For perch anglers, Lake Erie can be a sly gamble.
Native Americans named Lake Erie the cat, perhaps because its weather and waves have cunning ways of sneaking up on anglers. A gambling metaphor also applies when it comes to finding and catching yellow perch.
Each time out the tables turn and perch seem to slip into different slots. Every trip is fun, but dicey.
That has been the pattern for perch trips this past spring, summer and now this fall season.
Walleye schools have scattered; so have schools of perch. The annual migration of Western Basin walleyes has ‘eye schools moving well west of Buffalo-area ports. But the perch scattering still keeps the perch in pockets – some quite wide and open – throughout the fall.
For perch hunters, the chase every time out is to not only find perch schools, but also to find packs of bigger perch. Often, bigger perch show up in schools of runt-size runners.
Running is yet another factor along with weather. Find a good school of big perch one day and the next day that spot could be as cold as a beer commercial.
The winds kicks up for two to three days and a heavy rainfall may find stained waters over depths of 50 feet or more.
That was the scenario Ted Malota and I faced on Wednesday morning after departing from Sturgeon Point Marina. A gentle off-shore breeze leveled the 4- to 6-foot waves that built up the day before. But a staining from nearby feeder creeks had things looking glum close to shore.
Most boaters out of Sturgeon Point headed to that broad expanse of flats, a 68-foot feeding grounds well offshore between Grandview Point and Point Breeze.
At Cattaraugus Creek, an ongoing fishery at 48 feet directly off Foxes Point has kept 30-plus boats anchored and well supplied with bigger perch for weeks.
Better numbers of perch have shown at 65- to 75-foot depths slightly west of the Catt, but the quick dropoff at the mouth of the creek has been a feeding and catching grounds for fish and fishermen most days boaters could get on the water.
Calling for updates to include in Wednesday Fishing Line reports and my own forays from the two ports confirmed the fickle nature of this bountiful fishery. One boat could have three or four fishermen hauling in a limit (50 fish per angler) catch while others nearby would have little or nothing to show for the filleting knife.
That circumstance prevailed on Wednesday. Our late morning departure was focused on an afternoon bite that the Solar-Lunar charts pegged as a so-so activity period sometime in mid afternoon.
But the new Lowrance Elite-7 Combo sonar unit was showing nice pockets of bigger perch scattered under suspended bait schools at 48 feet just off the eastern tip of the Evans-Angola Bar.
This place had been hot in May, cool July and cold in August. Now, the screen showed all kinds of fish swimming near bottom in lightly stained surface water. Not another boat was anchored within a mile of our site.
We dropped the anchor, the screen, of course, went dead for a few seconds and then the fish started to show on both the sonar and the minnow-tipped spreader rigs we dropped do to close to bottom.
The radio had other boaters doing fairly well out deeper off the Catt, Evangola State Park and east to Grandview. But this spot was so hot we did not have to touch bottom to get a perch tap.
The ringbacks just kept ringing in mixed sizes, but most perch averaged more than 9 inches; we only released about 15 or 20 runts while amassing a 100-fish limit.
The box (a 55-quart cooler) was filled before noon and a quick count of 88 at 11:30 a.m. had us up to the legal count well before noon.
It was one of those days when filleting and vacuum-sealing the fish took longer than the time it took catching them.
That was one glorious day for Teddy and me. But, like reports from gamblers, it does not include the three or four trips that ended in less than two meals, if that.
Tomorrow, that hot spot could be shot, The perch, on the move constantly, may be closer or farther away the next day. Malota spends much of his winter winding worm-harness rigs for walleye trolling, but his peak performance and prideful production is a successful day at what he calls “my perchin’”.
This deep-water perch fishery often continues until the first ice formations. But patience must prevail in finding where perch are doing their cat-like sneak in search things to feed on or near bottom.
It’s a gamble. It’s fraught with trickery. Its Lake Erie perch fish. It’s fun.