Big Perch on Big Winni


MWO TV travels far and wide all year long, searching for great fishing, hunting and ice fishing to capture for our television viewers. Last March, during a stretch of days stopping at multiple fisheries across Minnesota, including a number of “small lake gems,” the crew had an extra day to fish out of McArdle’s Resort on Lake Winnibigoshish (“Big Winni”) to chase jumbo perch. Big Winni is a famous fishery for perch and walleye fishing, and the winter bite can be fantastic all season long, like it was last winter. A hot perch bite is about as good as it gets when it comes to ice fishing fun!
Joining us for a day on the ice were Tony Roach and Pete Frisch from Roach’s Guide Service, and Nate Brown, who runs McArdle’s Resort along with his family. Ideally, for big-water basin perch fishing, anglers prefer sunshine to get the insect life stirred up and create more feeding activity from jumbos; however, a low cloud cover blanketed the vast frozen backdrop of the lake. The day showed promise nonetheless, with light winds and the bright sun struggling to break through from behind the thin cloud layer above us.

We set up on a shallow sand flat with hints of sandgrass, in 10 to 15 feet of water. Wide expanses of this type of structure greet anglers on Big Winni, and the sheer amount of acreage to choose from can be a bit daunting. McArdle’s plows roads and maintains a fleet of rental fish houses on the lake, positioned both on shallow flats as well as in the deeper mud basin to target both walleyes and perch. But we were fishing with Tony and Pete, and mobility is the key to the game when on the ice with Roach’s Guide Service. At our first stop, at least fifty holes were punched with the StrikeMaster 40vs, and we started catching fish right away.

As is the case with shallow-water perch schools, the bite soon tapered off, and it wasn’t long before Pete was in the side-by-side, heading several hundred yards further afield to scout for more schools. Perch are notorious roamers in winter, bunching up in packs and moving in tandem to blitz sections of water in search of forage. For increased success, anglers need to be mobile with the fish. We only had a half-day available to fish, and we covered perhaps two miles of structure in five hours.

Everywhere we stopped, we caught fish. A bite here and there, a flurry, and then the bite would taper off again. Move, drill, catch. Move, drill, catch. A variety of small spoons tipped with minnow heads, especially the new Bull Spoon from VMC in gold or chartreuse color patterns, as well as #3 Jigging Raps, were the hot tickets as far as lure choices. Everyone was fishing with St. Croix CCI 28-inch Perch Eye Spoon rods, which feature a medium-light power, fast-action blank that’s ideal for precisely controlling light spoons with the preferred jigging cadence. They’re ultra-sensitive to detect the lightest of bites when a perch delicately slurps on a lure, but feature plenty of backbone for both hooksetting power and for controlling larger fish that may enter the strike zone and bite.

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Winter perch fishing is always fun and keeping a bucket of fish for a fish fry is the reward for a successful day on the ice with friends. We’re blessed in the upper Midwest with many great perch fisheries, and if you find yourself in northern Minnesota, Lake Winnibigoshish is definitely a lake that will deliver an enjoyable day on the ice for you!

MidWest Outdoors staffer Roger Cormier is an avid photographer and writer who has been contributing content to MWO magazine and television since 1992. He calls Minnesota home, but ventures far and wide to enjoy the outdoors and share his experiences.