The most important key to cashing in on early season perch action is location. The fact is, you can’t catch them where they’re not. If you’re doing everything right but in the wrong place you’ll come home empty handed. On the other hand, if you’re doing everything wrong but in the right place you can still catch a few.
Fortunately for us finding perch at first ice is a relatively easy task and is as simple as following the good ice. The first place to develop good ice is the shallows (especially the shallow bays), off the main lake. It’s also the very place where you should start your search, and do it as soon as you can. The action can be extremely intense, but is usually short lived. The “hot action” can be expected to last a week or two at the most, and may be completely over by the time you hear about it.
Although restricting your search to the shallow bays can save some time, many of them may be too massive to be thoroughly checked out. You’d be better served by narrowing your search even farther and limiting your efforts to high percentage spots, like the mouths of the bays where they meet up with the main lake. Those are high percentage spots that can concentrate fish, and concentrations are exactly what you’re looking for. A good bay will likely have perch spread throughout and fish can be found in many different locations, but it’s the concentrations that can provide the intensity as well as most of the fun. Other key areas would include structure within the bay like breaks or drop offs, as well as bars, reefs, and even weeds lines.
Weed lines are often overlooked and can hold more than their share of green and yellow gold. While the last stands of green healthy weeds are preferred, it’s not an absolute necessity. Whether standing or laying down, the old weed line can hold perch and is worth checking out.
Break lines can be easily found with an electronic depth finder shot directly through the ice, as well as any fish that might be hanging out just off the bottom. A handheld that is the size of a flashlight and is designed to help ice anglers find structure fast. With a self lighting torch and a handheld you can fire up, melt a little ice and get a reading in seconds and can show you depth and fish.
Once you’ve settled on a starting spot the next step is to drill a few holes. It can pay to drill a few extra up front, which may save you valuable fishing time later on. Perch can turn on and off at that the drop of a hat and a move to a fresh hole may be required to keep icing fish. Instead of pulling up stakes and moving to a completely different area you may be better off jumping hole to hole and grabbing the fish that have become active.
When the perch are really going anything you drop down the hole will get hit. However, when the bite is off subtle changes in presentation can make a big difference. Little changes like a softer jigging technique, or tipping with a waxie instead of a minnow, or even the color of your bait can spell the difference between success and an empty bucket.
Jigging spoons are made to be jigged but when things slow up it can pay to slow down a bit and use a much more subdued technique. Instead of a hard snap try holding the bait perfectly still, with an occasional bump or twitch. If you’re using an electronic depth finder like the Humminbird Ice 55 you can see how fish react to the bait. The Ice 55 has excellent target separation and will help you see fish that are holding tight to the bottom. If you’re watching the depth finder and see that the twitch chases fish away you may be better off keeping the bait motionless. You may also fare better by switching to a smaller bait, like from an 1/8oz to maybe a 1/16 oz jig. The Northland Tackle Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon comes in both those sizes and is an excellent perch bait. It also comes in some incredible finishes including Super-Glo Perch and Super-Glo Firetiger which are top perch producing colors.
A good plan of attack would include working a spoon in one hole while dropping a little jig like a #8 Northland Doodle Bug tipped with a small minnow or waxie on a set rig down another. Although a jigging spoon has the ability to attract fish from greater distances, it might take the tiny jig to close the sale.
When it comes to finding and catching early ice perch it pays to be mobile. Fish that where here today may be long gone tomorrow and if you’re not prepared to make a move you may be severely limiting your opportunities. Portable shelters, power augers and electronic depth finders are tools of the trade and can help make your a job a lot easier, and more comfortable.
The Eskimo Escape 200 is a neat new shelter that balances the need for comfort with the ability to be portable. It’s a roomy two man flip over style house that is still light enough to be drug behind when you’re hoofing it across first ice. It has a super comfortable bench seat that prevents fatigue and should help to keep you on the ice much longer. If you’re comfortable you’ll fish longer, which can increase your chances for getting in on the bite of a lifetime. See you on the ice.