Perching in the Present Tense
Perching in the Present Tense
By Noel Vick
This winter’s been different…
Fair enough, I’ll be the first to admit that there’s no such thing as “normal” when it comes to wintertime in the North Country. Heck, averages are really just the means of extremes. But having said that, I’m hanging onto the belief that this winter’s been especially weird; so peculiar in fact that I’ve had to change the way I fish.
I’m a “percher” by trade. Through the ice, there’s simply no better game. Perch are willing and able, abundant, and pleasing to the palate. Plus, they continue mauling baits and baitfish into the deepest, darkest and deadest epochs of winter.
Normally, as February unfurls, I’ve got those little buggers pegged too. There’s plenty of ice, as well as snow cover, so I just drive my pickup to a pet hump, cut a half dozen holes, and prepare for sore wrists and elbows. That’s how it usually goes anyway, but not this winter.
On a recent outing to one of those darling and unfaltering spots I quickly learned that circumstances were anything but normal...
I was greeted and supported by 15 inches of pure and brawny ice, which is perfectly normal, but abnormally, the surface was bare. Not a wisp of snow.
Not letting the snow-less-ness affect my operation, I drilled a small cluster of holes and commenced jigging. Like clockwork, thump, there was a jumbo on its way skyward. And as swiftly as I could get back to the bottom, another fish was snared. So easy I thought, so wonderfully and consistently easy.
But much to my amazement, a third fish never materialized. The Vexilar was blank. Huh… What’s with this? Had the machinery of my perch factory grinded to a halt? Had aliens blasted the lake with a tractor beam and siphoned all its contents?
Well, the answer to each of these questions is a resounding “no.” But real solutions were at hand.
I’m not accustomed to moving around so much. My spots aren’t arbitrary, but precise, like a diamond cut. I usually drive directly to GPS coordinates that have long been established. Searching is reserved for first ice, sometimes last ice, but not midwinter when everything’s schooled.
But on this day I caught more fish staying on my toes than dragging my heels. Micro-moves transported me from fish to fish. It seems that perch were easily startled without the shroud of snow. The water was especially clear too, making matters worse. You could actually see your lure, through the hole, down to 12 feet.
I theorize that perch were spooked by the commotion of a family member being towed to surface. That explains why I saw a screen full of fish, hooked one or two, and then watched the premises go vacant.
That’s where the micro-moves came in. I merely paced 20 or 30 feet away to another hole and bagged a couple more fish. But then, in compliance to the pattern, the hole would clear out – nothing.
Cycling back to old holes every now and then worked too. So it wasn’t like I had to bore hundreds of holes, but rather a couple dozen, and then jigged ‘em in rotisserie fashion.
A couple of components that did hold true, though, were depth and orientation. Even without snow, the perch, as usual, lurked near deep structure.
Breaklines on offshore humps were key. In the morning, and when clouds invaded later in the day, perch held at the cusp of the break in 22 to 24 feet of water. During the afternoon, when the sun shone, they skimmed off the structure into 30 to 36 feet of water. This daily migratory pattern is rather universal too, regardless of the region.
I also noticed that the increased light penetration – due to the absence of snow cover – accelerated the morning feed. Meaning, the hottest action occurred between 7 and 9 a.m., whereas that window usually sets up an hour or so later. Likewise, the evening bite lasted until dusk. Normally, the hot-and-heavy stuff ends ahead of actual sundown.
Curiously, though, the edginess which sent fish scurrying didn’t radically influence their eagerness to strike. Spoons were still in play, albeit downsized a hint. A 1/8th ounce Scenic Tackle Glow Devil – a bonafide perch demolisher – got a lot of attention, so too did the JB Lures Varmint and Northland Tackle Forage Minnow Spoon. Each was affixed with a minnow head, not the whole enchilada. And as expected, perch and firetiger were the patterns of the day. That seems to never change.
Mellower jigging motions produced best too. I did more quivering in place than exaggerated lifts and falls. Understated motions were certainly in vogue.
I even downgraded to 4 pound test monofilament – clear Trilene XL – from my everyday preference of 6 pound test. Again, under the conditions, such subtleties mattered.
A few times, too, when nothing would attack the spoon, I dunked a plain 1/6th ounce jig head with a complete but small minnow. Ever so lightly I bounced the jig on the bottom, and then locked it in position for several seconds. More than a few perch slurped it on the freeze. Those bites were telegraphed by slight tics in the line and twangs in the rod tip.
The biggest perch of the day – 12 and 13 inchers – came from depths in the 30’s. Those pigs were suspended and traveling singly or in small pods, but still always nearby structure. Perch seldom camp on an actual break, like walleyes do, but they rarely stray too far from one.
My outing was an awakening as much as it provided reassurance. I was alerted to the fact that even my hardest and fastest perching rules have liabilities. Factors beyond my control can alter what I thought I knew. But on the upside, I found that many of my beliefs held true and that with a little tweaking I can adjust and prevail to catch perch in the present tense.
Editor’s note: The Angel Eye and Angel Eye Jr. by Scenic Tackle are available at select sporting goods stores and bait shops across the Ice Fishing Belt. For more information, call (218) 751-9669, or visit their website at www.scenictackle.com.