Hooking panfish after panfish on ultralight tackle is a recipe for fishing fun, and as any perch anglers can tell you, it’s a great way to spend a spring or fall morning. Not every fishing adventure ends with a monster, and what the yellow perch lacks in size it more than makes up for in taste!
Considered by many to be the quintessential panfish, no one’s ever been disappointed by a cooler full of them, and many a fish fry has been hosted at the expense of this species.
But if you want to invite your friends for whole-fried perch or tender fillets, you need to catch more than a few. We’re here to help, and below you’ll find our favorite perch tips and techniques to catch more of them.
Keep reading - and in just a few minutes, you’ll improve your odds of hosting that fish fry!
Table of Contents (clickable)
The yellow perch, Perca flavescens, is named for its distinctive yellow or golden coloration, broken by dark vertical stripes. Those ‘tiger stripes’ are more prominent during the spawn in males, and immature perch may not have them at all.
Not a particularly large fish, it’s still a sought-after species for its excellent taste, and it’s earned the title “the ultimate panfish” to reflect that. But yellow perch aren’t just fun to eat: there are plenty of dedicated perch anglers who can attest to how much fun they are to catch, too!
There are some giant perch out there: the largest yellow perch ever caught weighed in at just a bit over four pounds and 18 inches. But that’s truly rare. You can expect to regularly catch these little devils at under a pound and between 5 and 12 inches. As usual, the females run a bit bigger than the males.
Perch prefer cool water and temperate climates, and they thrive in water ranging between 63 and 77 degrees. They tolerate colder water very well, but will stop growing when the water temp dips below 50 or so. Warm water is less forgiving to perch, limiting their southern range, though they do grow larger and more quickly there.
But the mid-summer heat is definitely not perch-friendly, and as the mercury rises to meet that upward bound, perch will usually cease feeding and begin showing signs of stress.
To understand what makes the yellow perch tick, you need to place them in their niche in the food chain.
Life is tough for these little guys, as perch are prey for bass, crappie, pike, muskie, trout, walleye, and even other perch. They’re also a primary food source for virtually every fish-eating bird from eagles to kingfishers. In fact, young perch get decimated, keeping their numbers in check. Walleye, for instance, consume about half of every year’s hatch!
A simple weakness explains much of this susceptibility to predation. Though it sounds ridiculous given that we’re talking about fish, perch are actually poor swimmers. They’re generally sluggish and accelerate slowly, making them an ideal target for pretty much anything that’s looking for an easy meal.
Plentiful and slow: that’s a perfect combination if you’re a hungry walleye, pike, or muskie, making perch a staple of these predator’s diets. Indeed, if you’re an avid angler, consider how many lures you have in variations of perch!
Their place in the middle of the food chain affects everything about perch behavior.
Since a single perch wouldn’t stand a chance against predators, this species schools to seek safety in numbers. These schools are often size-specific, probably to prevent cannibalism, so once you catch a nice perch, you can be pretty sure it’s got a lot of twins in tow.
Unsurprisingly, these slow swimming fish tend to seek out cover and structure. Whether that takes the form of pilings, weedbeds, brush, downed trees, or something else, perch are looking for a place that provides protection. They are also particularly fond of holding on or near the bottom.
As a result, you’ll rarely find them in open water where they wouldn’t stand a chance against pike, muskie, or walleye, and they’re rarely found deeper than 30 feet.
Because perch live a life of danger, they favor day over night for feeding, and are most active just after sunrise and in the late afternoon, just before sundown.
The only time you’ll find perch active after dark is during the spawn, when the spring water temps rise to between 44 and 55 degrees. Then, yellow perch will mate in shallow waters and tributaries, where they’ll be active around the clock.
Spring and fall are ideal perch seasons--summer far less so. As we mentioned above, by mid-summer, as the temperatures start to really rise in shallow lakes, they’ll often become lethargic and stop feeding. At that point, they’re very hard to catch, and it’s best to wait until the water cools, either with a change in weather or season.
But in their ideal temperature range, perch have a varied diet that changes over their lifecycle. As most species of fish do, hatchlings and fry consume zooplankton, moving on to tiny invertebrates. Adult perch prey on shrimp, crawfish, roe, insects of all kinds, and other small fish--including immature perch.
That makes lure and bait choice a snap
Without a sensitive rod, light line, and tiny terminal tackle, you won’t get or feel many bites with perch.
Check out our buying guide for the best ultralight fishing reels
We certainly recommend nothing heavier than a light power rod, and for our money, ultralight is ideal. Basically, we’d fish much of the same tackle we would for crappie, with the exception of hooks, which we’ll discuss below.
As we’ve discussed before, we generally prefer monofilament for panfish, though there are exceptions. If you’re losing floats or hooks to brush, you might step up to heavier weight braid, keeping in mind that it’s less abrasion resistant in the same diameter as mono. It also doesn’t tie as well, something to keep in mind when you choose your knots.
We’d use the Palomar, Uni, or San Diego Jam with braid or fluoro, and these knots all work well with mono, too. But the key here is to match your tackle to your quarry--and a medium power rod, heavy line, and big hooks aren’t going to help you fill your cooler!
Stick with 4 to 6 pound quality mono like Stren Original, and you’ll have the sensitivity, shock strength, and abrasion resistance you need.
Perch have smaller, tougher mouths than crappie. To match that, we like to run #6 or #8 hook like the Gamakatsu with live bait. Common spreader rigs are also a great option, though the ones designed for crappie won’t use the right hook size (and you don’t really need a long-shanked Aberdeen for perch!).
Instead, look for something like the Bullet Weights rig if we’re going to work the bottom without a slip float:
But if you’d prefer to rig your own, here’s an excellent how-to guide:
If there’s a single piece of tackle I won’t go perch fishing without, it’s a high-quality slip float. They enable accurate casting while still providing precise depth control and strike detection.
Simply put, they’re great perch gear!
Keeping in mind that yellow perch are roughly the size of crappie, I recommend the Thill Crappie Cork and the Krazywolf Balsa Multipurpose Fishing Floats. Both are made to last, though you will need stopper beads with the Krazywolf; the Thill has a beadless design.
Slip floats and braid tend not to get along well, as the braid will damage the insert that runs through the center of the float. Again, mono is your best bet.
If you’re not sure how to rig a slip float, just check out this tutorial:
Live bait like a minnow is perfect for perch, but it can be tough to fish over and around cover because of snags. Adding a slip float to the mix lets you target brush piles without getting hung up.
Perch tend to school near cover and on the bottom, and a slip float is an excellent way to present live bait. Because you can adjust the depth precisely with a slip float, you can offer a live minnow at the perfect spot in the water column, just over cover, often with fantastic results.
I like to find brush pile or a downed tree in shallow water, rig a live minnow, and start casting right over and around it. I’ll adjust my float so the minnow is 6 to 10 inches from the bottom--or the top--of the brush pile, and get my cooler ready!
Watch this video to see how it’s done:
If you’d prefer, crickets and waxworms make excellent alternatives to minnows.
If you’re not sure how to hook a cricket, watch this young gentleman explain it:
Savvy anglers take advantage of the perch’s love for cover, but fishing in the thick stuff can be a real pain.
Since we know that perch like minnows, I like to rig a tiny soft bait weedless, avoiding the problems of snagging vegetation. That allows me to fish through weed beds with a life-like bait with no trouble.
My choice for an ultra-realistic bait is the Johncoo 3D Eyes Shad. Just 2 ¾ inches long, this deadly bait is the right size to attract perch, and the action of its delicate tail drives them crazy.
I also like the Zoom UltraVibe Speed Craw, taking into account perchs’ fondness for crawfish. If you think 3 ½ inches is too big--I don’t--you can always clip the tail-end of this bait to size it down. But the combination of salty flavor, enticing action, and great color choices make this a winner.
I’d rig these on a Paxipa weedless #6 hook. You don’t have a lot of options for small weedless hooks, and while these aren’t perfect, they’re plenty good enough.
You might want to drop a tiny bit of superglue on the threads joining the guard to the hook, and perhaps clip the tip of the guard and adjust its tension a tad. But for pocket change and a 100 count, this is a hard deal to beat!
A final tip we’d like to share is to try tiny jig heads paired with small swim baits like the Strike King Lures Rage Swimmer and the Zoom Bait Fat Albert Grub. Both offer awesome action, but the different tail styles give you options when one isn’t working.
I prefer the 2 ¾ inch versions, but slightly larger sizes work well, too. And with a huge range of color choices, you can always have what the perch want on hand.
When paired with a 1/32 ounce unpainted jig head, you can work these swim baits with an awesome swimming action just by jerking them off the bottom, picking up your slack, and letting them settle again.
This style of lure simply works, as you can see from this video:
Yellow perch are a spring and fall staple in much of North America, and for good reason. They’re a blast to catch and make an excellent meal, making them among the most popular panfish around.
We hope these tips and techniques help you host your next big fish fry, but if you’ve got something to add, we’d love to hear from you.
Please leave a comment below!