Yellow perch may not be everyone’s favorite fish for the table, but I’d be hard pressed to come up with a preferred species. (Walleye, maybe?) Coming up with a bunch of them for the table this time of the year is another matter.
There are plenty of excellent perch fisheries around, but, in my experience, they are pretty much on big water — Lake St. Clair, Saginaw Bay, etc. Even most of the better inland perch lakes — Gogebic, Higgins, Crystal, and Burt, come to mind — are sizable ponds.
My fishing buddy Chris Freiburger — who spent part of his formative years in places with notable perch fisheries —Minnesota and S. Dakota, for instance — agrees with me. Inland perch populations tend to get cropped off quickly.
“When they are biting they’re pretty aggressive and they’re highly sought after by anglers, so the big ones can be harvested off pretty easily,” said Freiburger, a Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist who works on habitat issues. “To have a quality fishery, they need room to escape.”
So when Freiburger told me he knew about a mid-Michigan gravel pit that had a pretty fair perch population, well, I was all in.
It was 11 a.m. by the time I’d bought a bucket of minnows and we met up with his buddy Steve Usiak. Not a problem, both said.
“Perch are daytime biters,” Usiak said.
“It’s a gentleman’s fishing,” said Freiburger. “You don’t have to be out there at first light, you don’t have to be out there late, you can be out there at the warmest part of the day.”
Which we were, though it was hardly picnic weather. It was up in the 20s — comfortable enough — but the north wind was howling. Drill a hole, ignore it a minute, and it was slushed up by blowing snow, stat.