Perch a Plenty
Feb 3rd, 2014 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Feb 3rd, 2014 at 12:00 AM
Madison’s Lake Mendota was once one of the Midwest’s premier lakes for yellow perch from the 1950’s thru the 1980’s. The University of Wisconsin’s Limnology Department has studied Lake Mendota for many decades and you can find research and studies done that talk about the tremendous numbers of yellow perch in the lake. But, over-harvesting, loss of habitat, competition from other species, and predation has taken its toll on this smaller cousin of the walleye. The perch then, were large with most fish averaging 10 to 12 inches long and some even larger
The perch populations have dwindled since the “heydays” and the last good years that I can remember were during the 1990’s and into the early 2000’s. Many anglers then and now think that there are limitless numbers of panfish (perch, crappies, bluegills, and now white and yellow bass) and that there’s no problem with catching and keeping their limit of fish every time they go fishing. Remember, that the daily limit of panfish used to be 50 fish. Now, the daily limit is 25 fish of any combination and many fishermen think that they have to have a limit of fish to have had a good day on the ice. The last hot perch year that I can remember was in the early 2000’s and it was nothing to have hundreds of ice anglers fishing for perch and catching their limits. Add to that the hundreds of angler’s perch fishing in open water and you have a tremendous amount of pressure on even a big body of water like Lake Mendota. Since then, the numbers and size of perch in Lake Mendota has declined and perch fishing is not what it once was just a decade ago.
Some of this decline is due to increases and competition from white bass, yellow bass, and other species, but I believe that over-harvesting and year-round perch fishing are the real culprits. Anglers have to realize that you don’t have to catch a limit of perch or panfish to have had a good day fishing. If you’re catching perch that are small, go to another of your pre-drilled holes and try and find some larger or “keeper” perch. Most of the perch now being caught on Lake Mendota are in anywhere from 60 to 80 feet deep and by the time you bring the perch up to the surface their air bladders are coming out of their mouths and they’re dead or will soon die. Keep moving from hole to hole till you find the size fish you want to keep, not the small fish that can’t be cleaned and are usually wasted.
It’s not difficult to find the locations on Lake Mendota where the perch and located and biting because you’re going to find a concentration of anglers and ice shelters. Those anglers who have an ATV or snowmobile can have an advantage because they can be mobile and cover a larger area of the lake with their “machines.” The areas that I’d start fishing are the deep water breaks off Governors Island, the “Four Doors” just west of Nelson State Park, and the deeper water straight out from the Dane County Park. Drill your fishing holes as soon as you get on the ice over a sizeable area so that you only spook the fish once or twice with your Jiffy auger. You then can keep moving from hole to hole while looking for perch or perch schools up and down the water column. Good ice anglers drop their transducers from their color electronic unit down their holes and if they see fish, then they’ll fish the hole for any active perch or if they see nothing or catch nothing in 10 or 15 minutes then they’ll move to another hole that they earlier drilled. Lately, the perch have been close if not belly to the bottom in deep water around 70 feet deep around Governors Island. This has been one of the better spots this winter along with the deep water breaks off Second Point and Picnic Point on Mendota’s western side.
Mobility is the key to consistently catch perch on Lake Mendota. This is why those who have ATV’s or snowmobiles do well because they can cover a large area while searching for the perch schools. An angler in a portable shanty spends too much time in one spot and if the perch aren’t biting where they are located, then they have to wait for a school of fish to come by or move and this cuts down on your fishing time. The extreme cold weather has made it difficult to stay outside a shanty, so make sure you dress in numerous layers of cold weather clothing and watch out for frostbite. A good plan is to have an ice shelter set up in the area where you are fishing, so that you always have a place to warm up and get out of the cold and wind.
I suggest using 4 pound test “Ice Line” and having a wide assortment of ice jigs like Rat Finkies, Dots, Teardrops, Rockers, Shrimpo’s, Fatso’s, Cobra’s, and the new Bait Rigs Slo-Poke. Wax worms and spikes seem to be the best Mendota baits for perch. I like to use wax worms because they seem to stay on the hook better and last longer when fishing gets hot. Orange, pink, green, glow, and chartreuse seem to be the mainstays on Lake Mendota. But, always have plenty of bait and keep changing jig colors regularly till you find what the perch want the day you’re fishing. When fish bite and a school of fish come through, you want to get back to the school as quick as possible, so fishermen use in-line sinkers, copper tubes, and pencil weights to get back down to the fish as quick as possible. Plastics also work well along with some of the new products like Gulp and Powerbait which catch fish and allow you to keep your hands warm.
Lake Mendota now has a good population of “keeper’ perch and with the amount of ice anglers should be ice fishing for some time. Remember though, that you don’t always have to have your limit for a good day of fishing. Keep enough for a meal of two and leave some for the other ice anglers! Always keep safety in mind because there is no such thing as perfect ice.
Contacts; Wilderness Fish and Game, Sauk City, Wisconsin, (608)-643-5229.
D & S Bait, Madison, Wi. (608)-241-4225.
Guide Ron Barefield, (608)-235-7685.