Ice Fishing, a Focus on Perch
Just about anywhere you find frozen waters, you'll find one particular species: the yellow perch. They are renowned for their tasty filets, with some arguing that they are even better table fair than their cousins, the walleye. Perch are a prime target for this very reason, especially when it comes to ice fishing. Another great thing about them is that they are readily available in many waters and are generally willing to bite once you locate them.
Three Wisconsin guides who know them well are Vince Moldenhauer, Josh Teigen, and Troy Peterson. While all guide for them on the ice in the "The Badger State," they each have different approaches that will apply universally anywhere in the native range of the yellow perch.
Moldenhauer's shallow backwaters
Vince Moldenhauer guides his clients year-round on the Upper Mississippi River out of La Crosse, Wisconsin, in open water and through the ice. One thing that he utilizes once the water gets hard is airboats to cross open water to reach the iced-over shallow backwaters.
Once he reaches these areas, he's after the big perch the river is known for. "They are our No. 1 target species through the ice and we're after the jumbos," he began. "We see around ten fish every season over 15 inches and a lot of 14-inchers. The best areas are slack water with green grass in the sloughs and very shallow backwaters, 2 feet or less."
Since he's fishing such shallow water, Moldenhauer and his clients use a run-and-gun approach, drilling plenty of holes and cycling through them fairly quickly.
"You drop it in the hole, jig it up and down, and go to the next hole," he said. "Because of this, I like a longer ice rod, around 52 inches long. We use shoot-thru blank rods with a little spring on the end and a small reel in your palm. It's as simple as it gets and you eliminate many issues with your reel and line because you are just dipping into the holes."
He prefers 6 lb Seaguar IceX fluorocarbon, heavier than many ice anglers use for panfish. "One of the biggest reasons is because we run into a lot of pike and bass and you won't lose nearly as many jigs," he said. "IceX is also very skinny, so you still get great movement on your jigs. Typically, we're using 1/32-ounce jigs and a variety of orange plastics. For some reason, anything orange and wiggly will trigger them."
Teigen jigs 'em up
Josh Teigen is a talented multi-species guide who chases everything that swims in his region and does it all year. When the water freezes, perch are one of his favorites and he targets them by jigging and with tip-downs in prime locations.
"I always look for sand and grass mixed and mud flats between 18 and 28 feet of water," he said. "I've learned that the bigger the flat, the more fish it will hold. When I start, I like to drill a ton of holes and do a lot of hopping around because perch are constantly moving and you need to be mobile."
Jigging with a small blade bait or spoon is generally how he starts, aiming to capitalize on aggressive perch. "I always start with a 1/8-ounce Acme V-Rod or a small Kastmaster tipped with a minnow head," Teigen said. "6-pound Seaguar IceX is perfect for these metal baits because it's thin and very durable."
He goes with the never-fail live bait approach on a tip-down or a small jig if the bite is a little off.
"For the tip-down, I use a small split shot and tail hook a small minnow with a Size 16 treble hook and set it anywhere from 2 to 4 feet off of the bottom," he said. "I like 6 lb IceX but will downsize to 3 lb and a small jig when the bite gets tough. I use a Size 3 Google Eye Tungsten jig tipped with a wax worm. The rattle in the jig helps to call them in."
Mr. Bluegill becomes Mr. Perch
Troy "Mr. Bluegill" Peterson is much more than just bluegill; you'll find him catching and guiding clients for many species, including perch. Unlike bluegill or crappie, Peterson tries to keep things closer to the bottom.
"We do a lot of perch fishing through the ice and the biggest difference is that they are bottom dwellers while bluegill and crappie suspend," he said. "Perch stay shallow, whether it's early ice and they are still very shallow in the weeds or as they move to deeper mud flats in the basins once the grass decays. After that, they'll get shallow again later in the season, group up and stage outside their spawning grounds in shallow water, sometimes less than a foot deep."
No matter the stage of the fish, Peterson typically prefers tip ups and tip downs with minnows, with some periods where jigging artificial lures is a better approach.
"We fish a lot of tip-ups and tip-downs and we fish a tiny #20 treble hook right behind the head in the top layer of skin of a rosy red, fat head or some kind of minnow with a couple of split shots fished a few inches off of the bottom," he said. "In my seminars, everybody is amazed that we use that small of a hook, but we use them for big walleyes, too. There is no resistance for the fish and the hookup percentage is a thousand times better than any other method."
Peterson has settled on 3 lb IceX fluorocarbon spooled directly onto the reel without a braided mainline when utilizing tip-ups and tip-downs. "Perch bite very aggressively and 2 lb tends to be a little too light, where 3 lb is nice a happy medium," he said. "4 lb is a little too much when you have to finesse them because I want to use as light a line as possible so it doesn't restrict the bait as much. That one pound difference can make a big difference."
For deeper roaming fish in the basins, Peterson employs a variety of artificial baits and gets to jigging. "We use a lot of small spoons and jigging baits as well as some plastics, basically all just smaller versions of walleye baits," he said. "We'll also use bigger 5 and 6-mm tungsten jigs tipped with wax worms or spikes. For these deeper fish, I use a 10 lb Seaguar Smackdown braid with a #0 barrel swivel to connect my 4 lb IceX; it's the perfect combination of thin line to get to the bottom quickly and have a great feel of your lure."
The yellow perch is a prized fish throughout the regions with ice fishing opportunities. They are fun to catch and great to eat, making them one of winter's most popular targets. There are many ways to catch them, including the three approaches listed above that help these premier guides stay on top of the bite throughout the ice fishing season.
Seaguar IceX Fluorocarbon is a low-memory, micro-diameter line with exceptional abrasion resistance. It is available on 50-yard spools in 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, and now in 10, 12, and 15 lb test sizes.
Other Seaguar lines for ice fishing include:
• Smackdown Braid for Jigging Rods from 10-65 lb test sizes
• TactX Camo Braid for Tip-Ups from 10-80 lb test sizes
• Gold Label Leader material from 2-80 lb test sizes