The yellow perch (Perca flavescens) is a common fish found across much of the United States and Canada. A member of the perch and darter family, this little fish is probably most known for its taste. It is one of the most delicious fish you can find. Although yellow perch are fairly small they can put up a challenge for anglers at times.
Yellow perch are an important food fish for larger species. But they also prey on small species of fish. Yellow perch are predators but they’re also hunted by other predators that are a bit larger. So they play a sort of intermediate role in the food chain. Of course they also make delicious food for people.
This yellow perch was caught through the ice in Pennsylvania
I’ve caught yellow perch all across the United States, from Pennsylvania to Montana. I usually target them when ice fishing. They can be a lot of fun to locate and entice through the ice. In the open water season they are usually an incidental catch for me. Though I never mind hooking into a yellow perch no matter the situation. They’re probably my favorite fish to eat. If you’ve tasted yellow perch before, then you’ll know why.
Yellow perch are often described as a sort of frail fish. A guy I know even claimed that a perch he caught died on the hook before he could reel it in! While smaller perch can be somewhat delicate in hot weather, I think their
How to find and identify the yellow perch
As the name would suggest, yellow perch have a mostly yellow body. They have darker vertical bars along their sides with yellow or orange fins. With an elongated shape and sharp dorsal fins, yellow perch look like a smaller and more colorful version of their cousin the walleye. The average yellow perch is between four and ten inches. A fish over seven inches is decent. A fish over nine inches is nice. The 4 pound 3 ounce world record yellow perch was caught way back in 1865. These days a fish over two pounds is big enough to make news.
The native range of the yellow perch stretches from North Dakota to the east coast of North America. The Ohio River marks the southern end of the native yellow perch range over to Pennsylvania. Along the Atlantic Coast, native yellow perch can be found all the way down to South Carolina. Of course yellow perch have also been introduced elsewhere. So introduced populations can be found in parts of every US state with the exceptions of Hawaii and Louisiana. Some of the introduced yellow perch run on the large side. Big yellow perch are caught in western states like Idaho fairly often.
The yellow perch range map created by the USGS is not entirely accurate. That map excludes southwestern Pennsylvania from supposed range of this fish. But I have caught enough yellow perch in the area over the last four decades to know that they can definitely be found in that part of the world. The Warmwater Coolwater Fisheries map on the PA Fish and Boat Commission website even lists some waters in the southwest of the state as prime perch fisheries.
Since yellow perch have been introduced all over the country and can pop up where reports say they don’t exist, you have a pretty good chance of encountering them. But if you want to target yellow perch specifically your best bet is to fish places where they are known to exist. You’ll also want to look for waters where the yellow perch commonly grow over 8 or 9 inches. That way you won’t be stuck catching nothing but small fish.
How to catch the yellow perch
The most difficult part about catching yellow perch is usually just locating them. The fish typically swim in schools. They’re also eager eaters. So once you locate a school of yellow perch you shouldn’t have a lot of trouble catching them. That is assuming you have the right tackle for the job.
Perch seem to prefer cooler and clearer water. But I have always found enough of them in murky ponds and muddy rivers to know that they can live in variety of environments. So while I have caught plenty of perch at clear lakes like Highpoint in Pennsylvania, I have also caught them in the muddy waters of the Monongahela River after a heavy rain.
Perch travel in groups and tend to orient towards hard structure like sand bars and drop offs. Look for places where the bottom varies or areas where perch can ambush smaller prey fish. During the daylight hours, schools of yellow perch scour around for food. That could be anything from small baitfish to aquatic insects. As evening approaches they often move in closer to shore. They seem to be mostly visual feeders as they don’t bite much at night. This is even true when ice fishing.
This yellow perch took a gold tungsten jig tipped with a wax worm
Since yellow perch are relatively small fish, you want to use ultralight to light tackle. Monofilament line in the 1 to 4 pound range is fine. You can scale down to small jigs in the 1/100 to 1/80 ounce range for a light bite. When the fish are more aggressive you can catch them on larger lures like Rapalas. Just cater your presentation to the environment you are fishing.
In the open water I’ve caught a lot of perch on the Blue Fox Flash Spinner. It looks like a small fish, so that makes sense. Through the ice I usually catch yellow perch on gold tungsten jigs like the K&E Pelkie and lures like the Slender Spoon. Tipping the hook with maggots always leads to more hookups and fish. Minnows work well too. Especially on a tip-up.
One thing to note is that perch often travel in schools with fish of the same size that were born in the same year. So if you start catching a bunch of dinks you are probably into a school of small perch. Those may be the only perch in the place you are fishing. Or they may just be a school of smaller perch. So it can pay to look for a school of larger fish if you think there could be some around.
Lures that look like yellow perch
As I mentioned earlier, yellow perch are an important food fish for a lot of other species. Smaller perch are eaten by everything from other perch to big northern pike and muskies. Perch also look like a lot of other smaller bait fish including their cousins the darters. So there are lots of lures made to look like perch and other species such as logperch that have similar colors and markings.
The popular “firetiger” color that is used on a lot of fishing lures is basically just a neon version of the yellow perch pattern. The reason you see this pattern on so many different lures is that it works. I think that is mostly due to the resemblance to yellow perch, though the contrast could also have a lot to do with it.
This Original Floating Rapala looks a lot like a yellow perch
The most famous perch looking lure is probably the Original Floating Rapala in perch color. This is also one of the most effective fishing lures ever made. I’ve caught fish on this lure in this color all over the world. It works in a wide variety of situations and on a wide variety of species.
Other effective lures that look like yellow perch include the Strike King KVD Square Bill crankbait, the Johnson Thinfisher Blade Bait, and the Lindy Glow Spoon in perch color. The Savage Gear 4D Line-Thru Perch looks like a real perch in every way. But to be honest I haven’t fished with that lure so I couldn’t tell you whether or not it works.
This list of lures isn’t even nearly complete. There are countless lures out there with a perch paint job. That only makes sense since perch are so widespread across North America. Of course the colors of a lure are just one aspect. Other things like action and vibration can also determine whether or not a lure will work in a given situation. But if you’re fishing a place where perch swim, you may want to try out a lure that looks like a yellow perch. It has a good chance at catching fish.