Every year, I hear anglers up and down the shores of Lake Michigan saying “there’s no perch around!” In reality, they are. Is the population the same as 20 years ago? No, it is not. But there are still plenty of perch to be had when the conditions are right. While shore fishing, I pay attention to what other anglers are using and how many perch are on their stringers. When I hear someone start with the “there’s no perch.” I look at what they are using and nine times out of ten, they are using a piece of crab tail or a crappie minnow under a bobber. There is nothing wrong with this presentation, but what has worked for the last 40 years isn’t as effective as it once was due to the forage base changing from a crayfish to alewives and gobies. With new tackle on the market it allows us as anglers to come very close to “matching the hatch.”
Once the perch season opens in Wisconsin (June 15th), and while the water is still cold, my starting lineup consists of small white crappie tubes on small jigs and 1/12 oz. and 1/8 oz. Kastmaster Spoons. I’ll use one rod with a slip bobber and a small fathead minnow rigged with a size 10 Gamakatsu hook, along with one or two BB split shots at least one foot above the hook. With the water being colder, lower is better. When jigging the crappie tubes and Kastmasters, I like to drag them slowly along the bottom and give a slight twitch during my retrieve. My rod of choice for this presentation is a 13 Fishing Muse Black. The soft tip allows me to see the slightest hit and the sensitive rod blank allows me to feel each bump of the bottom.
When the water starts warming up and more alewives start moving closer to shore, I like to size up and speed up my presentation. One rod will have a size 4 Berkley Flicker Shad, the next will have a size 5 Flicker Shad and my third rod will be set up to use shiners. Very seldom do I have to resort to using minnows because ripping Flicker Shads will catch more and bigger perch. When I say ripping, I mean leaving slack in my line and snapping my wrist two or three times, then pausing. This technique will cause the Flicker Shad to dart off to the side almost like you are “walking the dog,” but underwater.
On the oddball day where I cannot move a perch with the Flicker Shad, I will run back to the bait shop and get a dozen medium shiners, tie a “bottle rig” and let that medium shiner sit six inches to one foot off the bottom. What’s a “bottle rig?” It’s very simple, I use a size 8 Gamakastu hook connected to a 1 foot piece of 6lb Berkley 100% Fluorocarbon line, which is then connected to a barrel swivel. Before I tie my mainline into the barrel swivel, I will thread on a 1/4 oz to 1/2 oz egg or slip sinker. Then I’ll use a small BB split shot sinker as a stopper for the egg sinker so I know exactly how far off bottom the shiner is. Now here is where the bottle comes into play – lay your rod on the ground and open the bail. Take your line off the bale and place it around the bottle. The reason for this is once the shiner gets hit and the perch starts swimming away, it will pull the line tight and knock over the bottle and can take line without taking your rod with it. This is a very common technique with shore fishermen targeting trout and salmon.
When all is said and done, it comes down to you as an angler to keep changing up your presentation until you find out what the perch want. I can’t tell you how many times I will throw four different color Flicker Shads, then two different color Kastmasters before I get the first perch to fire.