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Fishing for Keepers on Michigan’s Crystal Lake

Most times you have to catch a bunch of Crystal Lake perch in order to get a few keepers, like this one, says Jerry Rakoczy.

Most times you have to catch a bunch of Crystal Lake perch in order to get a few keepers, like this one, says Jerry Rakoczy.

The first perch we brought into the boat was a keeper but the next two were little squirts. Then Jerry Rakoczy set the hook on a fish and pronounced that this was a good one, “if it’s a perch.”

Well, it wasn’t. It was a rock bass. And Rakoczy wasn’t particularly pleased about that development.

Rakoczy is a lot like many Michigan anglers when it comes to rock bass. No respect. No respect at all.

We fished along a while, caught another small perch or two, and another rock bass. Rakoczy pronounced it was time to move.

“When you start catching rock bass you’ve got to get out of there,” he said. “Usually you have move deeper.”

That’s what we did.

Rock bass, like this Crystal Lake specimen, don’t get a lot of respect from anglers.

A retired Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist, Rakoczy is an old fishing buddy with whom I’d lost track. Until I met up with him here recently for this perch-jerkin’ safari on Crystal Lake, I hadn’t fished with Rakoczy since he retired from his job of running the DNR’s creel census program a decade ago.

Rakoczy’s a snowbird now and an early migratory one at that, leaving the Great White North well before the weather gets foul and returning in May. We used to fish late in the year – whitefish on Grand Traverse Bay, through the ice for walleye, etc. – but if I were ever to fish with him in the late season now, it would have to be for snapper off the Florida Keys, where he hangs his hat late fall, winter, and early spring.

We moved off into deeper water, from about 24 feet of water out to about 30. Rakoczy idled along, his eyes glued to the sonar unit until he found a school of baitfish. Then he cut the engine, we dropped our baits to the bottom, and we drift fished. When we caught a perch – and it was a good one – he lowered the anchor.

We stayed with them for a bit, tossing one out of every four or five we caught into the live well, until the bite slowed. Then we were on the move again.

The perch fishing was pretty typical for Crystal Lake, Rakoczy said.

“This has always kind have been a catch-and-sort lake,” he said. “Once in awhile you’ll get on a school of perch that are all keepers, but that doesn’t usually happen until late fall. I remember once in November, I got a school of perch and we stayed on them for an hour and half and they were all keepers.

“But I’m not around here anymore.”

We were both fishing with spinning gear spooled up with Fireline. Rakoczy fashions a fluorocarbon leader – about six feet in length — with a pair of hooks above a sinker. It’s a pretty standard arrangement: one hook a few inches above the sinker, the other about a foot above that.

Rakoczy gave me one of his leaders to use. I tied it to the main line using a surgeon’s knot, which is really just a double overhand knot and a heckuva sight easier to tie than a blood knot or Bimini twist. I’m told it’s stronger than the former, but not as strong as the latter, but we were fishing for perch. How strong does it really need to be?

(I suppose you could use a swivel and eliminate the question about knot strength entirely, except I didn’t have one and Rakoczy doesn’t use them.)

Rakoczy found what he was looking for, this time a little shallower, and we commenced to catching and sorting. Then the rockies started again.

This time, however, I tossed one of the better ones into the live well, just to find out what this anti-rock bass prejudice is all about.

Jerry Rakoczy tosses back an undersized perch.

It’s fairly widespread, though I do know a handful of guys who say they are every bit as good in the frying pan as other sunfish. One of my brothers-in-law, for instance, tells me they are half way between bluegills (which everyone loves) and crappie (which are good, but have a little bit less of a reputation as table fare).

At any rate, we fished, moved around, sorted perch, caught and released a handful of smallmouth bass, and I put a half-dozen rock bass into the live well.

After about four hours, as the fishing slowed, we called it. We kept about two dozen perch. But when we cleaned the fish, the half-dozen rock bass yielded as much fish flesh as a dozen perch. You’d have thought it would have been more – judging by the fish in the round – but the rock bass, I noticed, had big heads and big rib cages. The filet-to-fish ratio was smaller than other pan fish.

It was great to catch up with an old bud – and catch a bucket of fish —in the process. Rakoczy invited me to come snapper fishing with him this winter. Definitely worth considering, eh?

As for the rock bass, I baked them for dinner the next evening. They were excellent.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

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

Images courtesy Bob Gwizdz

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