It's fortunate for us that this little panfish isn't easily discouraged, and that he likes to raise large families, because he's pursued from all sides—by commercial fishermen as well as by sport-anglers. Look in the frozen food bin of any supermarket; you'll find "Yellow Perch Fillets" alongside the Lobster Tails and Shrimp. Over 6 million pounds of these fish are taken commercially every year from waters of the Great Lakes area. Add to this figure the unknown millions of pounds caught annually by sportsmen and you have a staggering total. But, miraculously, each year you'll find just as many Yellow Perch as previously. And they're always just as eager to snap up your lure and then try to snap your fishing rod.
If you're a resident of the Northeast, the Yellow Perch is your dish— to catch as well as to eat. He's found mainly from the Rockies east to the Atlantic and from the middle states north to Canada. Attempts to introduce him to the Pacific Coast failed. His favorite waters are large, deep lakes; most ponds are too small for him. When he's confined to a river with no lake on its course, he remains in the deep, quiet stretches. Once you've seen him you won't fail to recognize him the next time. He's a gaily colored fish—dark olive-green back, golden sides marked with 6 to 8 dark green vertical bars, and lower fins and tail tinted bright red. But he seems humpbacked due to a slight depression in the back of his head. In weight he averages one pound although in some waters he reaches 2 pounds. His unofficial world-record weight is 4 pounds, 3£ ounces.
The Yellow Perch, like other panfish, eats anything that will fit in his mouth, and this includes insects of all kinds, worms, hellgrammites, crawfish and minnows. And artificial lures that look like them. He is a school fish like the Rock Bass and Crappie, but there are differences. In most instances Rock Bass and Crappie will wander all over a lake looking for food; a school of Yellow Perch will stay in deep water over a sandy or light-colored bottom, preferably near a thick weed bed that might shelter minnows and into which they can dart to hide if a marauding Black Bass should appear. And their food must come to them, either sinking down from the surface or crawling or swimming.
To catch any deep-water fish, even one as hungry as a Yellow Perch, there are two requirements for success: (1) you must find the fish, and (2) you must get the bait or lure down to them so they can see it. Since the Yellow Perch lurks near deep weeds, find the school by first finding the deep weed bed. Do this by dragging a weighted treble hook behind your boat until it snags fresh weeds in 20 to 30 feet of water. Then anchor and cast your baited hook, spinning lure or fly away from the weed bed, not toward it as you would for Black Bass. Use a light fly rod of about 4 ounces—glass, not bamboo—and a fly line with a 3-foot leader of about 6-pound-test. Or try a 4-ounce spinning rod with 6-pound-test monofilament line. Realize that the lighter the rod, the more sport you'll have because the fish will be more difficult to tire and you'll have to play him more skillfully.
Your spinning lure is weighted and will sink down to the fish—if you give it a chance. After casting, count to 10 or more before starting to retrieve, then retrieve slowly. With each cast, vary the count to vary the depth to which the lure sinks, until you find the fish's level. Spinning lures that spin, not dart or wriggle, are best for Yellow Perch. When fly fishing for this fish you must weight the fly so it will sink quickly. Do this by twisting a short piece of "wrap-around" lead wire around the end of the fly line where it joins the leader, or by pinching a small lead split-shot on the leader just ahead of the fly. Cast, count and retrieve slowly, as recommended for spin-casting. Why a glass fly rod instead of one of split-bamboo? Because casting a weighted fly has strained and ruined many a fine, delicate—and expensive—bamboo fly rod. Only split-bamboo has the perfect action for precision casting of almost weightless Trout flies, but for general fly-fishing, glass is tougher and cheaper.
Want to catch a "lunker" Yellow Perch? A big old "lunker" is smart and always suspicious of food that doesn't look just right. And while he's hesitating, one of his smaller brothers grabs it. He gets only what is too large for the others to swallow, which is plenty. So—go after him with a lure that's too large for the others—a spinner with a long, narrow, chromium-plated blade (about No. 5) that revolves close to the shaft. On the business end of the shaft put a large red-feathered treble hook, about No. 1. Once you've located a school of Yellow Perch in the deepest water by catching several, cast out this big spinner-and-feather, count so it can sink, then retrieve just fast enough to keep the blade turning. The "lunker" will think he sees a slow silver minnow his companions have injured and are chasing. Their excitement will bring him in a hurry. And to make sure he stays fooled even when he gets close to it, before casting place a piece of worm on each hook of the treble! Thread the worm on the hooks; if you drape it on, the smaller fish will pull it off. When the big Perch gets a snootful of this genuine appetizer, he'll be as good as hooked! A piece of worm on the tail of a fly or spinning lure, too, is always a good persuader when fish aren't biting with enthusiasm.