By the time January arrives it might be a good idea to get off the walleye wagon (at least part of the time) and start chasing some jumbo perch. Not just any ‘ol perch though, we’re talking real pole benders. The kind that can push a scale to a pound or more and are not only great to eat but are downright fun to catch. Not every lake has ‘em and they’re not everywhere to be found; but they do exist and they can be caught.
In Minnesota the big producers of heavy duty jumbos are Winnie, Leech, Mille Lacs and Lake of the Woods. Of those four; it’s Lake of the Woods that produces some of the largest fish on average while the rest give up more in a lot more areas. The NW Angle area of Lake of the Woods is where some of the most consistent perch angling takes place on this dynamic border water. Just about anywhere else and it might be onesie and twosies but at the Angle there’s a chance you can actually catch a limit (if you get on the right spot). On Mille Lacs, Leech, and Winnie there are tons of perch producing hotspots including shoreline connected break lines and lots of offshore structure like deep gravel humps and mud flats.
Whichever lake you head for and whether you’re looking at a shoreline related break or an off shore hump; it’s the transition areas that can hold the lion’s share of giant perch. That’s where hard bottom changes to soft and there will be no shortage of suitable real-estate. Professional angler and fulltime guide Tony Roach (roachsguideservice.com) works the ice harder than anybody I know and shares some of his wisdom to finding transition jumbos: “When perch start setting up on deeper transition areas they can be difficult to find simply because there’s so much of it. I’ll spread my investigative holes out to maybe fifty yards apart or more and keep moving until I start to see fish. There’s only so much time and you can’t cover it all so an approach that includes more area is definitely required. Once fish start to show themselves I’ll dig in and maybe run some holes in a little shallower or a little deeper water until I find heavier concentrations.” Tony’s approach can mean plenty of moves and quite a few holes drilled before running down a big school of fish. That’s the downside; the upside is finding a big school of jumbos and having it all to your lonesome.
Finding transition areas can be as easy as looking at a map and identifying specific spots where a shoreline break or offshore hump or bar drops off into the basin. That doesn’t mean the deepest water in the lake, just where the bottom of a drop-off flattens out. It’s easy to see it on a map and even easier to find if you have a G.P.S. with mapping capabilities like the Humminbird 385ci. The385ci has the ability to accept a high definition map like the LakeMaster ProMap and display it and let you see where the contour lines go from bunched up to spread out, indicating a break line and a deeper flat. When you get on a spot like that you can use your depthfinder to really home in on the change from hard to soft. On my Humminbird Ice55 the hardest bottom will be displayed as a large red band and will narrow up as you get into softer and softer bottom, even changing over to more orange and yellow. That’s what we’re talking about. It’s probably not the change itself that attracts fish but more likely the bottom content is more suitable for bugs to grow and emerge and become perch fodder. Tony on transition: “Hotspots can change from year to year and I think it has to do with wind direction when the adults are depositing their eggs. They’ll drop their eggs on the surface and the wind and resultant surface current can carry them in a particular direction where they will take up residence only to emerge in a larval stage by midwinter creating a hot spot on one part of the lake and a dead zone in another.”
Smaller baits that mimic emergent larvae can be absolutely killer, and the new superhot Impulse plastics from Northland Tackle do it like nothing before. From the Mayfly, to the Waxy, to the Tapeworm, all the bases are covered and you may never have to buy a box of bugs that spill in your pocket ever again. Besides the super cool fish fooling shapes the Impulse baits are impregnated with an attractant that fish can’t seem to resist. They take it in and hang on and there’s much less worry about them spitting it out before you get a chance to set the hook. Combine the plastic body with a jighead like the new Mooska Tungsten Jig and you’re in business. The heavy-weight tungsten allows for smaller jigs by size with a super quick drop rate and quick is what you’re looking for when you got an active school of eye popping jumbos below your feet. The thing is; perch are almost always on the move and you better get while the gettin’ is good. If not; your hot pocket of fish will probably move along their merry way and you’ll have to wait for the next batch to show up or head out and do some more investigating angling.
Jigging a spoon tipped with a minnow head or Impulse plastic is another top transition tactic and is perfect for finding fish. Tony on search and seizure: “I like to use a heaver spoon when I’m looking for fish and will drop it down and let it poof the bottom before I snap it back up a few times. The commotion can really draw fish in and it doesn’t take very long to know if you’re in the right area. If I’m seeing fish I’ll keep working the spoon but I’ll also get a jig and plastic down another hole. The smaller setup might be what they’re really looking for and just having another bait down can keep active fish around longer before they finally move on.
Targeting transition perch is a thinking man’s game and there is more to it than drilling a couple of holes and waiting them out. It’s not always easy but finding and catching transition jumbos can be plenty fulfilling, even for the most ardent walleye anglers. See you on the ice.