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Hooks & Antlers column: Perch provide golden days of late ice-fishing season

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Unlike some hunting seasons when wary game seems to disappear from the woods near season’s end, late-season ice fishing means an increase in yellow perch numbers in ice-covered bays, making this one of the best times of the year to pursue panfish “gold.”

Not only are perch numbers high at late ice, but the fish are also feeding aggressively, and this combination translates to fishing fun for anglers.

In addition to the fun of catching fish is the reward of delicious fillets at day’s end. Late ice means also warmer temperatures, a real plus when bare hands are required for adjusting rigs and unhooking fish.

Locating Perch

In late winter, yellow perch school in large bays and near tributary mouths where they will move to the shallows to spawn shortly after ice-out. Such locations are traditional spots and well-known by local anglers, and these spots are easily identified by concentrations of ice anglers in March.

Since perch are roamers, they are on the move in any given location during the day so anglers should be on the move in search of their quarry.

Locations worth checking out are shallow flats, drop-offs, and deep water adjacent to the flat.

The best flats and edges will have weeds present or changes in bottom composition, and deep flats are significantly better bets than shallow ones.

Yellow perch are a bottom-oriented species, but the most active fish are often a few feet off the bottom.

Strategies

A traditional perch-fishing strategy sees the angler drilling a large number of holes in a given area. As the angler does on any ice fishing outing, he does not drill these holes blindly. He drills with a plan. Then he jigs the first hole for several minutes.

If there is no perch action, he moves to the next hole. After trying all of the holes, he re-works the productive ones. If fishing is too slow, the angler moves to a new area, and begins the process of drilling a new set of holes.

The modern pan-fisherman typically drills a pair of holes, opens up his one-person shelter, and jigs both holes. When the action slows, he picks up shop and repeats the process.

During the outing, the angler returns to those areas and holes that were productive earlier. Sonar units and underwater cameras have become fundamental equipment for serious pan-fishermen. Such anglers develop skills in locating fish, identifying their feeding preferences and getting the fish to bite.

Rigging

The most basic rig consists of a bell sinker on the bottom with a pair of baited hooks above. Such rigs offer the advantages of finding bottom quickly and of offering two different baits. This rig works best when perch are feeding aggressively.

A better bet for non-aggressive fish is to place split shot above the baited hooks, but then it takes a bit more angler effort to position the baits near bottom.

Another popular rigging includes a tiny jig or spoon suspended below a bobber. This technique works well in shallow water, and offers the opportunity to tip the jig or spoon with a live minnow, live grubs, or plastic tail, and bobber movement offers visual contact with feeding fish.

Unless some type of slip bobber is used, the angler must bring the line in hand over hand in deep-water conditions.

The most popular rigging consists of only the artificial lure at line’s end, but that lure must have enough weight to settle the offering near bottom. Smaller jigs and spoons work fine in shallow water, but heavier lures like the Swedish Pimple work best in deeper water.

For the most part, tipped jigs and spoons will out-produce non-tipped ones. A strike indicator at rod’s end is also a good idea for detecting delicate bites.

Safety

Finally, be sure to put safety first as late winter, despite the improved perch fishing, is a time of deteriorating ice, especially near shorelines and around any objects on or just under the ice.

Outdoors Calendar

Tuesday: Federated Sportsmen’s Clubs of SLC meet at Canton BOCES at 7 p.m.

Saturday: Parishville Sportsman Club’s 29th annual Rabbit Hunt (265-2922).

Saturday: Northern pike and walleye seasons close until the first Saturday in May.

Saturday: Ice shanties must be removed from New York state waters.

Sunday: Seasons close in Northern Zone for cottontail rabbits and varying hares.

March 28-30: Great Outdoor Expo at YMCA Fairgrounds Fitness Center.

March 30: Coyote season closes in NYS.

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