This story has been told before in past columns, but as a kid growing up around Lake of the Woods there was not a chance that my Dad or his buddies would ever get caught dead with a perch on their stringer or in their bucket. The perception was that perch were no good - they had worms, they were small and they were no good to eat.
I can remember seeing some anglers feed perch to seagulls or leave them floating for eagles to grab on a fly-by. When I was still a teenager and working at resorts around the lake, some of the other guides I worked with had spots where they could take their guests and just about guarantee an eagle sighting. Not just a sighting, but if they could catch a perch, they could guarantee getting an eagle to fly down and pluck the fish. The guests would love it. They are elegant birds and their size and speed is impressive but this activity was not very respectful of the fish.
Thankfully, times have changed and over the past few years, particularly in the winter, we are seeing greater numbers of large perch on Lake of the Woods. For many years, we would catch the odd large perch but most were small and often found in endless schools. Usually if you found one of these schools it was not a good spot to catch walleyes or crappie because these other fish would never be able to get to your bait because of all the perch.
After a few weeks of getting out on the ice to fish, the perch population on Lake of the Woods - of larger perch - continues to remain stable. My friends and I have been fishing several times and have caught good numbers of perch on each outing. We are going out to target walleyes and end up bringing home a mixed bag of a few walleye and perch for dinner.
This makes me happy for a number of reasons. Perch are aggressive and eager to bite, providing good fishing action when they are around. They are good to eat, so if you like to eat fish, they are a bonus. Easy to clean, much like a walleye, the flesh in slightly firmer, but if you batter them and fry them, you probably won't be able to tell the difference between perch and walleye. Finally, walleye on Lake of the Woods and on many lakes across Northwest Ontario get fished hard in the winter and thanks to better mapping, electronics and equipment, anglers are more successful than ever on the ice. Keeping a few perch and saving a few walleye will no doubt have positive effects on the most popular fish species across our region.
When it comes to catching perch, the same baits that work well for walleyes will catch perch as well. I'm a big fan of a ¼ ounce Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon for walleye fishing and perch love it as well. I tip the treble hook with a minnow head for some scent and it's a great fish catcher. If you get into a population of mostly perch, you can probably downsize your lure to catch a few more fish. The same humps, points and flats that hold walleyes often host good populations of perch as well. If you do run into a pack of perch, keep a few to eat and you can thank me later.