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Pursuing Northern Ontario Perch

Yellow perch, like these ones caught on Lake of the Woods, are one of the most prolific and widespread sportfish found across Northern Ontario. • Credit: Gord Pyzer
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Pursuing Northern Ontario Perch

Why Perch are the most prolific sportfish in Northern Ontario

The late Rodney Dangerfield would have appreciated Northern Ontario's outstanding yellow perch populations, no doubt deadpanning, "They don't get no respect."

The truth of the matter is, however, yellow perch are quite possibly the most prolific and widespread sportfish in Northern Ontario. You can catch them from Lake Nipissing and Lake Temiskaming in Northeastern Ontario, all the way across the northern half of the province to Lake of the Woods and the Winnipeg River in the Northwest.

Yellow perch are also, in part, one of the reasons we enjoy such amazing walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass and lake trout fishing as everything -- including anglers -- love to dine on the tasty panfish.

In fact, the yellow perch fishing in Northern Ontario is so good (and in some places, especially along the north shores of Lake Huron and Lake Superior, so unexplored) that some anglers simply take it for granted.

Not me, though, and especially not in the fall, when immense schools of yellow perch gather around easily to identify locations and fight to bite your bait.

One of the nice things about yellow perch is that they’re abundant in most Northern Ontario lakes and rivers. They’re also delicious and nutritious to eat and easy to catch. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

There is another reason I like pursuing perch at this time of the year, however, and that is because I can carefully waypoint the precise location of the biggest schools on the handheld GPS unit that I keep in the boat and that resides on my snowmachine in the winter.

In a month's time, I'll be standing over top of these same fish, enjoying the first fast fling of the ice fishing season and the scrumptious shore lunch that follows.

Matter of fact, the fishing is so fast and furious at first ice, that a good friend and In-Fisherman Television host, Doug Stange, has already contacted me about making plans to ice fish for yellow perch during the first week of January. It is a winter tradition Doug and I have enjoyed for over a decade now, and we always celebrate the rewards of our labours with a mouth-watering yellow perch shore lunch-- or two.

The truth of the matter is, as many anglers in the know, Doug would just as soon dine on a stack of steaming hot, crispy perch fillets than anything else. That is why yellow perch are among the most sought-after commercial fish in freshwater, especially in places like Port Dover, along the north shore of Lake Erie, where people come from all over the world to enjoy the tasty panfish. If you've never savoured "Dover Perch" in one of the local eateries, trust me, you don't know what you've missed.

Although, on the other hand, when you're fishing at this time of the year in Northern Ontario, where the perch season never closes and where the limits are generous, catching a lip-smacking feast is about as difficult as launching the boat, turning on your sonar unit and checking the nearest rocky underwater points, sunken humps and reefs.

When I was out the other day, the fish were bunched up along the breaklines in depths ranging from 24 to 29 feet and were easy to spot as they were suspended, one on top of the other, about a foot or so off the bottom.

Probably no bait beats a lively emerald shiner minnow dangled on the end of a light 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jig, or lightly lip-hooked to a drop shot rig that you either tie up yourself or purchase, my favourite being the VMC Spin Shot. Just be sure, when you use a drop shot rig, to select a smaller #6 or #8 hook.

Case in point: the other day I started out fishing with a salted shiner on #4 Gamakatsu hook because I thought the arcs I was seeing on the sonar screen were too big to be perch and had to be walleyes instead. Lowering down the bait, however, I felt several fish bump it but I missed them on the hook set. When I finally landed a chunky foot-long perch, however, I realized they were my intended quarry after all.

Switching to a smaller #6 hook sealed the deal.

I should mention, too, that because yellow perch are prime prey for just about everything that swims, when you find a school of fish, don't be surprised to hook a bunch of "bonus babies". Like the trio of walleyes, nice northern pike and 6-pack of smallmouth averaging 4 pounds that I caught by "accident" the other day.

When you find a school of yellow perch in the fall, be sure to waypoint its location on your GPS unit, so you can return to the spot in winter. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Tell you another little secret about yellow perch. They're not the brightest bulbs in the pond. As a matter of fact, they're the knuckleheads of the fish world.

I recall once, interviewing Dr. Keith Jones, the head honcho over at the Berkley fish laboratory at North Spirit Lake, Iowa and the inventor of Power Baits. Keith keeps captive fish of all persuasions in the huge aquarium that he uses to test and study the company's products. He told me that while bass quickly learn what is edible and what is not -- carp, by the way, are the real Einsteins -- yellow perch are numbskulls.

In fact, Keith chuckled that after you get a school of yellow perch worked up and excited, by hauling one after the other to the surface, the remaining fish can't wait for your bait to get back down to them so they can hit it too.

It was precisely the kind of fall fishing I enjoyed the other day when I nabbed the yellow, orange and black bandits from the time I launched the Kingfisher in the morning until I pulled it back out of the water five or six hours later. I kept the biggest of the 15 perch for a Northern Ontario fish feast that evening with family and friends, and I can tell you, it was a treat that no one took for granted.

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