Ice Fishing for Yellow Perch, Pro Tips

Ice Fishing for Yellow Perch

This article will focus on ice fishing for yellow perch. Yellow perch are one of the most popular species sought by anglers fishing through the ice, and for good reason! They are a beautiful fish with vibrant colors. Yellow perch are fairly plentiful in most northern waters. Compared to most species, they are more aggressive and easier to catch. Yellow perch put up a spirited battle. Finally, and perhaps most important, they are fantastic eating!

ice fishing for yellow perch

Anglers ice fishing for yellow perch need to be ready to do two things; drill a lot of holes and move around. Perch congregate in large schools in winter. Anglers who locate them may experience fast action. However, this means that there is a lot of water where the fish are not! Dedicated anglers will put in the time and effort to locate and catch them.

Anglers who would like to read more about ice fishing can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “A Complete Guide to Ice Fishing” by clicking on the title link.

Special thanks to Scott Mackner for help with this article! Scott was born and raised in central Minnesota and still lives in his home town. He grew up fishing, hunting, and trapping and loves everything outdoors. Scott has an excellent YouTube channel with a bunch of helpful videos. He is sponsored by Tuned Up Custom Rods.

Yellow perch are fairly aggressive and adapt well in the cold water. They can be caught on most of the traditional ice fishing lures as well as live baits. The large schools result in some competition between the fish. Often times, anglers can get them excited and into a bit of a feeding frenzy. When the bite gets going, anglers rotate in to keep a bait in the fish.

Ice fishing for yellow perch; tackle and equipment

Anglers ice fishing for yellow perch can use their standard light spinning tackle. While many use 2 lb test for ice fishing for panfish, it is fine to bump it up a bit when chasing yellow perch. 4 lb line will be fine in most situations. Tip ups can be utilized, however most anglers prefer to catch them on a rod and reel. Several manufacturers make monofilament and fluorocarbon line specifically designed for ice fishing. Fluorocarbon lines are bit more expensive, but many anglers find them worth the cost.

ice fishing for yellow perch

Anglers can read more about ice fishing tackle and gear in this article.

Anglers can use braided line as well. Braided line does not stretch and is very sensitive. Ten pound test is a good size to use for yellow perch and other panfish. However, with braided line a leader is required. Anglers will tie a swivel or snap swivel to the end of the braid. Then, they will attach a 3 foot long fluorocarbon leader that test between 4 pound and 6 pounds. The swivel can have the added benefit of reducing line twist.

Anglers can shop Amazon for  ice fishing rod and reel combos

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A basic selection of jigs and spoons will get most anglers ice fishing for yellow perch started. The same panfish lures, perhaps one size larger, will do fine for perch. Live bait hooks in size #8 and size #6, split shot, and a few small floats will complete the perch anglers tackle box.

Other pieces of equipment obviously include augers, shelters, a sled, scoops, pliers, and a Thermos of coffee or soup. One piece of equipment that will really increase success for anglers ice fishing for yellow perch is a portable sonar unit, or fish finder. Yellow perch school up, locating them is the most important aspect. A sonar unit will save anglers countless hours of fishing unproductive waters.

ice fish finder

Click to shop Amazon for an ice fishing fish finder

Yellow perch migrations

As with other species, at first ice anglers will find yellow perch fairly shallow. Submerged weed beds, mud flats that slowly taper off, weed line edges, points, and reefs are all good spots to try. These structures and cover in 10′ to 15′ of water will usually be productive early in the ice fishing season. ANGLERS MUST PUT SAFETY FIRST! It is never worth taking a risk on unsafe ice just to catch fish.

As it gets colder, smaller yellow perch will still be found in the shallower water. However, larger fish will for the most part move out deeper. Channel edges, deeper mud flats, deep points, and submerged rocks and reefs are prime spots to try. Anglers ice fishing for yellow perch in rivers will do best finding deeper tributaries with less current.

ice fishing for yellpow perch

As spring approaches, the pattern reverses itself. Yellow perch spawn in spring. They will move shallow and especially seek tributary creeks. Flats, points, weed beds, and reefs in 10′ of water just off shore of the creek mouths are prime spots for late season perch. Once again, anglers need to put safety first and not fish unsafe ice.

Locating yellow perch

Once out on the lake, anglers ice fishing for yellow perch will need to decide where to drill the holes. The stage of the ice fishing season will pretty much determine where and how deep an angler starts. Experience can not be understated. Reports from local shops are invaluable. Online and social media forums can provide good intel as well. When all else fails, look for a cluster of anglers! Just be courteous and do not crowd them.

ice fishing for yellow perch

Once anglers decide on an area that they want to fish, the best approach is to drill multiple holes. A dozen or so holes in a grid pattern in a 75 yard radius is a good initial plan. These holes should cover multiple depths, structure breaks, submerged cover, and open mud flats. Another benefit of this is that as perch move off anglers can simply jump ahead to the next hole and intercept them at that location.

As mentioned earlier, a portable sonar machine is invaluable in locating yellow perch. Since these fish school up in large numbers in the winter, they will basically all be in one spot. That means that there will be a lot of water with no fish. Instead of manually fishing each hold to determine if there are yellow perch there, a sonar can quickly and efficiently eliminate unproductive water.

Ice fishing for yellow perch; importance of sonar

Just as important, the sonar machine will indicate the depth that which the fish are holding. It is almost always best to present the lure or bait a little above the holding fish. Once again, sonar machine will save many hours of fishing time in determining the depth that fish are holding that particular day.

However, just because no fish are seen on the screen does not mean that hole is not worth a try. A good approach on a hole that is not showing fish is to drop down a spoon or other lure that will attract and draw fish in. A good strategy is to drop the lure and about halfway to the bottom and jig it aggressively. Then, angler should vary the depth and repeat the process

Before leaving a hole, it is best to bounce a spoon up and down off the bottom a few times. This will kick up the bottom, sometimes dislodging forage that yellow perch eat. After a few bounces on the bottom, the spoon should be raised up a foot or two, just above the bottom disturbance. If no fish show up, it is time to move on. 10 minutes or so at each hole is plenty of time to determine if it will be productive.

5 essential ice fishing jigs

Yellow perch ice fishing with live bait

Anglers ice fishing for yellow perch can use both live bait and artificial lures. In fact, one of the best approach is is to combine the two. Since yellow perch tend to be a bit more aggressive than some other species, artificial lures can be very productive. On days when the bite is tough, however, tipping the jig or spoon with a minnow or waxie can make the difference between a slow bite and a fast one.

The best live bait for anglers fishing for yellow perch is a small minnow. Just as in open water fishing, yellow perch love minnows. 1 inch to 2 inch minnows, about the same size as would be used for crappie, are perfect when pursuing yellow perch. They can be fished on a jig head as well as a plain hook with a split shot. A bobber can be used to suspend the minnow at the desired depth. Tip downs can be used to fish multiple spots.

ice fishing basics

Yellow perch will take other baits as well. Nightcrawlers, wax worms, mealworms, and spikes will all catch fish. Wax worms and mealworms are best fished either on a plain jig head or a jig and grub combination. They can also be added to spoons. Nightcrawlers can be fished whole on a hook. Anglers can also pinch off a small piece and tip and artificial lure as well.

Best ice fishing lures for yellow perch

Many anglers ice fishing for yellow perch choose to do so with artificial lures. There are couple reasons for this. Lures will tend to attract and catch more active and aggressive fish. They also allow anglers to cover more water and less amount of time. Finally, lures are just a lot of fun to fish!

Ice fishing jigs

ice fishing jigs

Jigs are undoubtedly the top ice fishing lure. They are affordable, versatile, and extremely effective. Anglers can purchase jigs that are dressed with natural hair such as marabou. Many anglers buy bare jig heads and then add on their favorite grub body. This jig and grub combination is very efficient. Anglers can easily change the action, size, and color of the lure with a simple grub body change.

Read this article on the best ice fishing jigs

Most quality ice fishing jig heads are made of tungsten these days. This material is extremely dense. That means that the jig will be heavy while having a small profile. Most ice fishing jigs are also brightly colored. The flash and color will help draw fish to the lure.

Jigs work very well when yellow perch and other game fish are showing up on the fish finder. 1/16 ounce jigs are a good place to start, though anglers can go up or down in size depending on conditions. Fussy perch may require a drop down to 1/32nd or even 1/64 of an ounce. Conversely, larger jigs can be used on active fish.

Ice fishing grub bodies for yellow perch

Grub bodies come in a myriad of styles, shapes, and colors. It would be impossible to cover them all in this article. While every angler has his or her favorite, the reality is that location and presentation are really more important factors. Local bait shops and online fishing reports are good places to get good information on the best grub bodies to use.

The best approach is to lower the jig until it is just above the fish. Then, using subtle jigging motions, the lure is hopped up and down in small increments. It can also be slowly raised and lowered. The idea is to vary the retrieve until a productive pattern emerges. Anglers will often see fish rise up out of the school towards the jig, but not take it. At this point, changing up the jigging motion will often draw a strike.

Best ice fishing spoons for yellow perch

Spoons are terrific ice fishing baits for yellow perch and other species. They are heavy, which means they sink quickly. This makes them an excellent choice when fishing deeper water. Spoons also put out flash and vibration. This will hopefully attract the aggressive yellow perch to the lure.

Spoons come in many different sizes, shapes, and finishes. Small 1” spoons in silver and gold are the most popular choices. Gold works best early and late in the day and on days with cloud cover. Conversely, silver is the best choice when the sun is out and bright.

Michigan yellow perch

These are excellent lures to prospect with. They allow anglers ice fishing for yellow perch to cover a fair amount of water quickly and efficiently. At times they also tend to catch larger fish. Anglers can fish them plain when fish are active. However, adding a wax worm, mealworms, minnow or piece of minnow, or a piece of nightcrawler will increase to catch on days when the fish are bit finicky.

Ice fishing plugs

The Rapala Jigging Rap has been around a long time. It is considered the plug when it comes to ice fishing. Jigging Raps are available in many different sizes and finishes. The 1 1/2 inch length bait is a good all-around size for yellow perch and other smaller game fish. The eye of the lure is in the center and there is a plastic fin or tail on the rear. When jerked sharply, the bait falls in a natural circular swimming motion. It mimics a wounded baitfish falling helplessly. It is an excellent lure for yellow perch.

Ice fishing for yellow perch with tip ups

Anglers can use tip ups and tip downs when ice fishing for yellow perch. Since the hole is not being actively fished, the best choice in this situation is to use a small live minnow. The bait is simply lowered down into the hole, set at the desired depth, then the wait begins. Most anglers combine tip ups while actively fishing and jigging holes. Tip ups are a good alternative when fishing with kids and novice anglers as the rig pretty much does all the work.

In conclusion, this article on ice fishing for yellow perch should help anglers fill their cooler with these tasty freshwater panfish!



Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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