Ice Winter Perch During Devils Lake’s Hard Water Season
Devils Lake Winter Perch
by Cody Roswick, Owner of Fin-Hunters Guide Service
The yellow perch (Perca flavescens), one of the Dakotas most abundant fish species, growing to table fare size, cooperative in winter months, and responsible for countless fish dinners. Dakotas are blessed with good numbers of yellow perch, liberal limits, and many large and small bodies of water that only receive measurable “winter” fishing pressure. It’s a tremendous natural resource and the boom is now.
I’m not a biologist, but I do know a few things about the yellow perch as a veteran perch angler and winter fishing guide. They are considered panfish and are prolific and have large hatches when optimal conditions exist. Perch grow to cleanable sizes of 9 to 15 inches with abundant food supplies, and are found in large schools. North and South Dakota are blessed with these resources and a very cooperative the Game and Fish Department that further facilitates the abundance of the yellow perch for several reasons.
They are a prey species for game fish such as walleye, northern pike, and bass. Perch provide excellent recreation, and thrive in the fertile, food-rich waters of the Dakotas. Especially Devils Lake. Perch have fairly short life expectancy of approximately 6 years in the Dakotas, relative to their cousins the walleye, which may be 20 years or more. This explains the reason why some lakes have an adult perch boom on occasion and larger lakes are more consistent. Mother Nature is complex, and there are many variables, but the fact is perch have a much shorter life span than larger game fish, and anglers can enjoy the good fishing and tasty fillets while they last.
The eastern half of the Dakotas is where these notable perch waters exist and the higher than average water table is to thank for more habitat and robust populations. Notable waters like Devils Lake in central North Dakota and Waubay Lake in NE South Dakota are predicting good perch populations for the winter of 2017/2018. With literally hundreds of small to medium size lakes to explore there is great winter perch fishing opportunity.
I spend time fishing perch all over the Dakotas, with the majority in the Devils Lake basin. Finding fish takes practice and time. Hiring a reputable fishing guide for a few days is a great option. When searching for winter perch in the Dakotas, weed lines, shallow flats, and brushy wood areas can be good early in the season. Sharp breaks, main lake basins, basin areas with changes in bottom substrate, and subtle secondary points hold perch and are consistently productive in mid to late season. It’s a process of drilling lots of holes, covering water, paying attention to details like water clarity, food sources, and time with your lure in the water. All these topics are worth more time and explanation, but today is just a brief overview.
Several items of equipment I recommend for a perch adventure that will keep you more efficient and make the most of your experience is sharp ice auger blades, good electronics, lures that sink fast, and a pliers within quick reach. Many times I start my day looking for an active school of perch. When found, it may only last for 15-20 minutes and a few fish. Then I need to make a move and drill more holes looking for signs of life.
This is where sharp ice auger blades and good electronics play an important role. We all know good equipment makes you more efficient and eager to work harder with less effort. Sharp blades make that difference. A sore back can shorten the effort. Good electronics that show the depth reading, presence of fish, and help you decipher the mood of the fish present. This helps determine whether to stay after them or continue the search for more active fish.
It is something you need to experience to better understand, but winter perch can be very lethargic and unwilling to move far to examine your offering. Certain times of day, weather changes, and numbers of competitive fish can all affect their willingness to bite.
Seeing this lethargic behavior on your electronics helps you determine the process of moving to another hole, another area, or coming back at a later time. Electronics are valuable tools to determine these things and I recommend you purchase what you can afford. The electronics today, help determine much more than depth.
Lastly, when you do find some active perch in water that’s deeper than 10 feet, I recommend a heavier lure like a 1/8oz spoon. Not too big, because we are talking about 3/4 oz. to 1.5 pound fish mainly. A heavier hydrodynamic lure gets your presentation down fast when the fish are active and competitive. Unhooking the fish fast, hence the pliers in your pocket and deploying your bait fast will keep the school of perch active and you will catch more fish this way.
My personal favorite is a 1/8 oz. Northland Tackle buckshot rattle spoon or a 1/16 oz. tungsten jig with bait. Perch are not too fussy about the tackle when they are active, but at times, one particular shape, size, color, and dressing can catch them all. They are curious creatures and keeping them competitive for your lure is really fun and a challenge at times.
The days when perch chew anything that swims are fairly rare, but cherished when it happens.
Give the effort to be more efficient, maximize your time, and don’t worry about the wrong things while chasing Devils Lake perch. Be safe and take the time to learn new water, new areas, new techniques, and don’t be afraid to explore the unexplored. Use these tips to make your perch fishing more efficient and enjoy the tremendous resource we share for winter perch fishing. Have a great winter ice fishing season. •
Cody Roswick owns and operates Fin Hunter’s Guide Service and specializes in Central, North Dakota, Devils Lake and Northeast, South Dakota. You can contact Cody Roswick at (701) 840-5407 or visit him on Facebook.