it’ll be rotten out there. Not rancid like spoiled produce, but soft
and dark nonetheless. I’m talking about the ice. It’s thick and
resolute now, but it won’t last forever, actually, scarcely longer
than a few weeks, less in some areas.
Fortunately, though, ice fishing’s swan song is a cheery tune; one
fraught with foraging fish and wonderful weather. And lead vocals
are belted out by my favorites, jumbo perch.
Now I really hate being a killjoy, especially in an upbeat
discussion about perching, but it’s necessary to first underscore
ice safety. Folks do some pretty stupid stuff at winter’s end. They
drive through open water along the shore to reach the ice, only to
find the watery rift too wide to cross at day’s end. They’re
stranded. Others wheel and deal across decomposing ice, paying
little or no heed to significant and enlarging fissures, ones
spacious enough to capture a tire, too, maybe the whole enchilada.
Once March rolls around, I park the rig at the landing and walk, ice
permitting, perhaps four-wheel or sled. Basically, I treat last ice
like first ice, but with an understanding that aged ice can’t be
“read” like a fresh coat. Rather than developing, late ice is
deteriorating, decaying on the inside as it absorbs surface melt.
Visibly speaking, the blacker it appears the weaker it is, too.
As reassurance, I wear a lifejacket, carry hand picks, and fish with
a partner, despite the fact that I trust my ability to decipher ice
conditions. Ramifications are too grave to rely on speculation
Enough preaching, though; let’s move onto the where’s, how’s, and
what’s. Basically, the month of March can be cleaved into two parts:
Early March and Late March. During Early March – the first week or
two – perch remain engaged in midwinter patterns. They’re not
exceedingly aggressive, either, preferring smaller baits and subtler
jigging motions. They reside on offshore humps with sharp breaks, as
well as deep flats.
But all that’s about to change…
Long about the time you tire of fishing deep and offshore, the perch
wear out their welcome too. So they move up. At first, this push
shoreward predicates on a change in dinner plans. Shoreline zones
begin to bustle with aquatic life, chiefly baitfish and insects.
Later, as the ice recedes, perch stay in tight, but their
concentration then divides between eating and mating.
Perch set their sights on specific areas during the migration too.
Cattail lined shorelines and deeper sloughs are a couple of the
chosen areas. Banks of emergent cattails mark the whereabouts of
soft substrates that are home to edibles. It’s usual for anglers to
ignore said areas, too, because muck is seldom linked to perch. But
during late ice, perch will wallow in the mud if they’re well fed.
Stands of bulrushes have similar powers; they too teem with
foodstuffs. Typically, though, rushes sprout over sand and gravel
areas, which are preferred by perch anyway. Deeper rushes are
superior too, so search for stems stabbing skyward in 4 to 6 feet of
While discussing vegetation, one can’t neglect cabbage beds, either.
Even fields of withered cabbage attract perch. Aquatic insects still
writhe in mats of browned salad. Deeper beds – 10 to 18 feet – tend
to harbor more perch as well.
Humps, bars, and points that adjoin spawning areas also hold fish.
Generally, I look for such structures in depths of 6 to 20 feet that
feature level feeding areas on top and distinct breaks along their
A change in behavior accompanies this passage to shoreline tracts
too. Perch become cranky, aggressive, and take these frustrations
out on the forage base. They not only consume in volumes, but choose
bigger targets as well.
In response, I wield fairly large lures, ¼ ouncers. My preferred
offering is a Scenic Tackle Glow Devil in either Firetiger (perch),
orange/chartreuse, or glow pink. JB Lures’ Varmint Spoon and
Northland Tackle’s Forage Minnow Spoon are laudable alternatives.
Jigging a spoon is an “in your face” approach. The lure falls fast,
reaching the strike zone right now. In a hot hole, you’ll actually
see – via a Vexilar – red missiles rising off the bottom to
intercept the lure. But if nothing attacks on the initial drop, I
let the spoon smack the bottom, then raise it a foot, and commence
jigging with steady 6 inch motions. In these times where something’s
going somewhere, though, I won’t burn more than a couple minutes in
a cool hole.
Oppositely, if the action’s blistering, I rig a secondary setline
for bruisers-only. Suspended by a float, this supporting apparatus
features a Scenic Tackle Fatso Jig and walleye-sized fathead or
rainbow chub. It’s not unusual for the chunkiest perch of the day to
come on the setline, either.
Late mornings still yield the best bite too. That’s a universal
certainty, no matter the season or region. And during March, warming
sunshine seems to really rouse spirits. It’s tough to think about
work on a balmy and sunlit March day.
During late ice, schools of perch can be quite voluminous too. So
even if you tap into a swarm of puny fish, don’t fret, because
legitimate jumbos might be only 40 or 50 paces away. And put a
governor on that bucket, because there’s no shame in releasing jumbo