Tricks for Working Pods of Deep-water Perch

As the ice fishing season wears on, many of the easy targets in shallower water get pounded, and you will probably have to work deeper spots to stay on perch. I’m passing along some ideas to help you use your time more effectively in deep water.

Use electronics effectively
Most winter anglers know that you need to check a particular spot using electronics before deciding to fish there. Maybe you’ll get lucky and observe some other anglers actively landing fish, but don’t count on it.

It is hard to beat a good flasher-style locator for quickly revealing if fish are there. If you see indications that perch are below your feet, you might follow-up with a camera to make sure they are perch and not another species. You should remember that some fish can be suspended higher up off the bottom and that a camera may not show them like a flasher does.

Land a fish and get back quickly
You need to make the most of your time when fish bite; they move on very shortly. I like a two-hook perch rig that has a snap on the bottom end and a barrel swivel on the top end. You can snap on a 1/4-ounce bell sinker to the bottom, which will pull your bait quickly back into the strike zone if perch are holding near the lake floor. Lower this rig to bottom then reel the slack out of the line and this rig will “fish itself” by placing the rod in a holder.

Minnow hooking trick
Let’s say that you use the perch rig to send two minnows down to the bottom. Hook one of the minnows through the lips, and the other through the back near the tail. This will result in different actions by the bait as it swims. Sometimes perch will show a preference for one over the other.

Second rod rigs
Since the perch rig will work well from a rod holder, you have the option to run a second rod. One of my favorite rigs in this case is a number 3 “Swedish Pimple” lure baited with “spikes” (maggots). This compact jigging lure will quickly zip back to the bottom and put your bait in front of fish.

The ‘Spikeball’ rig
“Spikes” are a particularly tough little bait that can stand up to landing several fish before fresh ones have to be added to the hook. When you are working deep perch, try using the treble hook on the Swedish Pimple, and place two or three spikes on each hook point. This results in a “ball” of spikes on your lure. You will not have to spend as much time adding fresh bait, and this can get you back into the strike zone faster.

Soft vs. hard baits
Compare spikes to a wiggler, which is a soft bait. Perch love wigglers, but perch can steal them easier than spikes. If you use a wiggler, put it on one point of the treble hook and place spikes on the remaining two points. That way, if the wiggler is stolen you still have some bait down there working for you.

Remember chumming
One of the things you need to do with deep-water perch is to try to keep them near your spot as long as possible. When I buy minnows, I usually keep them in a Styrofoam-lined bait bucket on the floor close to me. In most cases, a few of the minnows will die and sink to the bottom of the bucket. I take these minnows out and smash them between a thumb and forefinger, or I use a small piece of wood to crush them. I then take the “smashed minnow” and toss it into the hole so it will sink to bottom and spread some scent there. I hope to keep some fish around my spot longer by doing this.

Alternative chumming tricks
Take some old-fashioned-style (whole flake) oatmeal in a resealable plastic bag, and add a tablespoon or so of a fish attractant scent to the flakes. About once every two minutes or so, add a pinch of the scented flakes to the hole you have drilled. As the flakes sink, they “rock” slightly side to side. This motion—as well as the scent you added—can attract perch to your spot and help keep them there.

Put eggs to ‘work’
Years ago, the “old timers” on the Fox Chain O’ Lakes in northeastern Illinois used bits of eggshell in a similar manner. They carried hard-boiled eggs with them for a lunch on the ice, and dropped bits of the shells into the hole as they peeled the tasty treats. They knew that the falling, flashing eggshells could pull fish in for a closer look. My original “oatmeal trick” was simply a refinement of this strategy.

Another trick the old-timers used was to snack on sardines and put a drop of the oil from the tin these fish were preserved and packed in on their bait.

So these tricks can help you make better catches from deep water. Many others exist, but you have to be flexible enough in your approach to actually gear up for them and to try a new style of fishing. The worst thing you can do is to use the same old presentations year after year, especially if they are no longer producing good results. Put these ideas to work this winter and I’ll bet you’ll catch more fish.