Like prospectors seeking a golden treasure, Western New York anglers are seeking a different kind of bounty as the waters of Lake Erie slowly warm – the tasty yellow perch.
There may be fish that fight better like the mighty Chinook salmon on Lake Ontario or the feisty muskellunge in the Niagara River, but when it comes to a scrumptious meal, it’s tough to beat a fresh perch fry! And with walleye season closed until May 6 (a member of the perch family), right now is a perfect opportunity to catch some of these golden fillets.
At the State of the Lake meeting held three weeks ago in Hamburg, Dr. Jason Robinson with the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Lake Erie Unit gave an update on perch numbers. He forecast 2017 to be very similar to last year, but with three strong year classes in a row, things should improve starting in 2018. Someone forgot to tell the perch.
For the last two or three weeks, anglers have been hitting the perch hotspot from Cattaraugus Creek to Sturgeon Point. Catching the fish has been relatively easy. The hard part was getting on the water.
The Sturgeon Point launch ramp was being dredged, the Cattaraugus Creek launches didn’t have docks in and the Safe Harbor Marina (formerly Small Boat Harbor) is under construction and only two launches have been open for use.
Help will soon be on the way. Hanover docks are in. Boats are starting to launch at Sturgeon Point and vessels are continuing to back in at the state launch at Cattaraugus Creek even though the docks will not be in for a couple weeks.
If you are new at the perch game, one good tip is to go out with a charter captain or a friend who is familiar with what needs to be done to catch fish. And once you put fish in the cooler, they will also help clean your catch. When the fishing is on, it may take you longer to clean your catch than it will be to reel them in.
“The first thing you need to do is find the fish,” says Capt. Steve Drabczyk of Lewiston. “You may have general areas to start like off the Catt, but use your electronics to find the pods of fish before you even put a line in the water. If you are serious about perch fishing, purchase one of the MinnKota trolling motors with the GPS technology and “spot-lock” to keep you in place – instead of an anchor. Pulling the anchor will create a cloud of sediment on the bottom and force the fish from the area.”
On a smaller scale, the rationale applies with the sinker on the end of the line. Drabczyk feels that it’s important to keep your sinker as still as possible. Bouncing the sinker off the bottom in a continuous motion will have the same effect by clouding the water around your bait and it could have a negative effect on your consistency.
Tom Marks of Gr8 Lakes Fishing Adventures had this to say about perch fishing tips: “Emerald shiners! Of course that is the mantra of all Lake Erie perch anglers, but this time of year jigging can be effective, too. I have had good luck with the Stingnose jig from Thundermist Lures. A good light-action rod with a fast tip helps to feel the light bites, and don’t forget the electronics. Schools of perch are scattered and being off the school by just a few yards can be the difference in having a perch dinner or hotdogs.
Most anglers practice good conservation to protect our resource by not wasting their catch. For the few who don’t know the rules it is legal to release fish unharmed and not count them towards your creel limit, but perch caught in deep water will not survive. These are the ones you are feeding to the gulls and those perch are part of your creel.
When fishing in deep water there is no such thing as catching 60 or 70 perch to get a limit of 50. After catching 50 perch you are done regardless if they are in your ice chest or a gull’s stomach.”
Capt. James Plinzke of Fishunter Charters shared this piece of information: “Here’s what I like to do - set up my perch poles with 10- or 15-pound test braid and use a ball bearing crosslock to attach my perch rigs or spreaders. I also tie my own hooks using fluorocarbon line (8-10 pound test) with size No. 8 to No. 2 Tru Turn hooks in gold, red, or brown.”
There are a lot of new anglers on the water, too, and advance perch etiquette isn’t available unless you attend the Greater Niagara Fishing Expo in Niagara Falls each January. For those who do attend, it’s standing-room only. One of the speakers is Capt. Joe Fonzi of Thumbs Up Charters.
“There are plenty of fish in the New York waters of Lake Erie,” says Fonzi. “The index based on the State of Lake Erie meeting was something like 5,400 perch per acre. Don’t crowd the other boats and you don’t have to be in the main pack. Stay at least a cast away from other boats.
“When a school moves from under our boat, I like to cast to try and find what direction they swam in and you can pull them back. You can also find a small pod of perch and pull more fish in by creating some activity, a kind of feeding frenzy.”
“When you are fishing deeper waters, running braided line or a super line can make a difference with the sensitivity and limited line stretch,” says Capt. Frank Campbell with Niagara Region Charters."I use Seaguar Kanzen line in 15- to 20-pound test. It looks like 4- or 6-pound test. You can add a fluorocarbon leader but you don’t have to. I also like to run a double drop shot rig with a barrel swivel above the set-up to prevent line twist. Hooks are at six inches and a foot from the sinker."
Now go catch yourself some perch. Fish can be found from 40 to 75 feet of water right now … and make sure you read the weekly “Fishing Beat” right here in this paper.
If you’d like to get involved with a friendly perch contest, the Southtowns Walleye Association of WNY will be hosting a contest on May 20 from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Best five fish wins. For more information contact Jerry Lesinski at 649-8202.