Lake Erie’s perch populations have prospered in recent years and numbers remain high, but finding those slob-sized guys sometimes requires a reconnaissance run before getting into the big-fish fun.
When a school of feeding fish is found, anglers using spreaders and other multiple-hook rigs often pull up two or more of these tasty panfish on one retrieve.
Thursday morning proved positively that the Erie perch bite provides both sizes and numbers in abundance under less than favorable fishing conditions. The Solar-Lunar Table did not post a peak (best times) bite until that afternoon; a cool, modest north wind blew all day.
Angler savvy has it that “fishing is least in a wind from the east.”
Fishing gurus predict poor fish responses during a cold front. Both greeted perch-searching anglers headed out of Cattaraugus Creek early Thursday.
Longtime fishing partner Ken “Mach” Maciejewski and I headed out of the mouth of Cattaraugus Creek by 7:30 that morning as part of a line of anglers trailering boats out of the state launch. This outing was the latest my boat was first launched into Lake Erie in decades, the result of a prolonged ice season and a late arrival of spring temperatures.
Reports had it that deep-water perch schools were biting well off Evangola State Park to the east and off Hanford Bay and Eagle Bay to the west. Though well past “young men,” Mach and I decided to go west in quest of good perch prospects.
The sonar screen showed odd schools of bait and pockets of perch at 56-foot depths to the west. Later we learned from returning boaters that the perch presence to the east was only so-so. On this day the bite was just right directly off the mouth of the Catt. Boaters set up at anchor, moved around and even went on drifts to improve odds, but most boaters at 52- to 56-foot depths averaged 20 keeper-sized ringbacks before the noon fire-alarm test went off at Hanover.
Every kind of fishing boat got in on this fish finding from 14-foot rear-tiller types to cruiser-sized hulls measuring more than 20 feet. A chill air did not cool angler ardor. Despite this late starting date, regulars had found good open-water perch schooling and it all depended on where schools were in session and when their cafeteria opened.
Typically, emerald shiners and other live bait (golden shiners, fatheads, etc.) are the standard fare for fish forage. Emeralds shined again on this morning, with most fish going for a lively bait held on or close to bottom.
Yellow perch generally feed on an assortment of live baits and the book on perking up perch is mainly with worms (nightcrawlers or red/blood worms).
But Lake Erie’s perch pack prefers minnows. When the bite is just right, a “plastic” (rubber/vinyl) body might work.
Several plastics have been alluring in years past, but the most effective has been a “home brew” version of an emerald shiner Lee Weber at Weber’s Bait & Tackle in Evans concocted a few years ago. On the way to the Catt I dropped by Lee’s place and picked up another pack of these “plastics.”
Whole truth be told, live (minnow) bait is the bottom line for Erie perching, but Weber’s version of an emerald shiner, with its exaggerated eyes and blue-green coloration, catches fish more often than most artificials on the market.
It caught a couple perch Thursday and has taken many a perch on Erie trips, pike and walleye on Canada fly-ins, and bass anglers like time on drop shots when smallmouths start heading deep later in the summer season.
For now, perch progress is late, as it has been with all fish species. Mach and I took home 20 nice, keeper-sized perch in the 9- to 13-inch range.
Most were males and while filleting we noticed some females had yet to drop their eggs.
Erie’s perch fishery changes each warm-weather season. Bigger fish spawn in deep water and often head deeper as summer progresses.
Today and Monday good feeding schools may be elsewhere in the morning might start with a reconnaissance run to get things done.