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Going out with Gusto: Last-Ice Perch
by Joe Balog

Joe BalogIce anglers in pursuit of yellow perch all across the ice belt rave of first and last ice. It’s when our favorite specie inhabits the shallows and turns into a feeding machine. First ice is great for numbers of quality fish.  But make no mistake: last-ice is where it’s at when pursuing true jumbos.

Yellow perch typically spawn when water temperatures reach the upper 40-degree range. While this typically occurs several weeks after ice-out, it’s the perch’s migration into the shallows, along with the pre-spawn feeding binge, that make last-ice fishing so special. A few easy to employ methods are deadly this time of year, and may be the best way to contact a true trophy fish.

Home-run mentality

I often give attendees of ice clinics one solid piece of advice: when pursuing perch, think in terms of the home run. Perch are very comfortable in icy waters, and feed aggressively in chilly water when the opportunity presents itself. Unlike bluegills and crappies, perch feed with the same intensity through the ice as they do in open water. Their movements are large, and they often school in huge numbers. For these reasons, ice anglers need not “beg them to bite”. When the big school is located, the fish will be active. Therefore, pursue them accordingly. Use methods that employ a lot of flash and motion to your lures, and choose lures that can best be fished fast. My top three: a #3 Rapala Jigging Rap tipped with an anise ball or Power Egg, a flashy wobble-style beaded spoon like a Ken’s Hook, and a crappie tube with a 1/16 ounce head stuffed inside. All three of these options are baitless for ease, and speed, and all three can be fished very quickly. Employ quick, snapping movements to each, even the tube, and fish all depths of the water column. Once a school of fish ignites, fish faster and higher in the water to simulate a school of bait being pushed to the surface by the schooling perch. Don’t slow down until the fish are found.

Sight fishing monsters

The last ice period also gives anglers the best chance to fish in ultra-clear waters. With ice cover all winter long, most lakes have had a chance to settle and offer the cleanest water of the year. This occurrence, combined with the shallow water migration of jumbo yellow perch, make sight fishing very effective in certain bodies of water. Nothing is more exciting than watching a 12-inch plus fish come into the hole, seemingly out of nowhere, and blast your lure. It’s truly heart stopping. But certain methods will up your odds of seeing this happen. First off, you must fish out of a totally dark, black shanty that can be moved easily, like a Fish Trap Kenai. Second, if little fish are apparent in your hole, it’s best to get them active. Present them with your bait – make them chase it, and, occasionally, allow them to eat it. Big perch often remain outside of the hole, or just below the smaller perch in the darkness of the bottom, waiting for the little guys to take a bite. When the morsel pops out of the mouth of the smaller fish, the big girls are there for the taking.  Also, a key is to often move to a new location if big fish aren’t apparent quickly. Get the little guys going, and give it 5 minutes – tops. If keepers aren’t’ apparent, try a couple of different baits, and move.  Again, don’t slow down.

It’s never too shallow

Lastly, it’s often hard for most anglers to believe just how shallow big perch will get this time of year. I frequently have great catches in 2-3 feet of water, and sometimes shallower. With areas of broken ice, the shallows are rejuvenated with oxygen and life. And the best perch fishing of the year is here at last.





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