Is a Perch Search Worth the Time?

Outdoors with Forda Birds—By John Andreoni

The yellow perch is probably one of the most unpredictable fish in GLSM. Unlike other species that also have their ups and downs from cycle to cycle and year to year, perch seem to appear in numbers only on occasion. They might show up for a year or two and then disappear for decades. I can recall catching nice perch early one spring in the 1970s, but the following years produced little. There were years during the 1970s when ice fishermen caught a ton of fish off the east bank. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out when more than 200 fishermen could be seen hunkering over ice holes along a two-mile stretch of rip-rapped shoreline. At least one enterprising soul that I heard of made a lot of money with a gas powered ice auger drilling holes for less fortunate fishermen. Then the banner perch fishing shut down, until another 20 years passed.

Of course, there were always fishermen who caught a few perch every year, but for the most part, the days when every fisherman had success, regardless of skill, were done. Then, in the 1990s, it started all over again. I can’t recall what year the perch bonanza began, but before long everyone was comparing it to fishing Lake Erie. Some ‘perchers’ were even touting GLSM as better than Ohio’s Great Lake. In the early fall of 1995, I reported packs of boats catching fish at various locations. Depending on the time, 50 or more boats could be seen fishing off the second beach located at the northeast corner of the lake. 10 to 12 inch perch were common and an occasional 14 and 15 inch perch would show up in live-wells or in fish baskets. A 17-inch perch was reportedly caught that year, but most thought there was some ruler stretching taking place. Packs of fishermen were seen on both sides of the lake, and when the waterfowl season opened, there were some tense moments when perch fishermen set up shop in front of duck blinds and decoy spreads. After a few short years, perch fishing died out again. No one seemed to know why. It just happened.

Of course, walleye were stocked later on and some fishermen blamed that on the perch demise. Some triploid saugeye were stocked in 2009 and 2010, and they also became a culprit. In 2010, the catastrophic blue/green algae bloom hit, and fishermen threw up their hands believing all the perch were gone, along with the walleye, saugeye, flathead catfish, and many other species. Of course, that wasn’t the case, at least not 100 percent. There was no fish stocking at GLSM in 2011 and it’s easy to understand why. Fortunately, after a couple of emergency alum treatments, there was no repeat of the 2010 algae bloom.

By 2012, with algae intervention programs in place and being developed, fish stocking was started again at the lake. I’m not sure what the Division of Wildlife’s expectations were, but if nothing more, stocking fish was good public relations that was much needed to combat the steady negative bashing GLSM was receiving from the public and major news sources. A few walleye fry were released as were 100,000 perch fingerlings. In 2013-14 a total of over 200,000 perch fingerlings were turned loose. 2015 was the big year for perch stocking. Some 17,000,000 perch fry were stocked along with 1.2 million perch fingerlings. Another 12.5 million perch fry were planted in 2016 along with almost 200,000 more fingerlings. Millions of perch fry have been released since 2016 including this year.

Now, the question is should fishermen be looking for perch this year at GLSM. There’s no easy answer. There have been a few reports of keeper perch being taken. Numbers of fish are sketchy but in some cases significant. Evidently, those who are fishing for perch are becoming as secretive as mushroom hunters. In a way, that’s predictable. While some fishermen chase perch, others chase perch fishermen. If the word got out that fishermen were taking 30-fish limits somewhere, packs of boats would appear within hours. There have been more than 1.6 million perch fingerlings released in GLSM since 2012. In the grand scheme of things, I’m not too sure how significant that number is. On the flip side, after four years and more the majority of those fingerlings should now be keepers running 8 to 10 inches.

If you enjoy hunting for perch and working to catch a few, this might be the year to try. If you want to catch a limit, wait until you see boats stacked together in one spot. Oh yes, make sure these boats are fishing for perch. I don’t want any novice perch fishermen anchoring in the middle of 150 boats at the swimmer’s beach. That could get interesting.