How To

Fishing for Late Summer Lake Michigan Perch

Samantha Rudlaff displays a pair of dandy Lake Michigan perch caught fishing with her father Elmer.

Samantha Rudlaff displays a pair of dandy Lake Michigan perch caught fishing with her father Elmer.

Several theories exist as to why the perch fishing out of South Haven, Michigan is only starting to get good, when traditionally it’s great all summer.

One theory blames the early warm-up of the lake this spring, causing spiny water fleas, an exotic invader, to proliferate and perch to find them easy pickings. Full of these teeny critters, the perch were in their usual hotspots, but mostly spurned anglers’ favored baits. Another says the water was so warm the perch stayed deeper all summer to stay cool.

Whatever the reason, anglers and guys who sell bait agree that it’s better late than never. Limits of perch 10-inches and better started coming into the quaint port town a little more than a week ago, and fishing keeps getting better as the word gets out.

“Perch fishing is really good right now,” says Adam Pyle, who, with wife Cathy, runs Pyle’s Porthole at South Haven. He said this week, the hot spot was in 20 to 30 feet in the areas locally known as “The Dunes” and “Deerlick,” both within a few miles south of where the Black River empties into Lake Michigan.

Minnows and wigglers fished near bottom on two- and three-dropper-hook rigs with a bell sinker at the end of the line have been the ticket. Simply lower the rig straight down, keeping the weight in contact with the bottom. When the fish are really active, some anglers hook a perch but don’t reel it in right away, letting it swim around trailing the other two baits, provoking other fish to hit them. Reeling in three big perch at once is fun and a good way to get to the 35-fish limit in a hurry.

Different anglers prefer different types of rigs and hooks. Many believe light, 4-, 6- and 8-pound leaders of fluorocarbon promote more bites as perch can be line-shy. Some anglers prefer small No. 8 hooks; others believe hooks as large as No. 4 are better because bigger hooks are easier to remove from fish and can keep smaller fish off the line. Non-stretch braided line for the main line works great for feeling subtle bites, and long, limber rods allow the perch to take the bait without feeling resistance. Keep a net handy for scooping big ones, as many won’t be hooked deeply and can fall off when swinging them aboard.

Finding fish is not difficult, especially with a good sonar unit. The typical strategy is to move slowly while watching the sonar to find a school, which typically appears as a bullet-shaped hump with its base on the bottom, and rising to a point five or more feet above. Savvy anglers toss a marker buoy when they spot the school, and then idle to where they can anchor and let the wind or current move the boat back over the school. Hi tech electric trolling motors such as the Minn Kota iPilot interface to a GPS to enable hands-free hovering over a spot without anchoring—a real plus.

Perch can congregate tightly in relatively small areas, so most perchers are accustomed to fishing close to other boats. For everyone to get along, common-sense etiquette is the rule. Newcomers approaching a pack of boats should do so slowly and as quietly as possible, and not get too close before dropping anchor. In fact, to really get along with boats fishing in a pack, it’s best to cut power well upwind of the flotilla, letting the wind push the boat close and quietly setting the anchor where there’s no chance of swinging your boat close to another boat or over the other boat’s anchor line. Once in the group, be a good neighbor, which means no loud music, no fish alarms on the sonar and generally following the Golden Rule. Although some anglers believe firing up the boat motor can stimulate fish to bite, other anglers in a group that don’t believe this definitely will get annoyed if you try.

Pyle noted that with a little searching, you can avoid the tight group altogether—just find another school nearby, and you’ll likely have it to yourself—until anglers in the pack see you catching fish and come over to join you.

For current fishing reports, call Pyle’s Porthole at 269-637-6720 or check out their website at www.pylesporthole.com. South Haven also has several charter services that will take parties perch fishing. One is Perch On This Charters, 269-720-8730, www.headhunterguides.com. Another is South Haven Fishing Charters, 269-208-3545; www.southhavenfishingcharters.com.

For more information on Michigan fishing go to michigan.org.

Image courtesy Dave Mull/the Rudlaffs

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