July 6, 2022

Perch Lessons Learned on Lake Erie

I sat down recently to talk perch fishing with John Nekoloff, the former owner and operator of the Edward John perch fishing head boat, operating in Lake Erie from Presque Isle Bay in Erie, Pennsylvania. John moved to Erie after a 20-year Coast Guard career. When an opportunity arose to purchase the Edward John, he went into the perch fishing charter business with his family. After ten years, John sold the business and now shares insights that can help Great Lakes perch fisherman, regardless of experience level.

What years did you operate your perch charter?
I purchased the boat in the fall of 2006 and began charters in 2007 until 2016.

What was the average number of perch caught in a season?
An average year was 40,000 to 50,000 perch. Our best year we counted 92,000 perch! Under perfect weather conditions we could operate 130 days in the season, but of course, we lose trips to the weather. In a good season we will lose 30 dates, in a bad year 60 or more days are lost because of weather.

Does moon phase affect perch fishing?
Definitely. We found, time and again, that three days before and after a full moon, the perch bite was slow. During this time, the evening trips were more productive than morning.

What about lake conditions – waves and wind direction?
Everything you’ve heard about east wind is true. Fishing is really tough with an east wind. Southwest to westerly winds are golden. Fishing is also tough when there is no wind – when the lake is like glass, pretty as that is. A little chop is best, but we’ve also had success when it’s pretty bumpy.

Were your morning or evening trips more productive?
Other than full moons when evenings were better, there wasn’t much difference.

Pimple SpoonWhat was the best bait?
In this order: emerald shiners, salted minnows, goldens and fat heads.

Were artificial baits successful?
Yes, jigging large Swedish Pimples and Kastmasters have worked well.

Being a lifelong Erie fisherman, I never heard of sabiki rigs til fishing on your boat. What is the background of this perch rig?
One of our customers was using sabiki rigs on board with great success. He had been introduced to this rig for perch fishing at Lake Simcoe, Ontario None were available locally so we ordered some online from Florida where they use them mostly to catch threadfin herring to use as bait for tarpon fishing. We started offering them for sale on the boat. Due to demand, a local bait stand began stocking them and now they are available in just about every bait stand and fishing store in the area. We fish them tipped with a live or salted minnow.

Just about every species of Great Lakes fish has been caught on your boat – tell us about the sturgeon!
It was just a typical fishing day, June 24, 2009, when a patron hooked a large fish – obviously not a perch. We usually think a large sheepshead or maybe a channel cat or burbot in such a case, but we all couldn’t believe our eyes when a sturgeon was at the end of the line. The fish was 37-inches long!

How did you use electronics?
Because perch schooling and migrations are hard to predict, electronics are invaluable. We may have had a great morning fishing, but the perch schools are gone from the area by the evening trip. So we would target a certain waypoint and if the fish didn’t show on the screen we would do circles or zigzag in the area to try to find them. The perch aren’t always on the bottom. Sometimes fish were suspended and electronics helped us make that determination.

What separates the fisherman who regularly limit out first from the neophyte?
Of course there is no substitute for experience, proper equipment is essential, and when the bite is light, you really have to concentrate. It’s a combination of watching your rod tip, developing a feel for the bite, and intuition.

Speaking of equipment, what is the ideal outfit for perch fishing on Lake Erie?
I’ve seen a wide variety of equipment used – from baitcasting outfits to ice-fishing rods!

Ideally, choose a six-foot spinning rod with a light to medium/light action. You want a sensitive tip but enough backbone to set the hook if you’re fishing deep water with a heavy sinker. Any matching reputable spinning reel will do.

I consider braided line a must. It doesn’t stretch so hooksets are solid and it’s both strong and sensitive, transmitting the lightest of bites. My personal preference is Berkley Fireline Crystal, but there are many good braided lines on the market. I like to go as light as possible, six or even four-pound test.

Have a variety of sinkers, three-quarters and one-ounce sinkers will cover most depth and current conditions. And if you haven’t already, try sabiki rigs. Other spreader type rigs can certainly work. The rigs with all the “bling” – tubes and beads did not seem to be as productive as simpler and cleaner rigs.

I hope this helps. Good luck perch fishing!

John Scherrer

Erie, PA John is a freelance writer and a life-long Erie resident who has fished across North America. Fly fishing, light spinning tackle, and ice fishing are his preferred methods to fish his home waters of Lake Erie.

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