Here in the flat prairie land of southwest Minnesota, we endure a variety of punishments in late January and early February. Sub-zero temps, gale force winds, daily snowfall, white outs, blizzards, lakes with low oxygen, and perch that aren’t where they were yesterday and won’t bite today can make the average guy question his sanity. Over the years I’ve learned there’s not a darn thing I can do about the weather except endure it, but I can do something about the perch that aren’t where they were yesterday. It takes some outside the box thinking, but perch can be caught in our prairie potholes if you’re willing to do a little work.
This is the time of year I like to call “Half time.” Early ice is over and the perch haven’t quite put on the feed bag in preparation for the spawn. They’re not aggressively feeding nor are they in their “Normal” areas. They really don’t have much of a reason to do anything except stay alive until the spawn arrives. In the prairie potholes, many of them do this by going to the flat muddy areas in the middle of the lake. Herein lies the problem – no points, no drop offs, no channels, no transitional areas. Just flat mud.
Staying mobile and running light is the easiest way I’ve found to find perch during half time. You’re going to be doing a lot of moving so the lighter you can travel, the better off your legs will feel at the end of the day. I only carry what I really need. An auger, rod, sonar and jigs in one pocket; maggots and minnow heads in another pocket. Even the sonar can get cumbersome. The Showdown Troller is perfect for this type of fishing. It’s small, handheld, and fits in your pocket.
Where to start? Good question. Many times I just hit the middle or an area that just looks like it won’t hold a fish for anything, and start drilling and drilling and drilling. It’s not abnormal to punch 20 holes, in no particular pattern, before I even put a line in the water. Walk from hole to hole with your Showdown Troller and look for fish. If you’re with a fishing buddy, walk behind him with the Troller as he drills holes. If you mark some fish, drop down a line. If no mark, keep walking to the next hole. If you don’t mark fish in your group of holes, drop down an attracting jig and see if you can call them in. Lindy Rattlin Flyers and Outdoor Pro Store Flutter Jigs, tipped with minnow heads or maggots are two of my favorites. No need to jig real aggressively – if the perch are in the area it won’t take long to call them in if they’re interested. If they’re only a little interested, really aggressive jigging can run them off. When you start catching perch, get the line back down the hole as they won’t be sticking around very long. When the bite stops, they’re gone and it’s time to move. I don’t like to fish the same hole for more than a couple of minutes before moving. Head to another hole you’ve drilled and drop down the Showdown Troller. If you mark fish, fish the hole. If no marks, move. Once the group of holes is exhausted it’s time to drill another group and start all over again.
Another prairie pothole perch trick many anglers overlook is to fish where the oxygen is in the lake. Many times this is not by the aerator, it’s near the surface. Water with higher concentrations of oxygen is higher in the water column and water holding less dissolved oxygen will be at the bottom of the water column. In some lakes the aerators will stir the more oxygenated water with the water lower in the column. Since most aerators are closer to shore, this makes me move to the middle of the lake area. The difference being instead of fishing the standard 6” off the bottom I’ll fish 12” below the ice. Walking around with the Troller checking each hole will let me know where in the water column the perch are hanging out.
One more good technique for mud flat perch is to use the mud. Once the holes are drilled, you’ve caught your breath, and are ready to drop down a line, drop your jig right into the mud. Bounce the jig around in the mud and stir it up good. Then slowly raise it all the way to the hole. Go ahead and give it a couple of wiggles as you raise it. Prairie potholes hold a lot of different bugs in the mud and perch have no problem surviving on these bugs during half time. Stirring the mud and wiggling the jig as you raise it mimics the bug’s movement and will bring the perch in.
Match the hatch, stay mobile, use attracting jigs, travel light, these are all things we’ve heard before. It’s nothing new. It’s the location of where you’re doing these things that can mean the difference between a nice perch dinner and a bag of beef jerky. Just because its half time doesn’t mean the fish have left the lake. They’re still in there. The saying that 90% of the fish are in 10% of the lake and 10% of the anglers catch 90% of the fish still holds true. There are no guarantees the 10% of the lake will be the same today as it was last week. It takes a bit of outside the box thinking to find them. If you’re willing to be the guy everyone looks at and wonders why you are in the middle of nowhere, you may be one of the 10%.
Tomorrow, on the other hand, the 10% location will be a different one. Good luck.