Perch are one of the easier types of fish to catch when ice fishing, and there are tons of them out there. They make for good food, too, so there are many reasons to want to catch perch. You can always improve how many perch you catch with a bit of strategy, so here are 21 tips to help you catch more.
1. Stay Shallow In Early Winter
When the ice first forms, you should look for perch where weeds grow. They like shallow areas full of vegetation in the early winter. As you might guess, this is where they find food. These perch feed on tiny creatures.
Also, these early-season perch like to stay near structures. Whether it’s a big rock or a log, you’re likely to find them staying within reach of cover.
Of course, perch are hard to predict, so if you’re not finding any, then try a different depth.
Later in the winter, the perch can’t find food as easily near the surface, so more of them will be deeper underwater. That said, you might still find smaller ones in the shallow areas, but the big perch, who have larger appetites, will be in deep waters.
2. Track Them With Tip-Ups
Instead of using tip-ups only as a way to catch more fish, use them as a way to find where perch are swimming. You do this by drilling several holes near the one you’ve made for the tip-up. That way, when your tip-up catches something, you can rush over and put lines in the other holes.
This is a useful tactic because perch will travel in groups. Sometimes these groups are rather large. If you can be quick, you might reel in fish after fish through this method.
Tip-ups always make for a great way to cover more ground than you could with just one hole. By using them to figure out the location of schools of trout rather than just trapping an extra fish or two, you’ll significantly increase your haul.
3. Cut Lots of Holes
Yes, cutting more holes means more work, but when you’re trying to catch a lot of perch, who swim in groups and are often on the move, it’s the best way to catch a large number.
If you haven’t really found a hotspot, it won’t really do you much good to wait around one hole for the perch to finally swim by and bite your line. Take a more active approach and try different holes.
Move around from hole to hole until the fish start biting. If the action slows after you’ve been having success, then move again.
If you’re going to cut a lot of holes, then you may consider getting a power auger. Normally, I don’t find such augers worth the cost, both of time and money, but in this case, you will probably find one quite useful. It will only take you seconds to drill a hole with a power auger, and not much muscle is required of you.
Meanwhile, a manual auger will take a bit longer and require more effort, so if you’re going to drill more than five holes, you might find yourself exhausted.
How many holes you drill exactly is up to you, but the idea is to have easy access to different regions of the water so you can find out where the fish have gone.
Now, don’t get the wrong idea. You shouldn’t be expecting fish to appear the moment you drop your line, though that could happen. Give it a few minutes. Then move to a different hole. Try to be consistent in your timing; being random doesn’t help your chances of finding the fish.
4. Use Swimming Lures in Clear Water
There are plenty of choices available for lures, but the correct choice for a given situation may depend on what the water is like.
In clear water, perch will be able to see a considerable distance ahead of them. So, one type of lure you can use to appeal to them is a swimming lure.
As the name implies, these lures are meant to replicate the appearance of a fish swimming around. These lures are easy to use because they sink quickly and hook well.
Perch who usually eat minnows are likely to go for this kind of lure. You will want to put bait on the lure’s lower treble. Experience has shown this to be the place they usually eat it from.
Swimming lures are cool little tools of deception. Schools of perch will be heading your way when you drop one into the lake.
One additional note about these, however: if the perch appear to be more scattered, even if the water is clear, swimming lures are less effective. Try a flash lure for that situation.
5. Use Flash Lures in Dark Water
If the water is dark and murky, it’s going to be harder to get the attention of perch. Among other strategies, one tactic you should employ is to use a flash lure.
The idea here is to do whatever it takes to get the perches’ attention. As the name implies, flash lures are made to reflect bright lights. The bigger the lure, the more attention-grabbing it will be, though there are limits to how big you can go.
You can employ rattle lures, too, to try to attract perch with sound. Of course, that might scare some perch away, so it’s just something you’ll have to experiment with.
If I was a perch and saw a big flash of light out of nowhere, I would definitely want to check it out. Perch are inquisitive fish, after all. Even if the water is not so clear, you can still attract perch from a distance. This is why lures are so incredibly useful.
6. Learn About Perch Behavior in the Area
The difficult part about catching perch is their behavior can vary greatly from lake to lake. While there are patterns in much of the species’ behavior, a lot of things they do are simply hard to predict.
For that reason, it will help you immensely to ask local experts about what to expect from nearby perch. I’m talking about experienced anglers who frequent the body of water where you are planning to spend your fishing time.
Granted, finding these people may not always be that easy. I would see if there are any fishing stores nearby to where you’re going.
Despite all the helpful tips I can give you, local circumstances may invalidate some of them due to the unpredictable nature of perch. So, find out what your local perch is like.
However, even the advice local experts give you may not be totally true. Perch behavior is going to vary, often depending simply on the time of day, month, or year. If you’ve been following someone’s advice and it’s not working, feel free to try something else.
7. Use a Sensitive Rod
Bites when ice fishing perch can be rather hard to detect. That’s why you need to use a sensitive ice fishing rod. When using one, while you might not feel the tug of a fish, you will see the tip of the rod bend.
If you’re serious about catching a lot of fish, I assume you will be paying close attention to details like a bending rod when fishing, so all you really need to do now is make sure you find a rod with a sensitive enough tip for it to bend easily enough.
While being sensitive, the rod should be sturdy enough to handle fights with these fish, too.
Sometimes, success or failure is truly determined by equipment, like it or not, and that’s the case here. Luckily, a good ice rod won’t break the bank. If you want some help in finding one, check out this article I wrote that has some of the best ice fishing rods available.
8. Fish With Your Friends
Unless you are seeking some solitude in nature, it’s always nice to have a friend or two to accompany you when ice fishing. It makes the time more fun. It also means you have someone to help you out in case of accidents, so it’s safer that way.
There’s a practical benefit to it when it comes to catching more perch, too. Perch travel in groups. If you find one, you’re likely to find more. So, if your friend catches a fish, naturally, you should go where he is.
It would be really smart to drill multiple holes a few feet from each other in addition to the holes that will be a significant distance from each other. That way, when a group of fish is detected, you and a friend can both have your lines in the water and reel in fish together. Doing that is far more efficient than taking turns.
Fishing with a group of people truly seems like the most effective way to find perch. I’m a big fan of finding ways to be more efficient, and when you have a group of people spread out a bit across a lake, it becomes so much easier to figure out where the perch are.
9. Try the “Jig and Sit” Pattern
Being able to bring home perch, especially large perch, sometimes depends on how you jig. This is a simple and easy method to try.
First, you must jig. The idea behind this jigging is to get the attention of perch. You are trying to draw them near.
Then, once they are near, you stop jigging. You just let it sit. The small movements that still occur will hopefully be enough to get the perch to bite.
The reason for this strategy is a bit surprising. Perch do not usually like to go for a moving lure. They prefer food that’s easier to catch. So, while the commotion your jigging causes will draw their attention, if you keep jigging, they won’t bother to strike.
The “jig and sit” pattern is a strategy you will want to use if you find that perch are coming near your line because of your jigging but not committing to it. It’s very simple but could be just the ticket to success you’re looking for.
10. Throw Bait in the Water
This technique is not legal everywhere, so check before you do it, but the idea here is to attract perch through their sense of smell. Cut up minnows or cocktail shrimp into tiny pieces and throw the pieces into the water.
Perch from quite a distance away will notice the smell of this tasty food. They’ll come over to investigate, and you’ll be able to capitalize easily. The group you attract will likely stick around that spot for a decent bit of time, so you’ll be able to catch perch after perch.
Live bait certainly is useful. It’s not too surprising that scent draws these fish to your bait. Who hasn’t been allured by the smell of something delicious before?
Unfortunately, as I said, not all regions allow the use of live bait, so you should not use it if prohibited. Don’t worry though. Most of the other tips on this list will help you catch fish even without it.
11. Make Some Clouds
If perch see a cloud of dirt, they’re probably going to check it out, as it could mean food has dropped into the lake. So, you should create a cloud of dirt yourself.
Get a heavy lure and drop it to the bottom, tapping the floor a few times. Then, go ahead and switch to the jig you want to use to actually catch the fish.
The cloud should have attracted fish from a considerable distance away, so at that point, you get to just see if they’ll bite your hook.
Drawing the fish in and then sealing the deal with different bait is a consistent pattern among several strategies you can use to ice fish for perch. What makes these strategies effective is that perch are inquisitive and love to check out unusual events. But your jig should look appealing yet not hard to catch because perch are not speedy hunters, ready to strike quickly.
Making a cloud of sentiment is a great way to get the attention of perch all across the lake.
12. Use a Fluorocarbon Leader
While you should use fishing line that’s easy for you to see, the trouble with that is the fish being able to see it. They are bound to get suspicious about a weird line suspending food in the water. This is why you need to use a leader.
A leader is simply an extra length of line you tie to the bottom of your fishing line. It’s called a leader because it goes into the water first.
You definitely want to use a leader for ice fishing perch, specifically a fluorocarbon leader. The leader will appear practically invisible to the fish as it suspends bait in the water. This makes for a much more enticing presentation to the perch you want to catch.
Leaders are quite useful for catching any type of fish, of course, so you shouldn’t feel limited to using them for perch. They have benefits aside from being hard to see. For example, they can protect your line from getting torn by the sharp teeth of certain fish.
13. Avoid Deep Open Water
While it is possible to find perch at many depths, putting your bait in the middle depth of a lake, completely in open water, is not putting the odds in your favor. Swimming through such waters is not conducive to the feeding strategy which perch like to employ.
Where should you look instead? Look on the floor.
There are specific spots on the floor that are better than others, of course. Perch like to gather on transitional areas of flats deep underwater. These are areas where you find hard surfaces colliding with softer surfaces.
Also, find out if the lake has structures like points and humps, which stick into deep basins. Perch will hang out by these structures.
You should also look once again in transition spots, such as where sand meets mud. Another type of transition is when there’s simply a bit of a rise in a flat, one that’s even just a foot higher than the surrounding area. This is a feature that can attract perch.
If you think about the shape of a big lake, you can see how it’s like a bowl, and naturally, there is a bottom to it or a section that is the lowest. It’s the transition from that lowest section to the slope leading to shallower waters if you were to follow it away from the bottom that attracts many perch. They are constantly coming and going, looking to spawn and feed.
It’s important to figure out what type of land features perch like to visit to find their food because it’s arguably better to go to them than to ask them to come to you. Of course, attracting perch from far away is a viable strategy too, but if you can identify any of the land features I have mentioned by using maps, underwater cameras or fish finders, they are great places to strike.
14. Strike at Dawn (And Dusk)
As a human, you probably have particular times of each day when you like to eat your meals. Well, fish have their preferred feeding times, too.
Perch, like most other fish, are hungrier during the early morning hours when the sun is coming up. I am not sure if there is a specific reason for this behavior, but it is definitely something that’s proven true time and time again.
Not only is the early morning prime feeding time, but dusk, when the sun is going down, is too.
If you think about it, ice fishing gains yet another unique advantage over other types of fishing because of this aspect of fish behavior and the nature of seasons. Days are shorter during the winter, as you know. This means that you as the fisher do not have to spend as much time at the lake to strike at both dawn and dusk as you would in the summer, when days are at their longest.
People don’t make the best decisions when hungry, and perhaps fish aren’t so different. If a perch has a ravenous appetite, it might not even bother to check whether the bait you’ve dropped is legitimate or not before trying to swallow it up. That’s why you want to strike during these prime feeding hours.
If you want to fish at both dawn and dusk, that does mean you’ll be out for a long day, but it is the way to maximize how many fish you catch. However, for most people, just being out for one of these primetime slots will be enough to make for a satisfactory haul. So make sure to either get to the lake early or plan to stay late.
By the way, if you do stay late, there’s no reason why you can’t stay after dark, too. There are plenty of fish ready to be caught at night.
15. Use Minnows
A lot of perch have minnows as their main source of food. It only makes sense, then, to put minnows on the hook which you will present to these perch. How convenient.
You don’t need to put entire minnows on the hook. You can use small bits if that works better.
Live bait is not legal in all areas, unfortunately. However, artificial lures such as ones I discuss in other tips on this list will work wonderfully even without it, so it’s not like your fishing days need to be over just because of such laws.
16. Mix Up Your Bait
Sometimes you will use a particular type of bait and it just doesn’t seem to be working. The fish come near but don’t bite. People say that insanity is continuing to do the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results (I say it’s not that simple), so why not switch up your bait?
Bring whatever types of bait you can get to the lake. It’s not like it will take up much extra storage space to do so. Sometimes, minnows aren’t enough to convince perch to bite, for whatever reason. But at those times, perch might want to eat worms or grub.
It could be that bait is not the problem (try changing up other things, too). But you can’t rule it out until you experiment a bit, so be sure to bring a variety of bait, if possible.
17. Try “The Slow Lift”
This is another simple jigging strategy. Sometimes it is too much jigging that prevents perch from biting, surprisingly. It can take a lot of motion to get fish to come near, but once they’re near, subtlety is king.
All you do for “the slow lift” is, as the name implies, slowly lift your jig up. Then just hold it there. If you don’t get any takers, lift again.
It doesn’t take anything complicated or tricky to seal the deal with perch. You just have to understand a thing or two about the way they like to feed. Most of them are not going to aggressively strike at a moving target. But if they see something apparently floating upwards slowly, they will go for it.
Also, as I mentioned in another tip, you can tap the bottom of the lake to make a cloud and get more perches’ attention. Then lift the jig up slowly.
18. Combine Flashy With Subtle
If it is legal in your area to have multiple lines in the water, one unique strategy you can use is to have one line with a flashy lure such as a spoon and another that’s simply suspending live bait, which is a strategy known as deadsticking.
The idea behind this is to attract perch to your line with a shiny object that will get their attention. Perch are curious about weird things they see. Once they are near your lines, they may choose to bite the hook with the spoon lure, but they might not.
However, now that they are close to your deadsticking line, there is a good chance that they will notice the minnow you’ve put there and take a bite.
An interesting advantage of this possibility is that it may fool perch into thinking they’ve found a goldmine of food. After all, two things that look like food in close proximity to each other? This may lead them to stick around in one area for longer than normal, which is great for you.
The hunter always has to outsmart his prey. Using two lines with opposite bait strategies right next to each other may seem like a strange strategy, but it makes a lot of sense when you understand the reasoning behind it. It takes advantage of the perch’s curiosity while working around the fact that they won’t necessarily want to bite the shiny thing they see.
19. Use Spoons
Getting the attention of as many perch as possible is one of the most important things you can do to catch more of them. A good lure can help you do that.
The spoon lure is a very effective tool for accomplishing this. These lures spin around like crazy when falling through the water, casting light everywhere.
You will probably want to have multiple colors to see if one works better than another. Believe it or not, those things can make a difference.
There are plenty of lures out there, and spoons are definitely worth trying. Many anglers have had a lot of success with them in ice fishing.
By the way, in case this was not clear, I am not talking about dropping a tablespoon in the water. This is a particular type of lure that is shaped a bit like a spoon.
20. Always Experiment
Perch are pretty unpredictable, so you can never really say for certain what will work on a given day. That’s why it’s essential that you try different techniques.
Try different lures, jigs, and baits. If one starts giving you success on a particular day, definitely keep using it, but don’t expect to repeat your success exactly the next day. Continue to try different things.
It may be unfortunate that we can’t find a surefire way to catch perch every single time, but on the bright side, fishing wouldn’t be as interesting if we could. The unpredictability of it can make for some good stories.
21. Use Sonar and Maps
For perch and really any kind of fish, it will benefit you greatly to use all tools at your disposal.
To get a good look at what the land is like underwater, which will help you find spots where fish are likely to gather, use a map and/or a fish finder. Some fish finders have topographical maps built-in, so those will be extremely helpful.
A fish finder will, as the name implies, help you find fish. If there’s a lot of activity underwater, what you see onscreen will reflect that. This will definitely keep you from fishing in empty waters, at worst.
There are also underwater cameras you could use, which will let you see the perch with your very eyes. Since much of the trouble with perch comes in getting them to commit to your line, this could really help with figuring out what the perch are thinking. Cameras do take time to set up, though, which makes them not ideal if you plan to run around from hole to hole.
If you are looking to buy a fish finder for ice fishing, there is an article I wrote that will help you find many of the best ones available.
Perch are fish which you can catch in great abundance despite how hard to predict they are. If you’re willing to try different things and abandon strategies that aren’t working, you will have a lot of fun ice fishing for them.
Below are links to where I got much of the information for this article.