Lake Erie is a hot spot for fall fishing, particularly for yellow perch and especially for this year. Hatches in recent years have been above average and that means the fishery is here for a long, long time.
This is a fun time for any outdoors person. Yeah, I know, we’re still technically in the “dog days” and there can be some humid 80-plus degree days hanging around, but while El Nino might be saying, “No, no,” the calendar is saying, “Go, go.”
With hunting season under way, fall fishing can’t be too far behind. Some people actually prefer fall fishing to spring fishing. I think they’re both pretty great.
For as long as I can remember, fall has been the time for a trek to Ohio’s northern shore to catch bunches of yellow perch. There was a time when you could anchor your boat off of Lakeside and fill your coolers with nice-size perch in a morning of fishing with a heavy wire spreader and a bucket of shiners.
Things changed over the years. The yellow perch seemed to fade for a while. Maybe there were too many full coolers, too much commercial fishing and, beginning about 1994, a visit from a European tourist named Neogobius Melanostomus, or better known to his friends as Round Goby.
You can still sit in your boat out in front of Lakeside and catch fish. The only problem is most will be gobies, a critter with no redeeming value.
Once the Ohio Division of Wildlife got a good handle on the situation in Lake Erie’s western basin, perch fishing began to turn around. After 2011, commercial fishing was moved to the central basin, bag limits were dropped and fishing began to improve. Today, as in recent years, the bag limit is a reasonable 30. That’s 60 fillets per day.
You will catch many more, but if you set your own size limit, say, 8 inches and only keep perch that long and larger, chances are you will have your 30 and they’ll be nice fish.
“You won’t see that many jumbos in the west, but the size has been good,” said Jeff Tyson, head of the Lake Erie research unit for the Division of Wildlife, based in Sandusky.
“The bigger perch are still going to be over in the central, but you will catch plenty in the 8-10-inch range.”
The good thing is, you are going to catch plenty of perch in that 6-7-inch range as well. If you carefully return them to the lake, the fishery will continue to thrive. The last couple of years, the perch hatches have been outstanding. That’s why there are sooo many small perch hitting your bait. They’re pesky, but that’s a small price to pay.
The perch fishing is so good, the state is allowing commercial perch fishing in the western basin again this year. And although those nets might be bothersome to sport anglers, it means the perch are back – in big numbers.
“It’s all good,” Tyson said.
Here’s a Perch Fishing Tip
A few days ago, my biologist friend Travis Hartman, an avid Lake Erie walleye angler, make a quick perch trip. Here is his account:
“We caught 30 nice fish from 8 to 10 inches just west of Green Island in about three hours after lunch. We threw back about as many fish, and most of those could have been kept as they were over 7 inches. Our best setup was a three-hook drop shot rig (three hooks, all tied in-line with Palomar knots, with a ¾ ounce drop shot weight below the hooks). We simply put the weight on the bottom and then tightened up the line. With the hooks all being tied in-line (instead of on droppers) you feel every hit. We were actually feeling the golden shiners kicking around before the perch hit. We were using braided line with the drop-shot rig made out of 8-pound fluorocarbon.”
Here’s Another Perch Fishing Tip
When you get to Lake Erie and stop at one of the many conveniently placed bait stores, you might be in for a bit of a disappointment: no emerald shiners. Everyone knows the absolute best way to catch Lake Erie yellow perch is with emerald shiners. But right now there is a shortage, big time. So anglers are using golden shiners when available. If not, plain old minnows are used, but the perch seem less attracted to them.
If you plan more than one trip to Lake Erie, anglers often take home unused minnows and freeze them to be used the next time around. And for some reason, perch seem to bite better on frozen minnows that have been cut in half, a tip that comes from veteran charter captain Darrel Blair of Lebanon. He also stresses the use of sharp hooks.
Next week: some fall walleye tips.
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