BREAST BAY, Lake Erie -Every sportsman dreams of catching a mess of nice perch. Whether it’s through the ice, off shore, under a bobber, or from a boat, a pile of perch tickles something primal from the deepest recesses of every outdoorsman’s mind. Catching, cleaning, and preparing a meal of fresh, beautiful perch is not only delicious, but satisfying because of the participation involved. After all, the mother’s milk of hunting and fishing is bringing home fish or game to feed the family.
Perch aren’t ferocious fighters or finicky eaters. Generally speaking, the hardest part about finding good-sized perch, is finding good-sized perch. They’re here today and gone tomorrow. Consistently locating schools of big perch is a little like finding your five-year-old child on a sprawling playground the size of a Great Lake.
Enter the internet and the sportsman’s forums. More than a few fishermen posted “limit catches” of perch in the western basin on Lake Erie. Based on those reports, I took a couple days off work to see if the reports were true. By the time my pals and I had driven from Mt. Pleasant to Monroe, we were anxious to see if the reports were true. There’s nothing worse than hearing the old sob story of “you should have been here yesterday.”
At the bait shop, the man behind the counter stoked our anticipation. “You really don’t have to go all that far in order to get into the fish,” he said. “You’ll see a bunch of boats out there. Just get in amongst the pack and you’ll be fine.”
No truer words have ever been spoken. At dawn, we launched the boat, motored off shore and found the flotilla of boats bobbing gently in the morning breeze.
My companion, John Slack, from Mt. Pleasant said there were fish on the electronic fish finder. Over went the anchor, and down went a pair of minnows skewered to my hooks.
And that’s when the fun started. As soon as the weight on the end of my line hit the bottom of Lake Erie, a perch was banging on my minnow. Swiftly up went the ultralight rod, bent as if it was attached to a small brick. A few cranks on the reel, and aboard came a girthy perch that must have been nine inches long. It was joined by another, and two more that were caught at the same time. It was great fun and not uncommon for Lake Erie.
In a little more than an hour I had my limit of perch that were all about the same size: 9 inches. They weren’t giant perch but they were the perfect eating size. The biggest perch we caught was 11 inches, but the best part was that we only had to throw back maybe four or five the whole time we were fishing.
“The 2014 and 2015 year classes for perch production was terrific,” said Cleyo Harris a fisheries biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in Waterford. “We think those fish are making up the bulk of the catches in Lake Erie,” he said.
In the fall of the year, biologists with the DNR use trawling nets to determine the reproductive success of certain gamefish. Young-of-the-year fish are counted and compared to other years. Harris said that ’14 and ’15 perch numbers were better than almost 90 percent of other year classes.
The limit for perch on Lake Erie is 50 per day. “The only time you really can catch 50 is when the fishing is phenomenal,” Harris said, “and this fall has proven to be just that.”
I can’t imagine how it could get any better.
TIPS: When fishing Breast Bay, be sure to take along electronics that will help show where the border is between Ohio and Michigan waters. The perch limit in Ohio waters is 30 per day, while it’s 50 in Michigan.
If you’re at the bait shop and given the choice between fathead minnows or emerald shiners, go with the fatheads. They’re heartier than the shiners, stay on the hook better and perch must have thought they were delicious.
Harris said that the perch fishing should remain superb through the month of October and November, weather permitting.
Chris Zimmerman is the author of six Michigan based novels and an independent insurance agent in Shepherd Michigan. Visit Chris Zimmerman Insurance.