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Perch time in Ontario

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Perch time in Ontario

Jimmy Valeriote says that using minnows is the key to catching jumbo perch in the fall. The baitfish emit an odour that entices perch to collect in vast numbers below the boat. • Credit: Gord Pyzer

Find out why Jumbo Perch fishing is so addicting in the fall months



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There are precious few things that can pull me away from catching husky brown bass on a spectacular fall afternoon in Northern Ontario, but it happened on the weekend.

I was fishing with my daughter Jenny and 10-year old grandson, Campbell, who had just wrestled into the net one of the biggest bass he has caught this season. His eyes sparkled in the autumn sunshine and I just had to snap a quick photo of him holding up his prize, before he released the 4.1-pound trophy. 

But, in the time it took for me to dig out the camera and snap the images, we drifted off the hotspot where the smallmouth were parked.

Not a big deal, I thought, I'll just use the electric trolling motor to pull us back onto the waypoint that I'd punched into the GPS on the Humminbird Sonar Unit on the front casting platform. But when I looked down at the screen to check my bearings, I noticed it was littered with the tell-tale arcs of a school of aggressively feeding fish.

The more anglers in the boat - the better the perch fishing - as the collective odour emitted by the minnows used for bait is a powerful attractant
The more anglers in the boat, the better the perch fishing, as the collective odour emitted by the minnows used for bait is a powerful attractant.

"What in the heck are these?" I wondered out loud to the kids, as I dropped down a jig tipped with a 3-inch long Bass Magnet Twitch

I received the answer almost immediately, when I felt a thump on the end of my line, set the hook, and reeled up a fat 13-inch jumbo yellow perch. It reminded me of something good friend Jimmy Valeriote once told me about catching his favourite fall fish.

"They look like pigs," Jimmy chuckled, "because they eat like pigs."

Here is the fish that got it all started – if ten-year old Campbell Whetter hadn’t caught this gorgeous smallmouth bass, we never would have drifted off the structure and discovered the yellow perch motherlode
Here is the fish that got it all started – if 10-year old Campbell Whetter hadn’t caught this gorgeous smallmouth bass, we never would have drifted off the structure and discovered the yellow perch mother load.

They also created the kind of dilemma that most anglers dream about. Do we go back and catch more bass or focus on the immense school of yellow perch pleading for us to drop another line over the side of the boat?

Before I could weight the pros and cons and reflect on the decision, I had the answer.

"Oh, I've got one," Jenny said, swinging another gorgeous perch into the boat, followed almost immediately by Campbell saying, "Me, too, grandpa!"

And so the rest of the afternoon unfolded.

I cannot tell you how many jumbo perch we caught that day, nor the number of double and triple headers we landed. This much I do know. I'd brought several dozen minnows to end the day catching walleyes for shore dinner, and we left the perch palace with not even a sole survivor swimming in the pail.

Jumbo yellow perch are just that addictive to catch and that scrumptious to eat.  They are also quite possibly the most ubiquitous fish found across the northern half of Ontario. From Lake of the Woods and Eagle Lake in the west to Lake Nipissing and Lake Temiskaming in the east. And just about everywhere else in between. 

Few fish compare with jumbo yellow perch when it comes time to prepare a traditional Northern Ontario shorelunch
Few fish compare with jumbo yellow perch when it comes time to prepare a traditional Northern Ontario shorelunch.

Oh, yes, and right now is the very best time, in my opinion, to intercept the biggest, most aggressive schools of jumbo perch as they congregate and bunch up in massive schools in the fall, feeding greedily before the dark days of winter force us to put our boats to bed.

And finding a school of perch to park over is often as simple as turning on your sonar unit and looking for the transition where the hard rock bottom of a structure or shoreline, slopes out and merges with the soft bottom of the lake basin. 

Even better still is when you can locate an isolated patch of gravel, as Jenny, Campbell and I happily stumbled upon, on an otherwise soft muddy bottom. 

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"They're always sliding in or out, looking for the cool water transition," says Valeriote, who spends most of his perch picking days plucking jumbos from Lake Erie and Lake Simcoe, perhaps the two most famous fisheries on the planet.

Jimmy's also emphatic about using minnows for bait. Especially emerald shiners.  But the reason why he prefers tipping his jigs and drop shot rigs with small baitfish may surprise you. He says it is because the odour the minnows emit is such a powerful and potent perch pull. 

So much of an attraction, in fact, that when he has two or three friends in the boat fishing with him, the group will collectively catch more and bigger jumbo perch than when he fishes alone. 

"It is a pack mentality in the fall," Jimmy chuckles. "The perch just want to eat meat.  So, it is all about capitalizing on opportunities and keeping the fish around.  Like I said, they look like pigs because they're eating like pigs."

Welcome to perch time in Northern Ontario.

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