Most Minnesota lakes and rivers contain perch but comparatively few contain solid numbers of large perch.
That's why much of Minnesota's best perch fishing occurs in large walleye lakes such as Winnibigoshish, Leech, Cass, Lake of the Woods, Big Stone and Mille Lacs.
On most lakes, you're likely to catch perch when ice fishing for bluegill or sunfish. Most of those fish will be too small to effectively clean and eat. But be on the lookout. Occasional keeper perch do come along.
- When to fish
Fishing for perch is continuous, meaning you can target perch at any time of year. Limits can vary from place to place, size restrictions may exist and fishing for them in a particular lake could be closed or limited.
Statewide regulations apply in many lakes, rivers and streams entirely within Minnesota. As mentioned above, some Minnesota waters have special regulations specific to a particular waterbody. Regulations also may differ on Minnesota's border waters with Canada, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Complete and comprehensive fishing regulations are in the fishing regulations booklet. The most up-to-date version is available online. Printed copies, which do not include the most-recent updates, are available where fishing licenses are sold.
- Where to fish
Most Minnesota lakes and rivers contain perch but comparatively few contain solid numbers of large perch so, if you intend to target perch, a good place to start is our LakeFinder tool, which contains fish population information for more than 4,500 fishing lakes.
Much of Minnesota’s best perch fishing occurs in large walleye waters. Popular perch fishing lakes include Winnibigoshish, Leech, Cass, Lake of the Woods, Big Stone and Mille Lacs.
During early winter perch can often be found in shallow water in around healthy green vegetation. As winter progresses perch move to deeper water, drop-offs and other structure. As winter comes to an end, perch return to shallow waters to spawn.
Those who fish with an underwater camera or sonar unit clearly have an advantage in determining where perch are or aren’t. Still, even if you do not have these types of fishing aids you can get pretty good sense of where fish have been biting by simply observing where ice fishing houses are congregated or where others have driven and drilled holes. There is no guarantee these people were fishing for perch but they are likely fishing in an area of fish-holding structure.
- How to fish
Basic equipment for fishing for perch includes a short flexible rod, reel, an assortment of small ice fishing lures, bobber, bobber stop, clip-on weight (to help set the bobber at the proper depth), split-shot weights and live bait, which is typically wigglers/Eurolarvae, meal worms, or wax worms. Entry level ice-fishing rod-and-reel combinations can be purchased for about $25.
Some anglers prefer to fish without a bobber. Such anglers drop their lure to the bottom of the lake, wait for the line to go slack (this signals the lure has hit bottom) and then lift the lure a few feet off the bottom. After that, they pay close attention to the line and rod tip. They set the hook if the rod tip twitches, the line goes slack or if the line moves in an unusual way. Those fishing with a camera or sonar unit drop their lure to the depth where they see or are marking fish. Those without these technological advantages tend to start fishing near the bottom of the lake and then experiment at higher locations until they either find fish or decide to move elsewhere.
Many other anglers prefer to fish with a bobber. Anglers who fish with a bobber, especially those fishing in deep water, typically do this: 1) They thread a bobber stop onto their line, 2) thread a slip bobber onto their line, 3) tie a lure to their line, 4) clip a heavy weight to their lure, 5) drop the weight down the hole to determine the water’s depth, 6) hand-over-hand the line back out of the hole, 7) take off the clip-on weight, 8) slide the bobber stop to a location on the line that will place the lure at the depth they want, and 9) drop the lure and bobber rig back down the hole. You set the hook if the bobber jiggles, sinks or behaves oddly.
A common technique when fishing for perch is to “jig,” meaning you twitch or lift the rod to entice a bite. This up-and-down motion creates the appearance of food naturally falling through the water. While there is no universal rule on how often to jig do know you can over-jig, thereby scaring perch away rather than attracting them to your lure.
Large jigging motions work best for attracting distant fish and more subtle motions work best for enticing fish already near your lure. You can fish with two lines in Minnesota when fishing through the ice. Perch anglers commonly jig with one rod and leave the other alone. Sometimes the rod that is jigged catches most of the fish; sometimes the untouched rod that dangles a motionless bait catches more fish. If the rod that isn’t being jigged catches most of the fish that’s a clue you may be jigging too aggressively. On the other hand, the purpose of the jigging rod is to attract fish. If fish bite on the rod that isn’t being jigged, well, that is okay, too.
Ice fishing jigs, flies and spoons come in many difference colors and shapes. It’s best to have a variety, and to experiment as some lures may work better than others on particular body of water. When fishing vegetation areas it’s best to fish just over the tops of them or along the edges rather than in them.
- Auger for drilling a hole
- Scoop for removing ice and slush from the hole
- Rod, reel, lure and live bait
- Plastic bucket or chair to sit on, or more commonly a pop-up fishing shelter
- Warm clothes and boots
Useful & handy
- Sled or plastic bucket for hauling your gear
- Emergency ice picks to stab into ice in the event you break through
- Pop-up ice fishing shelter
- Propane heater
- Disposable hand and toe warmers
- Face mask
- Sunscreen to prevent sunburn
- Fish-finding sonar unit
- Underwater camera
- Smartphone app (they are quite inexpensive) that will show you lake depths and where you are in relation to bottom contours
- Small towel or rag for drying hands
- Warm, waterproof gloves
- Headlamp or flashlight for seeing in low light conditions
- Tackle box with a variety of lures, weights and bobbers
- Ruler for measuring fish if fishing on a lake where special sunfish regulations are in place
- Compass in the event snow squalls prevent you from being able to see shore
- Slip-on ice cleats for your boots
- What's important to know
- Line diameter matters. You want your line to be as invisible as possible because perch often inspect what they are about to eat before biting. Successful anglers often fish with 2- to 4-pound test line.
- You will want your lure to be heavy enough to take kinks out of the line but not so large that it is too big for the fish to inhale. Common perch lure sizes are one-sixteenth ounce, one-thirty-second ounce and one-sixty-fourth ounce. You can make lures fall faster toward the bottom by adding a split shot or two about a foot above the lure. Tungsten (lead-free) jigs are denser than lead and therefore fall faster than same-sized lead jigs.
- You will want to experiment with different types of lures. Heavier jigs fall through the water faster than very light lures, thereby getting your bait to the preferred location quicker. However, sometimes a very light jig – one that seems to take forever to reach its destination – is more effective. So, experiment. The easiest lure to fish may not produce the best results.
- Fishing success is often the best near dawn and dusk, the times of day when fish tend to be the most active.
- If you are going to drill multiple holes drill them in one session rather than a drill-fish-drill-fish approach. There are benefits to being quiet, especially when fishing shallow water.
- The bait shop near where you intend to fish can he a helpful source of information. Bait shop owners tend to know the size, colors and styles of lures that successful anglers are using, and because it is in their interest for you to be successful, they will offer good advice.
- Basic biology
- Yellow perch occur in lakes, rivers and streams throughout Minnesota. Yellow perch are more abundant in lakes and backwaters of large rivers, but also occur in the pools and runs of many of our small streams.
- While not typically targeted by sport fish anglers in the summer, yellow perch are highly sought after by ice anglers. Yellow perch have firm, very good tasting flesh that rivals that of their larger relative the walleye.
- Yellow perch have a stocky torpedo shaped body. They are pale yellow to bright orange with 6-7 dark, vertical bars on their side. Their mouth is small and points forward. One of the sure signs that you’ve caught a perch is that their dorsal fin is made up of two parts, divided by a space. The front portion is spiny and rear portion soft-rayed.
- Young of the year yellow perch (those that hatch in spring) feed on zooplankton, and then as they grow they switch to benthic macroinvertebrates and finally fish. Yellow perch swallow their food whole.
- Female yellow perch mature between two to four years old, males usually mature one year earlier. Spawning takes place in the spring (April through early May) when the water temperature reaches 45 to 52 degrees. The average female will lay approximately 23,000 eggs. After deposition the eggs rapidly swell and harden. Eggs hatch in 8-10 days.
- Yellow perch larvae have large mouths, well-developed jaws, teeth and eyes. They begin active feeding immediately after hatching but still absorb food from the yolk sac until it is used up. Yellow perch are relatively short-lived fish, few over seven years old are ever caught.
- The yellow perch is a common prey to many piscivorous (fish-eating) fishes, including largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, musky, walleye, bowfins, burbot, lake trout, and others. Common fish eating birds such as gulls, mergansers, loons, kingfishers, eagles and herons consume perch of various sizes.
- Helpful information
- An internet search of "how to ice fish for perch" will yield various articles and videos that further expand on how to catch perch.
- An internet search of “ice fishing augers” is something you may want to research because drilling a hole is the very first step to catching fish. Hand and power augers come in a wide variety of price ranges and styles with battery powered augers increasingly popular because they start reliably with the flip of a switch. If you choose a hand auger, you may want to consider one with cutting blades no larger than five inches in length. That’s large enough for bluegill yet easier on your body because you will be making a smaller diameter cutting through less ice.
- An internet search of “ice fishing electronics” will yield various articles and videos on sonar units, underwater cameras and GPS units. These days the majority of ice fishing anglers use some sort of fish-finding technology rather than, as they say, “fishing blind.”