Lake Michigan Perch

Still hot fishing in cold weather

With winter upon us, I haven’t heard a whole lot from our neighbors to the north in “Packerland.” Lake Michigan fishing up there from Milwaukee to the Illinois state line can be pretty hard to predict in the winter. If the weather is mild and the lake is not iced up, anglers can get on the water out of Milwaukee in small boats to catch some Lake Michigan perch.

Hot action is available in the harbor and in the heated discharge waters near the power plant. Small spoons like the Acme Little Cleos, K-O Wobblers and Kastmasters, Williams Ridge/Backs and Johnson Splinters all work well on the brown trout, lake trout and occasional coho or steelhead found in the area. Four-inch plastics, both twister tails and swim baits work, too. Pearl white seems to be about the best color for them. For Illinois, shore fishermen can catch steelhead and a few brown trout in most downtown harbors with Montrose usually about the best. Fishing about 4 feet down with either skein spawn or spawn sacs beneath slip bobbers works for the trout.

Lake Michigan perch explosion

The big star of the show off Chicago, though, is Lake Michigan perch. Just as I predicted last month, they moved in, big time, by the thousands or maybe millions. Perch of all sizes moved in practically overnight and they are everywhere along the Chicago lakefront. Up north, at Montrose, there are tons of small Lake Michigan Perch, which bodes well for the future. Bigger ones are mixed in, however, so you can scratch out a good limit of keepers. Other Chicago harbors are also loaded with perch of various sizes.

Navy Pier has been giving up some good Lake Michigan perch with artificials like Johnson (Pure Fishing) Thinfisher Blade Baits, Johnson Splinters, Swedish Pimples and Williams Ice Jigs producing the bigger fish. Ice jigs tipped with spikes will also get you a ton of dinks, but the larger perch usually take minnows.

On the south side, the action has been even better with the slips at 85th and 89th streets loaded with fish as well as with fishermen. On some days, it’s been elbow to elbow. It has really been a circus out there at times.

Lousy litterbugs

I’ve heard, on some days, they have been kicking people out. I’ve seen, over the years, many great fishing spots closed forever because of a few slobs. Vandalism and littering are two of the quickest ways to get spots closed. We’ve worked very hard over the years to gain access to good shore-fishing spots. It’s a dirty shame to see a few jerks ruin it for everyone else. Please take your garbage back home with you! It’s a lot lighter than when you brought it in.

Marc Rig marvel

Perhaps the hottest perch action is from boats in Calumet Harbor. Drifting with minnows on a Marc’s Rig is the way to go and, when you get into them, double headers are common. I rig up my Marc’s Rig using a snap swivel on the bottom with a #6 or #7 Tru-Turn hook tied on a 2-inch leader about a foot up and a Galambos Go-Fly or Glo-Bead about 18 inches up from that. Tie hooks and Go-Flies directly to the main line using a Palomar knot, then use a Rapala loop knot to complete the 2-inch leader. I use the snap swivel so I can change my weights easily as the wind and wave conditions dictate.

On windy days, I use a drift sock to slow down my drift so I can maintain constant bottom contact with my presentation. This is important because most winter perch are on or near the bottom. Drifting too fast lifts your bait too high and out of the fish zone. Once it gets dark, snip off the snap swivel from your rig and go shore fishing.

Full bags from shore snags

After dark, the Calumet Harbor perch move into the snag-infested waters close to shore. Shore anglers can catch them all night long with the same rigs by replacing the weight with split shot. When fishing snaggy areas with heavier weights, you will constantly be breaking off and retying your entire rig. By loosely crimping on a couple of split shot on the bottom of your line, when you get into a snag, usually the split shot will slide off your line and you can retrieve the rest of your rig. All you lose is the split shot.

We all want to know the secret to catching more fish.