How To Ice Fish For Perch
Rod and reel setup for Perch
Let’s start with the basics: The rod, reel, and line that we recommend when ice fishing for Perch.
Rod: 21” to 27” medium-light to medium-ice spinning rod
Reel: 2000-3000 size spinning reel
Main line: 6-8 lb ice braid
Leader: 8-lb test fluorocarbon
Hook: #4 or #8 treble
You’ll want to choose a medium-light to a medium-ice spinning rod; size can vary, and anywhere from 21” to 27” has served us well. A high-quality rod is key here—your rod will need a solid backbone, along with the flexibility to bend as the Perch moves around; these little guys can put up quite a fight!
Your reel will depend, in large part, on the line that you’re using—a point that we’ll talk about next. For a 4 lb test braid, a 1000-size reel will serve you well. Bigger than that (4-8 lbs), and we recommend a 2000-size reel. You can even go up to 3000 if you want, though 2000 has served us well in our expeditions.
You can go for anything from 4 lbs to 8 lbs—just make sure you’ve got a braided line designed for ice fishing. Perch never get particularly big, but they are feisty, so you need a fairly strong line.
The braided vs. monofilament debate rages on—for us, however, ice braids are a no-brainer when it comes to ice fishing for Perch. The higher level of abrasion resistance coupled with the higher levels of sensitivity make it the perfect choice.
We love an 8 lb test fluorocarbon leader when fishing for perch. Perch are predatory, but their teeth are too small to cut through much. Fluorocarbon leaders are practically invisible underwater—and that leads to more Perch nibbling on your line. As you’ll soon learn, however, you may go all the way up to 20 lb test fluorocarbon—it all depends on your rig.
Titanium leaders are an alternative; while they’re more visible underwater, they’re quite durable. A 4-8 lb test titanium leader should withstand even the biggest bites from the largest Perch.
Avoid steel leaders—they can wreak havoc on a Perch’s mouth.
Not a lot to say here—we want a hook that’s small enough that it doesn’t look suspicious to the Perch but big enough that it can handle the bait and the Perch. In our experience, size #6 treble hooks usually work best, though we’ve had success with hooks all the way up to #4 and all the way down to size #8, depending on what we’re using as bait (and the size of the Perch). As you’ll see in the next sections, we’ll often be using more than one of these hooks at a time.
Presentations and Lures
Perch are cautious predators. They mostly feed on aquatic insects and small fish. They’re not interested in fighting for their meals; sudden movements and serious resistance can indicate to perch that the meal isn’t worth the effort.
Small baits are the way to go here; we don’t need anything too extreme. Waxies, small minnow (2” to 3”), rattle and flutter spoons, and perch eyes all work well for different rigs. Perch can be notoriously difficult to rouse, especially in the dead of winter. You may have to switch up your bait several times; start with flashier, noisier baits, and move to more subtle ones if those aren’t working.
We’ll also talk about using the tip-up technique for Perch in a later section. One of the joys of fishing for Perch is how many techniques and lures you can use to try and catch them! They can be picky—which adds to the fun of the sport.
Perch seasonal movement
There’s a reason so many of us love ice fishing for Perch—these fish are incredibly active in the winter months. You can catch perch all throughout the season—though they migrate as the weather gets colder.
At the start of the ice fishing season, shallow fishing is the way to go. Ice isn’t as thick early on, which means heat and light can more easily penetrate into the water. All of this heat and light mean there’s more food—including insects and the small bait fish Perch love to feed on.
Early in the season, Perch will continue to hunt in and around weed edges. A piece of advice that’s good for fishing in any season is to look for combinations of terrain features: In this case, look for weed edges that form near rocks and other structure.
While Perch remain active in midwinter, their activity slows—and they tend to move deeper into the water. The amount of activity on the ice is a factor, however, and you’ll find that Perch tend to stay in shallow water for longer on remote lakes where ice fishing and other traffic are uncommon.
Look for isolated areas where there’s little to no traffic. Perch will move towards deep flats, where silty water carries insects for them to feed on. At this time of the season, we highly recommend trying pounder rigs, especially in deeper lakes.
Late in the season, perch begin migrating to shallow waters once again. Start by trying to fish shallow—if you don’t have any luck, switch to the midwinter strategy and fish deep. The best place to start is the deepest weed edges you can find. Late winter is when the spawning season begins, and you can find massive schools of Perch. In all seasons, you want to stay mobile, drilling and using your fish finder until you find the biggest schools you can.
Perch ice-fishing locations
We touched on where you should fish for perch in the section above, but here’s a refresher: We want to look for places with a combination of features, weed edges, reefs, gentle drop-offs, and flats. In midwinter, you may find that Perch migrate towards the middle of the lake—especially if that area has large flats.
Depths to ice fish for Perch
Fish shallow in early winter, deep in midwinter—that advice is all well and good, but what do shallow and deep mean? It’s all relative, right?
The truth is, it is all relative. You’re not fishing in shallow water because Perch love the sun—you’re fishing there because there are weeds full of perch food at that time of season. In the same vein, you’re not fishing in deep water because the Perch are sinking to the bottom for fun—you’re fishing in deep water because later in the season, Perch tend to hang out where they can hunt for insects.
Perch almost always hang out at the bottom of the water column; they like bottoms made of muck, sand, and gravel, and they move in schools to deter predators. As such, you should almost always target the bottom 5% of the water column where you’re fishing.
Using lake contour maps
Okay, we’ve covered where you should fish for Perch—and in which part of the season you should cover different areas—but how do you find those sweet spots?
Simple. Use a fish finder/GPS combo.
Mid to top-end fish finders almost all have built-in GPS. They’ll also have:
- Charts that come with the price of purchase
- Additional charts you can purchase
- Software that allows you to create your own contour charts
These devices are the single best way to find great spots to fish for Perch—and we’ll talk about the other functions of ice fish finders in the next section. What you’re looking for are the exact features we’ve discussed—soft bottoms and weeds. You’ll also be able to use your device to create waypoints for the next time you want to go out fishing.
We recommend purchasing a contour map if the chart pack that comes with your device doesn’t include the body of water you’re fishing in. In the summer, you can use software to build your own contour maps; unfortunately, this is next to impossible when you’re ice fishing.
The charts on these units are detailed—they usually offer 1’ contours, which gives you a very good look at how terrain slopes underwater. In our experience, these charts are the best way to scout for perch.
Using ice-fishing fish finders to find Perch
Fish finders offer more than just charts; they can help find exactly where fish are in the water, and help you catch them.
There’s two main types of ice fish finders—flashers, and fish finder/GPS combos that have been modified to work on the ice. Each has their advantages—and each are great tools for perch fishing.
Love the classics? A flasher might be best. These devices are super simple—they light up when there are fish in the water, and show you how deep in the water those fish are swimming. They’ll also give you insight into how big the fish are—and that makes it easier to avoid small fry.
Our favorite way to fish for Perch? Using a high quality GPS/fish finder combo with side imaging. These fish finders basically all have a flasher mode and they offer traditional sonar charts. The down imaging will also give you an excellent view of structure beneath the surface of the ice. Once you’ve scouted the lake with your charts, you can use this side imaging to find the perfect fishing spot—then move to it.
Whether you go for a flasher or a more advanced fish finder, we’ve got a load of reviews on our site for you to check out. There’s no best answer—each angler has their own preferences. The one thing we can say, however, is that fishing with a fish finder is way better than fishing without one.
Perch ice-fishing techniques
There’s more than one way to catch a perch (that’s the expression, right?). Here are three of our favorites— we’ve had a lot of success with all of these techniques.
As we’ve discussed, Perch tend to swim in the bottom 5% of the water column. To attract them, we highly recommend “poofing” the bottom—disturbing the bottom by rapidly hitting it with the tip of your rig, lifting it, and repeating. This mimics the burrowing behavior of the insects that perch love to prey on.
Jigging is all about cadence with perch—too vigorous, and you’ll scare them off—too slow, and they won’t take note. Read through our section on lures and baits again to get a better idea of what to use to attract Perch when jigging. We also recommend looking at the rigs section below.
We highly recommend jigging while actively using a fish finder. When you notice Perch near the bottom (and near your line), you can attract them upwards by jigging, finding a few who seem interested, then adjusting your cadence to pull the bait upwards. Perch tend to strike fairly aggressively—once you’ve got a few separated from the bottom, you should get some nibbles!
Tip-ups work surprisingly well for Perch. The major change we’d make in your overall setup is to opt for smaller hooks—size #12 has worked well for us. We’d also recommend keeping your tip-ups extremely close to the spot where you’re jigging; as we’ve discussed, Perch are notoriously finicky creatures, and they’ll let go of bait an instant after biting it if they sense trouble.
Attracting Perch while ice fishing
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Switch up your baits, switch up your jigging cadence, and switch up your fishing holes.
Attracting perch means a lot of drilling, a lot of scouting, and a lot of playing around to find which baits, rigs, and techniques tempt them into biting. We recommend starting with the louder, flashier spoons and baits, and moving to quieter fare if you’re not having any success. The same goes for jigging—start more aggressively, then move to gentler techniques.
Targeting big Perch while ice fishing
Best ice-fishing locations to find big Perch
The biggest Perch tends to hang out in deep water in midwinter; soft bottom flats are still the best place to find them. They’ll migrate to shallower water in late winter when things start to warm up. That’s also where they’ll hang out in early winter. Remember—even in shallow water, Perch tend to swim around the bottom 5% of the column, and they always school together.
Best ice-fishing tactics for big Perch
Use a fish finder to find the largest Perch. You’ll also want to opt for live bait—minnows that are 2” to 3” long tend to attract the biggest Perch. Small Perch are more likely to feed on small insects.
We’ve already discussed using fluro leaders to help cloak your line. There are a few different methods of rigging your line to catch Perch, but one of the methods we’ve had the best luck (and the most fun) with is the classic jig.
Simply tie your leader to a tungsten jig head, then bait your hook with waxies, Perch eyeballs, or other small, innocuous bait. We highly recommend actively jigging—dead sticking is difficult with Perch, as you’ll need to find the right jigging cadence to attract bites, especially in the dead of winter.
We also love Perch pounder rigs—and it’s for these rigs that we recommend using 15 to 20 lb fluoro leader as your main line. You’ll use two hooks on your pounder rig, baited with large 2” to 3” minnows. These are great for midwinter, where Perch tend to congregate in deeper waters.
Finally, while we don’t love dead sticking as your main method, it’s a great way to attract Perch to your area. We recommend fishing from two or more holes; one with a deadstick, the other with a line you’re actively jigging. The deadstick should be baited with live bait.
Now you know how to ice fish for Perch! Best of luck out there this winter—we’re rooting for you.