality, however, perch are not line shy at all and anything you prefer from 2-12 pound test will work just fine. My favorite perch setup is a drop shot rig (weight on bottom, hook 12-24 inches above the weight) with a size four to six hook and a small plastic grub such as a trout magnet or small crappie jig. Then, just simply drop down to the bottom and do some light jigging to attract a bite. Usually I do a “twitch, twitch, twitch, pause” technique, and the fish will hit in the pause most of the time.

If your little plastic or lure doesn’t work alone, then adding some bait or scent will turn the bite right on. There is nothing simpler and more effective than tipping your setup with a little nightcrawler. If you don’t want to use crawlers, Scents such as shrimp, herring, krill, or anything with some stink also work very well. One insider secret to fire up the perch is cutting your first one up and using the guts and meat as bait! Perch love perch guts, meat, perch eyes, and anything else from the perch you have. One bonus to this method is how well perch meat stays on the hook. You can easily catch six, eight, or even more on one piece of bait. Once you catch one perch, there will be many more to follow, so make sure you have a bucket ready to put your bounty in! When the perch are under your boat, its hand over fist action.

That’s all there is to it! In just a couple hours of fishing you’ll have a bucket full of fish ready to be processed and consumed. Personally, I like to fillet and skin my perch. Perch are bony fish, so filleting and skinning makes for a totally boneless bite ready for the pan or oil. You don’t get much meat off of one fish, so keeping a bunch is a must. I usually allocate at least 5 fish per person. A really nice size perch is nine inches, with anything 12 inches or larger being a monster. We have caught a mess of perch in the 10-13 inch range this year, and the perch in the winter time do seem to be a bit larger, which is a very nice bonus. Filleting a whole mess of perch can be daunting, but with practice (and a sharp knife) you’ll be slapping the sides of your fish in nothing flat.

Perch is great any way you cook them. They have sweet and flaky white meat, making delicious grilled fish tacos, or baked with your favorite seasonings as they take flavor so well. Additionally, they are one of my favorite fish to make fish and chips out of! Flour, salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, and a can of beer to make a simple beer battered fish, dunk them in some hot grease, then you’re ready for some delicious golden crispies.

In our state, the WDFW heavily encourages fishing and harvesting perch, as they breed fast, are voracious eaters, and can do severe damage to other fish populations, eating salmon and trout smolts and taking over bodies of water. So, grab your rods, fill your buckets, get the grease hot, and get ready for some delicious eating. Tight lines all!

~ Paul Lewis
Fast Action Fishing Adventures


1/11/2021 5:25:20 AM
i like to pan sear them whole, the "pull" the meat and add that to a robust barley-vegetable (chigger of whiskey) stew, to make my northwoods fish stew. pike can also be easily used as well, given the process, and far less waste than merely filleting. also, better for buckets of smaller/stunted fish. beautiful thing is how quick the preps are! warm food for cold days out.
i will also say, for those in the seattle or eastside, there are some spots on lake washington that are amazingly productive for very large and highly numerous yellow perch. from the east channel bridge south to kennydale.
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