This Montanan’s Tips on Fishing for Perch Year-Round

angler catches big perch

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As a kid, I remember catching massive amounts of perch. By the bucket depending on the season and location. Here in Montana as a kid, some locations did not have a limit on perch at all and our freezers were often stocked with them.

Being raised in Washington and Montana taught me one thing school didn’t have to do, there is a big difference in species when you change locations. This change is typically found in their behavior as well as their size and diet.

Perch back home in Washington were smaller in size and were typically caught on bait such as small “bits” of nightcrawlers (sometimes getting three bits out of one long nightcrawler). When I moved to Montana, however, the game changed.

Perch here In Montana were larger and were caught on artificials just as much as natural bait, making a Rapala a great choice for chasing them. Seasons also differ between Washington and Montana as I was introduced to ice fishing as soon as I moved here.

Winter fishing in Montana changes things, the bait, lures, and tactics all change when the cold hits and the lakes freeze over. This is one of my favorite things about my home, the extreme weather brings extreme fishing.

Perch are a big deal here and are the subject matter for any angler. Even anglers who are chasing walleye and pike are always happy to catch a good eatin’ perch and often come home with a few.

Understanding Perch In General

In the family Percidae, but more specifically, in the genus Perca, The perch is a predacious freshwater fish found in most clear waters such as ponds, lakes, streams, or rivers that can support them.

Perch are very favorable to anglers for a few reasons, probably the biggest being table quality. Perch is very good eating and can be cooked easily in just about any way nut pan-frying is the most popular.

They are also known for their tenacious fighting when caught. For being such little fish, they fight like walleye, which makes sense since walleye and perch are both in the Percidae family.

In terms of spawning, most perch females will spawn in the Spring, laying their eggs in cool waters that have cover to prevent too much sunlight. This makes the springtime a great time to fish for perch but we will get into that later.

Every sportfish has its own personality in the water but generally, most sportfish are lazy and do not want to work for their meal. Why chase your food when you can single out easy-to-catch food?

This is the reason why simple baits work so well for different species and the perch is no different. Some of the best successes that I have had fishing for perch and just about any species involved a worm and a hook.

The perch is an amazing species that is very versatile, thriving in the winter under the ice in frigid water and beating the heat on a 100-degree day in the summer. My favorite thing about perch is their yearlong availability.

Techniques and Strategies

angler uses effective perch fishing methods

Like I said above, fishing for perch is simple with some bait and a little patience but there are a few other tactics that can really help increase your chances on the water. One of which is patterns and designs of the lures you throw.

There are a few different products that I have noticed work well for perch both here in Montana and back home in Washington and they can be found in most lures regardless of brand. In darker environments such as early morning, try rattling lures or vibration.

I really like Blue Fox’s Classic Vibrax Spinner for making a little turbulence in the water. Keep in mind that anything in the dark will have a harder time seeing, and water carries noise and vibration further than you would think.

I love perch because, honestly, fishing from the beach is just as successful as fishing from a boat, but boat fishing has its own strategy that works well here in the north. Following the principle of noise in the dark we spoke of above, you should try to make noise regardless of the time of day when trolling.

The reasoning behind this strategy is that the lure is constantly moving and the perch will have a harder time zeroing in on the lure. A simple spoon will not make the noise a spinner will, or a rattler. If noise is not in your tools of the trade, reflection is the best solution.

I enjoy using what I call a wedding ring setup that encompasses a little bit of all of these techniques and can sometimes utilize more than one hook (check your regulations). When trolling all of these lures, run them deep when it’s hot and shallow when it is not.

Fishing for Perch With Lures

We have discussed a few lures for perch that I like to use but there are a few more that I really like to use. Keeping in mind that the perch is a predatory and also cannibalistic fish, copying smaller fish is a great way to go.

When I was a kid, I was taught “the first fish talks” meaning that the first fish’s stomach told you what they were eating. This is a common clue for fly fishermen to determine what species of insect to use.

In perch, opening their stomachs can tell you what they are biting on, and if you are like me and you keep them, you can learn more and more with every stomach you inspect. I have been surprised for a long time by the number of fry I have found inside perch, especially mid-summer after spawning.

Perch also follow their own pattern very well and a small Rapala that has a perch pattern can work very well. I have noticed in my own experience that colors that “pop” make a difference. Stripes on a lure imitate other fish well because patterns are found on almost all sportfish.

One thing to note about perch is their size. Perch are smaller in size than most sportfish with 3 pounds being a larger catch in most places. When a fish is smaller and weighs less, you can expect it to have a smaller mouth unless it is a species that has a genetically larger mouth such as largemouth bass.

When buying lures and hooks for perch fishing, try to use smaller hooks. Anywhere between a 4 and an 8 for hook size is good for perch. If fishing for other species such as walleye, use the larger end of this spectrum. You will be amazed at how similar walleye and perch are and you are going to find yourself catching both.

Catching Perch Throughout the Year

man catches perch in winter

Seasons determine many things for perch, as they do for most species that you may be fishing for. Generally, the further south you travel, the warmer the environment is so determining your fishing changes by location. In general, here is what the seasons look like for perch.

Fall

In the fall, the temperature begins to cool, and based on the latitudinal location and altitude you fish, this temperature drop may be more drastic than in other places. As water temperatures cool, you may also notice fish species moving closer to the surface.

This is a great time to break out the jigs and try to experiment with a retrieval technique that works. This technique I can’t really help with though. It’s just one of those things that is different everywhere. I like to jig 3 times and let it rest for a count of 2  and repeat.

Winter

Winter can be extreme here in the north and mild in the south but the behavior of perch changes no matter what, it is to what degree that determines the strategy. Here in Montana, winter fishing for perch involves ice fishing lakes and fishing frigid rivers that are still open water.

Try bait during this time, perch feeding patterns change during this time of year and that is a change that can be observed just about anywhere. Nightcrawlers work well as well as maggots. Winter means less light so consider a glowing lure.

Spring

Spring may be the most notable season for perch. As with many species, the perch will be busy spawning and laying their eggs in cool covered areas of ponds, lakes, and streams. Do not anticipate finding these areas in strong currents, however.

Fishing just outside of a spawning area is a great way to get a perch on your line. Typically, spawning areas will be perfect for a surface lure so try a spinning lure that makes a little noise.

Summer

In the summer, the heat is on and that is usually typical no matter where you are north or south. Fish will be running deeper water during the day when heat is at its highest and this is when a deep-diving trolling run will be fruitful.

Try the spinners and Rapalas that make some noise as we discussed above. The reason for this is that the deeper you fish with your lure, the less light there will be and fish will need some kind of indicator that your lure is there.

Why I Love Fishing for Perch

Perch fishing is one of my favorite pastimes but honestly, they are so tenacious and abundant, I catch them when I am fishing for something else. Trying to catch walleye and only catching perch can sometimes frustrate you but that just shows how abundant and available this fish is, and that is not a bad thing.

Perch are about the size of a twelve-inch skillet and, for that reason, they make not just good eating but they are actually extremely easy to prepare and eat. I recommend that if you get one of these guys on the end of your line, you take it home and try.

In particular, they have a special place in my memories. Catching buckets of them at Sunday Lake back home on nothing more than a worm and hook. So frequent that you get irritated and tired of baiting your hook.

Perch are small but are easily one of the biggest American gamefish in terms of popularity. If you have not caught one already, I recommend you find yourself some freshwater and go get one. However small they are, the perch is a great fish to pursue and always a joy to fight and catch. Have fun!

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