The yellow perch is an especially good fish to write about for the winter issue of the M*A*Y Club, since winter is one of the best times to catch yellow perch.
Yellow perch, more commonly known simply as perch, are not native to Montana. They were introduced to the state from other parts of the country, where they were originally found. In Montana, the populations of perch have flourished, and they are now one of the most popular fish in the state. On some lakes and reservoirs in Montana, ice fishing for perch is very popular. On some weekend days during the winter there may be hundreds, or even thousands of people out fishing for perch and enjoying the outdoors with their family and friends.
Perch are popular fish even though they are sometimes not very large. Though perch do not get as big as some other fish in Montana, they are very numerous, and anglers can catch a lot of them. One of the best things about perch is that they are delicious to eat.
Perch are found across much of the state. Although they can sometimes be found in slow moving rivers and streams, it seems like lakes, ponds and reservoirs are where perch do best. They can tolerate a wide range of water temperatures, but seem to prefer cool clear water. Underwater plants, or "weeds", are important to perch as well. They spawn, or lay their eggs on the weeds, and also spend time in the weedy areas of the lake, hiding from larger predatory fish, or searching for aquatic insects and small fish that they can eat.
A great thing about perch is that once you locate them, they can be easy to catch. Just a plain hook, sinker and piece of worm is probably all you need. If it is legal where you are fishing, small minnows are also good bait. In the winter, a small flashy lure or glow hook tipped with a maggot is the bait of choice. Perch are usually found within a foot or two of the bottom, so begin fishing there. If you don't catch fish, begin to raise your bait a few feet at a time, fishing at each depth until you locate fish. Once you find them though, be ready for some fast action. Perch usually travel in schools, or groups. So when you catch one fish, it is likely that others are nearby.
It's easy to identify a perch too. With their orange and yellow tiger-striped pattern of colors, they are not easy to mistake for another species. Be careful when handling the fish however. Perch have a sharp row of spines in their dorsal, or back fin. Although they have teeth, perch teeth are quite small. You can feel the small rough teeth when you handle a perch.
We're lucky to have perch in Montana, since they are fun and usually easy to catch. For many of the schools involved in Hooked on Fishing, perch are especially important. Students catch perch while fishing open water, and especially through the ice. Perch are used to teach about fish anatomy in many classes, and best of all, perch are eaten by lots of hungry Montana kids!