By Ron Hustvedt, Jr.
It’s tough to beat a good jumbo perch bite. Unfortunately, a lot of ice anglers never bother to chase after these green and yellow ice-fishing trophies. Right now is the prime time for pursuing jumbo perch on Minnesota’s finest lakes including Mille Lacs, Cass, Lake of the Woods, Bemidji and Gull.
Not to be confused with their pesky little brothers, true jumbo perch are difficult to catch and require just the right combination of location and presentation. Just to be sure, a jumbo perch is one that’s over eight inches on most bodies of water. There are a lot of lakes in Minnesota, however, where a jumbo doesn’t earn that title unless it’s over ten inches.
Northern Minnesota fishing guide Bryan Sathre of Fathead Guide Service said that jumbos require a different approach because they tend to act more like walleye than perch.
In most winters by the time early March rolls around the perch are relating to deep water locations. “Right now they are usually in 25 to 35 feet of water but they’ll begin to move shallower as the temperature raises—it really depends on the body of water,” said Tony Roach, a guide on Mille Lacs.
Sathre said that he’s normally fishing over deep water for perch but added that this winter has been out of the ordinary, especially for perch. “I haven’t been fishing deeper than 17 feet this winter and normally I’m out there really deep by now,” he said.
Fish are being caught out deep as well, he added, but he hasn’t had to move around the lake as much this year as in year’s past. “I just have to find a transition area such as where a soft bottom of mud meets a hard bottom of sand or rock,” he said.
Sathre just finished running the annual Kid’s Perch Derby up on Lake Bemidji last weekend and 847 kids endured a snowy afternoon on the ice yanking perch through the ice. “The great thing about jumbos is that they are plentiful enough for the kids to have a blast but offer enough of a challenge for the true giants and peskier eaters that adults have a great time catching them too.”
Methods of presentation
The location of the perch might vary greatly this winter, but the typical presentations are holding strong said both Roach and Sathre. Both agreed that there are three primary methods for catching jumbo perch: vertical jigging spoons, a short shank jig and a float system.
When used with a minnow or pinched off minnow head, each one can be deadly under different conditions. Jigging spoons do a great job of getting the bait into the strike zone and you should either abruptly jig it or hold it steady to trigger a bite.
Both prefer using large crappie minnows or fatheads with spoons and pinching the head off between the gill plate and dorsal fin. “That extra bit of skin gives it a bit more flash and seems to really out perform a minnow head pinched off at the gill plate,” Sathre said.
The float system approach can be done one of two different ways depending on which expert you ask. Sathre said he prefers a shiner on a glowing eyedropper jig. “You can catch a nice eelpout with that same rig so watch out,” he added.
During Roach’s “Perch School” last weekend, he had 25 guys on the ice all doing a great job of catching jumbos through the ice using Live Forage spoons tipped with eurolarvae. “The realistic color brings the perch in to take a look and the eurolarvae is all they need to take a bite—there are so many bugs coming up through the mud right now those perch are puking it up in the keeper bucket,” he said.
Both Roach and Sathre employ the use of a flasher as well as a camera and say the two are invaluable tools when used together. Not only are they used to locate and identify fish; they are also critical for reading a strike.
“People are used to average sized perch which are known for hitting your bait several times before taking it while jumbo perch tend to inhale the bait and then slowly swim away—that’s something you want to see so you can set the hook,” Sathre said.
Roach said the camera is also a good tool for really keying in on transition areas like where sand meets mud. Often, jumbo perch are belly to the bottom this time of year so electronics are essential for determining what’s a fish on the bottom and what’s a rock.
Both anglers said a rod with a rod tip that will help show these subtle strikes are best but it also needs to have a firm backbone to quickly reel in a jumbo once its on. “You aren’t going to feel the strike a lot of time but you can see it by carefully watching the tip of your rod—once you feel it, there’s not time to waste, reel in quickly or set the hook with the rod because that perch isn’t going to chomp on your hook forever,” Sathre said.
Besides making for some terrific fishing action, perch make for a tasty meal. A meal of perch fillets after a day on the ice is tough to beat.
Those looking to partake in Roach’s Perch School are in luck this year since he added a second weekend. Beginning March 18 at 6 p.m. and running through to Sunday, March 20, the perch school is run through Hunter’s Point Resort. The guides, food and lodging are all part of the cost that will run $395.
It features a Friday evening class, a full-day of fishing Saturday and half a day of fishing on Sunday.