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Flirting with a Fall Perch Tradition

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Flirting with a Fall Perch Tradition

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Launch your boat on just about any lake in Northern Ontario and like Campbell Whetter did on the weekend, you can catch the makings for a Dover-style perch feast

Port Dover, Ontario is famous for Motorcycle Rallies and for the Dover perch - find out how to catch the Yellow Perch in Northern Ontario, and how to make them Dover style.



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Every Friday the 13th since 1981, up to 100,000 motorcycle enthusiasts from across North America have rolled into Port Dover, Ontario on the north shore of Lake Erie in what organizers call the "the biggest single-day motorcycle event in the world".

It has become a fun-filled tradition that shows no signs of fading any time soon.

And when the rally crowd converges on the tiny fishing village, they cram the local restaurants and eateries for something else for which Port Dover is justifiably famous - Dover perch

The crispy fried yellow perch fillets are harvested by the local commercial fishing fleet and are a "must have" item on every menu in town because they're so delectably finger licking good.

But you don't have to visit Port Dover to get in on the action.  You can launch your boat on just about any one of the hundreds of thousands of lakes and rivers across Northern Ontario and catch your own makings for a Dover-style yellow perch feast.

Liam and Campbell Whetter found the yellow perch spread out along the soft clay bottom of Lake of the Woods on the weekend, in 24-feet of water.

In fact, doing just that has become a fall tradition in my household, although the numbers of anglers who show up is much more modest.  Still, I guarantee we have just as much fun.

It is because during the first few weeks of October you can find huge schools of yellow perch - I am talking about massive pods of big fish numbering in the hundreds, maybe even thousands - that bite so readily they appear to be famished.  What they're doing of course, is taking advantage of the fall food cornucopia, feeding up and gaining nourishment to carry them through the cold winter months when the lakes are frozen, their metabolism slows down and food is much more scarce.

One of the most significant secret ingredients to success is first locating an ideal structure like an underwater point or sunken reef that slopes down and merges with the main lake basin in 20- to 30-feet of water.  It is important to note, too, that while the structure is an important calling card, in terms of attracting the orange finned fish, you almost never find or catch them on top of it, or even along the sides.  Instead, you'll typically find the perch spread out along the soft clay, sand and mud bottom immediately adjacent to the harder rock feature.

Gord Pyzer, shown here with a beautiful Lake of the Woods yellow perch, says the fish use their sense of smell to locate and then bite your bait.  

Gotta' confess, too, that finding yellow perch is the most important element because catching them is so relatively easy.  As a matter of fact, I rarely buy or use live bait for any of my fishing over the course of the season.  But I make an exception in the fall when we're fishing for tasty perch.

Buddy Jimmy Valeriote is a perch fanatic who spends much of his time, by no mere coincidence, around Port Dover on Lake Erie.  He has always maintained that if you’re not using a minnow for bait - emerald shiners are his "go to" selection - and your buddy is, you’re going to get out-fished ten to one.

He is right.

Ontario perch guru, Jimmy Valeriote says if you’re not using a minnow to catch yellow perch and your buddy is, you’re going to get out-fished ten to one.

Something else Jimmy and I have compared notes on extensively over the years is how yellow perch use their sense of smell to locate and then bite your bait.  He routinely cuts his shiners in half so the perch can catch a whiff of the scent, and then like sharks, follow it to your hook. 

On the weekend, when I was fishing with my grandsons Campbell and Liam, we were cutting freshly thawed, salted, spot-tailed shiners into thirds, hooking the head on a 1/4- to 3/8-ounce orange Reel Bait Flasher jig, then t-boning the body, followed by the tail.  It made for a compact, weird looking, odoriferous offering that the perch couldn't resist.

When we got home and cleaned our catch, the piece-de-resistance was this simple recipe that I used to cook our catch Dover-style. 

If you want to know how good it tasted, let me simply say, this is one Northern Ontario fall fishing tradition that is never going to die.

Gord's Lip Smackin' Dover-Style Perch  

  • fresh boneless yellow perch filets
  • Italian bread crumbs
  • corn flake crumbs
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • good sprinkling of corn starch
  • ice cold beer, water or milk
  • canola oil

Try Gord's lip smackin' recipe once and we're betting that catching yellow perch in the fall will become a fishing tradition

Place the canola oil in a cast iron skillet over medium high heat.  In a deep sided bowl, add the flour, corn starch, ice cold beer (water or milk) and whisk it together into the consistency of medium thin pancake batter.  In another bowl, combine the bread crumbs and corn flake crumbs.  Dip each perch fillet into the flour mixture first, then coat with bread crumbs before placing into the hot oil.  Fry the filets on each side until they're golden brown and then transfer them to a serving plate.  Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper and enjoy.

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