By Tom Neustrom
Late winter brings about opportunities. Certain species begin lining up like 2-for1 day at “Old Country Buffet.” Yellow perch, in particular, become extremely active during the final weeks of the ice season.
Some real monster perch get stuck this time of the year, and I’m not talking the thumbs down size, but the 10, 12, and 14-inchers we crave to catch. These egg-laden chubos cruise mud flats and weedbeds devouring about anything that crosses their paths. For the angler, mobility is the key to finding schools of these marauding perch, most encounters happening in anywhere from 10 to 30-feet of water. Consequently, you need to be flexible and diligent in your searching scheme. But once located, more often than not, the feed is on.
Contrary to public opinion that contends the little tigers are munching baitfish, perch are feeding on larvae of several types, as they do most of the winter. In Iate February, March, and April, caddis, mayfly, and other waterlife that inhabits the bottom come to life. Experts claim that the angle of the sun and lengthened light of day create the phenomenon that wakes these sleeping midgets.
With this in mind, I like to target areas of the lake with clear-cut bottom content transmissions – spaces where mud, marl, sand and or rock make acquaintance. These are prime rearing grounds where millions of larvae develop and rise from the bottom under the ice and again in late June and July when they emerge on wing and lay eggs on the open surface to renew the process. It’s the perfect circle of life in the death stare of a perch.
Locating these prime areas has been made simpler by applying technology. Humminbird’s 385ci, for example, equipped with a LakeMaster chip, makes short work of finding and defining perch hangouts. When arriving on the scene, I rely on my electronics to spell doom to a school of hungry perch.
Two other sneaky spots that are often overlooked by perch pirates are scattered rock piles and shallow weed flats in depths of 6 to 12-feet of water. Wait a minute you say, “What about the larvae theory?” Hey, you don’t eat the same food all the time do you? Perch are very adaptable foragers. Baby crayfish from last year’s hatch begin to move slowly over rocks and in and around shallow sand grass flats. I’m talking about dark brown, one to two-inch craws that have been hiding all winter in the rocks like fraidy cats. Perch sense the movement a single antenna or pincer and the bibs go on. This, my friends, can make for some of the fastest fishing of the season.
“Soft and light, makes everything right”. This statement sticks in my brain when it comes to applying the choke-hold on sometimes finicky perch that may thumb their nose at certain offerings. Herculean ice angler, Brian “Bro” Brosdahl has devoted a lifetime to understanding perch and their wintertime ways. He was integral in the design of the Bro Series combos for Frabill, some of which were engineered specifically for perching. With advice from a stable of ice fishing thoroughbreds, such as Marty and Scott Glorvigen and myself, Frabill makes more species-specific combos than any other ice fishing rod builder. New to the scene, Frabill’s Straight Line Combo combines sensitivity with a light aluminum alloy fly reel that feels like a custom golf club in your hands. With great shallow water applications, the Straightlining method gives you the power to present small baits in a natural state. “No spin to win,” I say. With rod lengths of 24 to 32-inches and a soft tip that divulges the slightest bite, the Straight Line Combos should move straight to the top of your must-have list.
Spool-up your ice combos with Suffix Ghost braid in 2-lb test, and look out perch. Lures of choice are always an opinion at best, but I have proven favorites. When fishing depths of 15 to 25-feet, a #3 Rapala Jiggin Rap lends the ideal size and movement when I am searching for hungry, aggressive perch. Consider it a search tool as well, grabbing the attention of fish that you might have to ultimately downsize to catch.
When I get shallow, mowing the sand grass and pounding small rocks, I jig small Luhr-Jensen Crippled Minnow Spoons, cannibalistically colored in Metallic Perch or Fire Tiger. Most often, during late winter, I attach 4 to 6 maggots or 2 waxies to the single, free-flowing and ultra-sharp hook. Next I pinch the grubs a smidgen to create an aroma trail to capture their sensory organs.
In the greater wild kingdom, these are little tigers indeed. But scaled down to what lurks beneath the ice, the tigers I tame would impress even Barnum & Bailey. I have a hunch they’d welcome a plate of perch between performances, too.