Lake Erie Yellow Perch – The Bonanza is Back

By Rich Davenport, published November 13, 2021

Angler Mike Rinallo shows off a “double” of Lake Erie Perch

Lake Erie has long been known for its tremendous walleye and smallmouth bass fishing.  Yet, one of the most popular species anglers seek each season is the yellow perch.  This popular and very tasty pan fish reaches enormous size in Lake Erie’s waters, making this pan fish a favorite target of Great Lakes anglers.  Over the past few years, numbers of yellow perch have rebounded from several years of poor fishing conditions.  The bonanza is officially back!

Fishing for Lake Erie yellow perch is a completely different ballgame than perch fishing demands in other, smaller local waterways.  Anglers must consider water temperatures, water depth and quality, bait fish movements and utilize boat control practices that lakes such as Chautauqua Lake or Conesus Lake do not demand.  However, once basic Lake Erie perch tactics are learned, anglers can anticipate good action and quality fish during a morning or afternoon day on the lake.

Finding schooling perch

Yellow perch, like their larger cousin the walleye, are school fish.  This behavioral characteristic translates into finding large numbers of fish in small areas, eliminating the need to hunt for a bite, once finding where the perch are feeding.  Perch love cooler waters and in Lake Erie, this preference translates into seeking out depths where water temperatures hover around 50 to 60 degrees, at the most.  The reason for this preference is two-fold.  First, perch seem to show their highest activity when waters post temperatures below 60 degrees.  During summer months, when surface waters are at their peak, cool water sanctuaries will exist in the depths.  Second, yellow perch love feeding on emerald shiners, which also prefer the colder water temperatures.  In fact, these minnows become difficult for bait shops to find and even maintain in bait troughs during the summer months directly due to the high water temperatures and their influence on oxygen content of the water.

When summer arrives, Lake Erie waters will typical eclipse the 60-degree mark by the end of June.  As summer deepens, and water temperatures rise towards and over 70 degrees, yellow perch head to depths over 50 feet, taking up residence along the bottom, most often below large schools of baitfish.  Anglers must effective use their marine electronics when seeking out yellow perch.  The key is to find schools of baitfish, which will appear like clouds of dots on a typical LCD fish finder’s display.  Anglers should also make note of the bottom structure and the existence of ledges, rock piles and boulders, as these are all clues to use when conducting another search for perch.

Once anglers mark schools of bait, dropping a few lines rigged properly for perch fishing is the next step.  Since the most effective method for catching perch involves still fishing, verifying the perch are located near the baitfish you have found certainly enhances the chances of realizing limit catches.  It is therefore advisable to drift through a likely perch-holding area before setting an anchor, as to find the most active portion of the school, and determine the quality of fish in the school.  Once a perch or two have picked up the bait, it is time to set the anchor and concentrate on the bite.

Simplicity of Perch Fishing

Once yellow perch are located, and the anchor has been set, or your modern trolling motor has it’s “sea anchor”, commonly called spot lock, is set, anglers can now start working over the schools with bottom-rigged tackle and live bait, preferably emerald shiners.  Since perch tend to feed near the bottom, rigs should present bait between six inches and two feet off the bottom.  One of the most effective rigs one can use is the “crappie rig”.  This simple, yet effective, live bait rig involves a sinker of appropriate size at the end of the rig, with two hooks tied onto the line, connected via snell or leader, one placed between 6 – 12 inches off bottom and the other above this hook by at least one foot.  Use small, thin wire gauge hooks, and present the minnow by hooking it through the lips.  Drop the rig to the bottom, and then tighten up the slack.  On occasion, the angler should impart a slight jig motion to the rig, by lifting the rod time up and down slightly.  Pat attention to the rod tip!  Yellow perch will strike notoriously light, oftentimes coming up towards your rod tip upon engulfing the bait.  When any change in the line or movement in the rod tip is detected, set the hook by gently, but swiftly, lifting up the rod tip, and keep the line tight.

Jigging for perch is another effective tactic.  This tactic requires small lead head jigs heavy enough to take the bait down to the bottom.  Tip the jig with a minnow, or even a Mr. Twister plastic grub (curly tail.)  It is advisable to tie a barrel swivel into your line, roughly 2 feet or so above the jig, as to reduce line twist.  Send the jig and bait combo to the bottom, and then bring in the slack.  Slowly lift the jig off the bottom, rough 12 – 18 inches, and then allow the bait to fall back to the bottom, and repeat.  Strikes will often occur on the drop, and when you lift the rod tip again, it may feel like you have a snag.  Set the hook by quickly sweeping the rod tip upwards.

Current daily creel limits for yellow perch in New York State, stands at 50 fish per angler, with no minimum length.  In recent years, anglers have experienced the return of the jack perch, or jumbo perch, which exceed 12 inches in length, with some specimens topping the 15-inch mark. 

Popular places

Lake Erie perch fishing is no secret, and this fact may make finding perch that much easier.  Some of the most productive and popular areas include Sturgeon Point, about 2 miles off the harbor, Sunset Bay and Dunkirk Harbor, out past the “perch buoy”.  If you see several boats at anchor, chances are they have encountered a school of yellow perch.

On calm days, perch fishing is a perfect activity for young anglers.  The big benefit is the end of the day fish fry, rounding out a family activity that all can contribute to, and what a fine meal indeed!  Although many recipes exist for fish fry, one of the simplest recipes is still one of the best, and it is great for lunch, dinner or even for breakfast!

  • 12 – Yellow Perch Fillets (6-good sized perch)
  • 1 Cup Flour
  • 2 eggs, scrambled
  • ½ stick of butter

Rinse and pat dry the perch fillets, and dust in flour.  Then, dip each fillet in the egg and then roll again in the flour.  Melt the butter in a frying pan or skillet over a medium heat.  Place the fillets in the frying pan, once the butter is completely melted.  Fry for 5 minutes or until the breading is a golden brown.  Turn fillets carefully and cook another 5 – 7 minutes.  Serve with fresh lemon juice.  If desired, you may add some salt, garlic powder, black pepper and some oregano or basil to the egg for additional flavor. Remember, take a kid fishing and give the gift that lasts a lifetime.