Michigan Yellow Perch – All-Season Fishing

Michigan has a plethora of fish species to target, and many anglers only target yellow perch through the ice, choosing to target other species during the warmer months. But yellow perch are a tasty panfish that can be successfully targeted and caught year-round.

Yellow perch are roamers by nature, most often gathering in schools. They can be here one day, and gone the next, having moved on for no apparent reason. They can congregate in huge schools, eating aggressively as they go. A highly adaptable fish, forage for perch can be extremely varied. Seemingly everything is on the proverbial table as far as forage for perch; round gobies, various minnow species, shiners, crayfish, mayflies, wigglers, scuds, freshwater shrimp, worms and more are all fair game for perch. Thus, tactics for catching Michigan’s perch can be extremely varied as well.

Many anglers stick with a typical perch rig with two hooks, either threading live wigglers or minnows onto the hook. This is a tried and true technique, and can often be the ticket to a great day’s catch. Another fantastic option on this perch rig is a piece of cooked shrimp. Some days, the bigger perch really seem to have a preference for wigglers, minnows, or even shrimp. Having all three onboard can pay dividends when the bite gets fussy. The tried and true isn’t always the rule of the day, however, and a variety of other techniques can sometimes lead to an undiscovered bite, or target larger fish.

One such technique is a jigging spoon. Not just a winter-time technique fished through the ice, a jigging spoon can often target the biggest fish in the school. There’s something about the erratic flutter, fall and flash that can really trigger big jumbos to bite. Cast and retrieved in a yo-yo lift-fall manner, perch respond very well to this lure. Also, jigged vertically below the boat when the school is directly below can be another great option with jigging spoons. Jonah Jigs in ½ ounce, ¾ ounce or even 1 ounce are what are most commonly on Sport Fish Michigan’s boats when employing this technique. While jigging spoons are not often the best way to target numbers of fish, they can often trigger the biggest in the school, and even call in roaming packs of jumbos. Similar to the jigging spoon is another option most often employed during the ice season – Rapala’s Jigging Rap. Many lures make similar offerings, but Rapala’s Jigging Rap is probably one of the most prolific fish catchers of all time in this category. That being said, there are many other lures in this category that all catch plenty of fish. Moonshine Lures’ Shiver minnow, the Acme Tackle Hyper-glide, Northland’s Puppet minnow, Custom Jigs & Spins Rotating power minnow, and Lunkerhunt’s Straight up are just some lures in this huge category. These options can be fished vertically or horizontally cast and retrieved and at times can lead to fantastic catches of not only perch, but also walleyes that may happen to be in the area.

While many waters hold impressive perch populations, some waters have a better tendency to grow true jumbo perch stretching 12 inches or better on a regular basis. Lake Erie has been long established as not only a walleye factory, but also great for perch. Lake St. Clair is another big body of water known for outstanding perching. Further to the north, Saginaw Bay is yet another body of water probably better known for its walleye fishing, yet hosts an impressive perch fishery. Further to the north still is the Grand Traverse Bay area. Here, many inland lakes support a prolific fishery for jumbo perch, and the Grand Traverse Bays are in the midst of a major comeback in perch numbers and size. Towards the tip of the lower peninsula lies Burt Lake, another incredible lake for a variety of species with perch certainly amongst them.

Certainly, there is no shortage of spectacular lakes here in Michigan to target yellow perch. From young angler to older angler, they continue to be a crowd pleaser. On the water, and on the ice.

Paying Attention to Cues and Conditions

Some days, we cast and hook up on seemingly every cast. Other days, it’s like we’re casting in a dessert, expecting to hook into a camel. Fishing. Why do we do it—well, I think we have to be optimists to get ourselves out the door. Sure, fishing in a dessert is part of the game, but we, as anglers all hope for those days of “stupid fishing”, when no matter what we do, or how we do it, we get bites. Those are the fun days, no doubt about it! And they’re also the days that our arms get tired from catching, and not just fishing. That being said, however, these are also the days to not only enjoy to the fullest, but to learn.

It’s during a hot bite that I experiment with off-the-wall ideas to see whatever else works. Not only does this eliminate dud ideas, but can help hone techniques and bait presentations, giving us confidence in these techniques when we encounter the dreaded tough bite days.

Such was the case the past several days. Most of July and August, we here in northern Michigan, experienced very little rain, leading to extremely clear, low water conditions. The past 2 weeks has had a lot of rain. In fact, the past week has had well over 6 inches of rain, leading to very high, muddy flood-stage water levels on all of the area’s rivers. The Big Manistee River was no exception.

Higher water levels on the rivers in the fall lead to fish such as salmon and steelhead to enter the rivers to spawn. Low clear water, by contrast, makes fish wary, and makes the spawning runs meager and not as predictable. High muddy water makes fish a little more predictable, but not necessarily any easier to catch.

The past few guide trips on the Manistee River has been like trying to fish in hot chocolate. Muddy, lots of leaves and debris floating down river, and fish on the move up to Tippy Dam. Under normal conditions, the steelhead that come into the river in October stage in various holes and runs as they meander their way up to the dam, where they spawn. High, muddy water forces fish out of their typical routine, keeping them on the move. As anglers, high muddy water must force us out of our typical routines as well, making us fish water that we might not typically, looking for the shallower runs that fish use as they move up river.

The bite was extremely tough during the highest water. Most tactics didn’t get a lot of bites, but we did manage a few. By putting the right presentations in front of inactive fish, we were able to get a few to react positively. Whether it was out of hunger, curiosity or aggression—at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter—we got some bites. But paying attention to cues that the conditions give us can help trigger some of these bites.


Rich and David with early morning late-season king salmon. We have no idea if the early bird got the worm, but these anglers got the fish!