Perchin’ for Jumbo

As winter settles in and the ice has been thickening, it’s time to get into some of the best ice fishing of the season! Water below the hard surface of the ice still holds a good supply of oxygen at this time of the year and the fish are actively feeding.

Jumbo yellow perch are incredibly delicious and fun to fish for. Once you find one, there’s usually several right along with him. The key to jumbos is the lake. You want to fish a lake that has a good population of fish and is loaded with freshwater shrimp. These tiny crustaceans are a perch’s favorite food. A lake that has freshwater shrimp, such as Devils Lake in North Dakota, allows perch to grow big quickly.

Additional forage for perch includes minnows and bottom-dwelling worms and grubs. Deep-water mud basins during the middle of the winter are the best bets for finding good populations of perch. Keeping track of the schools of perch during the late fall will also assist you in finding these fish now.


Finding transition points

We like to find mud basins that are adjacent to harder bottom areas, such as sand or gravel flats. The transitions between hard bottom and silt are crucial.

Weed lines can also be a key locational factor in finding jumbo perch. Old, dying weed beds are a high percentage area for all kinds of freshwater fish—such as crappies, walleyes, and bluegills. This way you can look for perch, but still get into a ton of action from other fish!

The best way to know that you are on these critical transitional areas is to do some scouting during open water. Finding the points of weeds, or hard-bottom gravel areas next to mud basins are much easier to find while driving around in a boat instead of drilling a ton of holes and fishing them.

Utilize a Humminbird Helix 7 and enter appropriate waypoints while driving around. Having a LakeMaster map is also a great tool to assist you in getting started in the right areas. Take a day out while it’s nice and sunny to find these spots. You’ll appreciate it much more when it is 10 degrees below zero! Once you have all of the appropriate waypoints, you can take the Helix 7 off of the dash of your boat and easily convert it into an ice machine. You now have all of the key waypoints still stored.


Ice safety

As always, safety is the key when ice fishing. Never go ice fishing alone and always tell someone where you are going and what time to expect you home. Make sure someone has a flotation cushion tied to a long rope. If someone does go down, it’s much safer to throw the cushion and save the person rather than to step too close and end up in the water as well. Small hand-held ice spikes are also essential.


Key in on active schools

The key to successful jumbo perchin’ is being mobile and going to the fish. As soon as you stop marking them and they have left a spot, you have to locate them again. Always keep looking for active fish.

A couple of our favorite ice lures for perch are a spoon tipped with a minnow head or small jig tipped with a wax worm. Spoons provide great action and they come in various sizes and shapes for the most finicky of perch. There is a variation to a spoon that features a small gold chain connected to a very small gold hook at the bottom of the spoon. This variation is deadly. Tip it with a couple euro larvae and work it just above the fish.

In addition, make sure you have some small minnows and wax worms, along with the euro larvae (also known as “spikes”). Having all the different live bait along is crucial. Perch will change their preference from day-to-day, sometimes even hour-to-hour.


Using two rods—where legal

While jigging with one rod, use the other rod as a deadstick rigged with a small slip float, hook, and a minnow. Start with the live minnow a couple of inches off the bottom. You will almost always find perch close to the bottom.

Put the transducer into the same hole where you’ll be jigging. Watch your electronics for signs of fish. Keep pounding the bottom and slowly lift. Watch your electronics for signs of fish following your lure upwards. If you see the bottom waffling or shifting up and down, that is a sign there are fish extremely tight to the bottom.

Try different jigging actions but don’t overwork your lure. Always determine what action the fish want for the day. Subtle action, dead still, or a more aggressive motion. Once you get a few bites, keep repeating that action until the bites stop.

Keep changing colors along with different types of live bait in order to see what the fish want for the day. If you are marking fish below you, but you can’t get them to bite, punch in a waypoint, move, then come back later.

Jumbos are “yumbos!” Now’s a good time to catch them jumbo perch through the ice!


Ted Takasaki is an International Fishing Hall of Fame professional angler who has been featured in many national outdoor magazines and television shows. Takasaki has appeared in front of thousands of angling enthusiasts and is considered one of America’s top walleye and multispecies anglers. Follow him on his Facebook page.


Scott Richardson is a retired outdoor editor for a Central Illinois newspaper and longtime writer for magazines, a writing partner with popular writer and walleye pro Ted Takasaki for more than 30 years and a member of the Illini Muskies Hall of Fame. He’s also written two books with Wisconsin fishing guide Greg Bohn on bobber fishing for walleyes.