Late summer and early fall is when the best-tasting fish start to bite. I’m talking about perch! Yes, this is, without a doubt, the best-tasting fish in the Midwest.
The perch usually start their fall pattern of moving from deeper water around the lake basin to shallower water where the temperatures are warmer. They like that 50-55-degree range and move into shallow water to hunt. They can usually be found in 4-12 feet of water later into the fall season.
Young perch, under two years of age, usually feed on zooplankton as their primary food source, but after the age of two they become full-fledged meat eaters snatching any other fish, including small perch, that they can catch.
Perch spawn in the spring and use the fall feeding period to fatten up and store energy over the winter. Once cold weather sets in, the perch leave the shallows and go back to deeper water for the winter. It is this fall feeding pattern that makes catching perch so much fun and so easy.
The best perch fishing in the fall occurs on our big walleye lakes like Mille Lacs, Leech, Winnibigoshish and Red. When the perch are in the shallows, it is often possible to sight fish if there is no wind. Many days they can be found in 4-5 feet of water, usually around vegetation but often around sand and gravel too. Moving quietly and slowly, they can be seen right under the boat. You can also see walleyes hanging around the perch looking for a quick meal.
The perch hatch on Leech has improved the past two years, and there is a very good perch population on Winnibigoshish and Red Lake. Lake of the Woods is another good area for perch fishing, but its sheer size makes it more challenging to find perch if you don’t know their primary fall feeding areas.
I like to fish around vegetation in the bays where the water is 4-9 feet deep. The perch are easy to see on a fish locator, and when you see them, they usually bite.
The healthier the fish population, the more perch you have to catch in order to find keepers. I like to keep perch just over 9 1/2 inches up to around 13 inches. Finding perch bigger than 13 inches is a real treat. They are out there, but harder to come by.
My favorite technique for perch fishing is a 1/32 ounce white jig tipped with soft plastic tails or just a plain jig tipped with a crappie minnow. If there is a breeze, I like to cast away from the boat and work the jig along the bottom of the lake. A 12-inch perch can put up a good fight and eight or nine perch in the 10-12-inch range makes for a real tasty meal. The best tasting fish, in my view!
Ray Gildow is a northern Minnesota fishing guide and outdoor writer.