Probative Perch Possibilities (Manitoba)
By Daniel Kiazyk

“tending to prove a particular proposition or to persuade you of the truth of an allegation”

Those short days of deep freeze have once again locked their icy grip on the rivers, lakes and reservoirs of the North Country and many anglers “hole-up” and wait for better times to come. Surprisingly enough it’s only the smallest of species that makes it to the show this time of year. Perch and their propensity to bite at this the bitterest time of year make getting out that much more fun. Moreover there are loads of prime possibilities for perch through the keystone province.

The yellow perch is itself as ubiquitous a fish as there is in the North Country. This particular species often maligned as a pest during warmer times of the year has the tendency to bring certain warmth to even the coldest of days. The other species that is a part of the perch family, the walleye are of course far more famous, but are by far, far less active in the deep cold heart of winter. Perch have a tendency to remain active throughout the winter and that is a good thing. OK, the bigger cousin does bite throughout the winter months but some days it can sure be a long time for nary a sniff.

Perch in Manitoba will generally not get much bigger than 16” with most anglers calling fish in the 10” range a slab. Manitoba pegs a trophy fish in at 13”. The prior number is not necessarily all that elusive but its just a matter of keeping your ear down to the water (OR ICE) to pick up on where’s the hot bite. Every five years or so a year class does come along at this or that location and it sure does show itself on the Master Angler list.

The yellow perch is a compact fish that has yellowish to dark complexion with 4 to 6 dark bars that run perpendicular to the fish’s overall length. The dorsal fin is spiked and is followed by a soft set of dorsal and anal fins. They have no teeth to speak of rather a sand papered mouth that extends back towards an eye that isn’t all that effective in low light. With reference to the latter just ask someone who has an under water camera what perch do as the sun goes down…. they usually park themselves belly to the bottom and don’t move…. I guess for fear they’ll be some big predator’s next meal. This surprisingly resilient little fish though can survive lower oxygen levels than many other species and will re-appear in some western sloughs when all was thought to have been winter killed.

In Manitoba, a few bodies of water come to mind as potentially productive perch destinations. In general the angler only has to move from west to east to see the multitude of possibilities for this gamey little fish.

Starting at the Saskatchewan border Lake of the prairies comes first to mind as one of the Province’s prime perch destinations. The only consideration that needs be made when setting your sites on this destination is where the walleye population is at for that year. In 2006 and 2007, the number of porky perch increased because the walleye population had plummeted.

To the south, the once mighty Oak Lake has not re-arisen to its predominance as Manitoba’s preeminent slab perch factory. In the early eighties this fishery was nothing short of phenomenal in terms of numbers and size. Its decline can be associated with two key factors that impact upon the perch population present in western Manitoba. “Winter- kill” and Walleye stocking. “Winter-kill” is and always has been a common occurrence out west. These shallow featureless lakes die off for a variety o reason but primarily winter snow shuts off light penetration to the lakes aquatic life which in turn sets off a catastrophic set of events eventually leading to the lakes death. Walleye stocking has become increasingly popular. From the early to mid 1980’s walleyes have been planted in a variety of western lakes because “there’s just more to ‘em then those bony little perch”. These two prior factors have accidentally conspired and perch have never really again captured much of the western angler’s imagination

The last two points too have been in some way or another related to the demise of perhaps one of Manitoba’s other great trophy perch destinations: Rock Lake. Consecutive walleye stockings there in the 90’s have the perch population pounded into submission. The whole Pembina River system for that matter has the capacity to produce outstanding perch populations but this capacity has a cyclical capacity at best due to extensive “winter-kills” that were and are common to the lakes that are found along the Pembina river valley. The cyclical nature of these lakes in general doesn’t mean regular action, something that cottage owners and locals want. If you continue to stock walleye chances are you’ll have the fishing people want (or so it seems the logic goes). Only Pelican Lake has aeration in the area and as such will provide protection to its fish population, perch being just one species.

As we move west a couple of other lakes present themselves as perch production facilities. Lake Manitoba is perhaps one of western Canada’s premier perch destinations. A thriving commercial perch fishery is only one of the indicators of this lake’s capacity to produce the barred bandits. The challenge on this monstrous body of water is not finding perch but finding perch big enough. The other frustrating thing about lake Manitoba is its incredible size and lake of related winter fishing infrastructure, Certainly there’ll be a few locations where anglers will make there way out to fish for perch. However for the most part you’re on your own. Perhaps the prior has a good side/ bad side as you’ll generally be the one who’ll find fish but at what cost?

To the north and west of Lake Manitoba is another larger lake known primarily for its excellent walleye bite but has the little know ability to produce monstrous perch. Lake Dauphin has a very quiet and low key reputation for producing perch in the 2 lb range for those who know its elusive perch patterns. I’ve heard its on the east side of the lake in an area that once was used for practice bombing runs by the bomber command training center out of Brandon that needs attention.

Lake Winnipeg has its own charm for these active little winter critters. Matlock, Ponemah, Winnipeg Beach, Gimli all have decent perch populations. Its just a matter of getting out there doing a bit of reconnaissance and maybe getting in to them “en masse” (in a big way eh!) on the big lake. Right now in 2007-2008 the walleye population is huge and the perch numbers are down a bit. Bit as with any fishery that has its ebb and fall perch will be back

As one moves east, the Whiteshell, year after year, demonstrates its capacity to produce large perch. The smaller rivers and creeks connected sloughs all produce some of the most productive perch water in the province. It is interesting, however, how these waters are so soon found out and exploited. This is perhaps the areas weakness. Once the word gets out the area get fished quite hard by the larger population can be found near to the area.

Certainly there are the odd pockets of activity that arise or are present in different areas throughout the province that produce beautiful perch. Buffalo Bay has the capacity to produce good size and numbers. Adjacent Moose Lake had some good perch but walleye stocking (as is always the case when they are stocked in a perch body of water) has had an effect on numbers and size. Lake Winnipegosis’ collapse has sunk one of the provinces most productive water for a whole variety of fish, perch included. With improved management and better controls on the commercial harvest perhaps this once great body of water see by gone days. Finally and a not to well known lake, lake Athapapuskow, home of perhaps some of best drive to lake trout fishing in the province, jumbo perch are caught quite regularly. Where? Well that’s the trick with perch. If you can find them they’ll bite.

The “when” for perch is a ubiquitous an option as the water where this gamey little fish swims. The “when” is not just spring and early summer but just about any time is good for perch….. you’ve just got to get on a body where they are biting! Having said the prior, pounding perch has some periods that are more famous then others. Traditionally just after the spawn provides a period where perch go beyond their normal ravenous selves. And then there’s perhaps the most famous period for pounding perch…the ice period. But to return to my original belief, all these periods are a bit artificial when reflecting on when its best to angle for perch. Lake 14, a little lake north of Highway 16 and south of Riding Mountain National Park, has demonstrated to me on a number of occasions how perch have the will to bite any time you go fish for them. In fact the only time I haven’t caught a perch in this perch only lake is when it “winter killed”!

To this point my “when” has only reflected on the larger seasonal periods of time when perch are caught in significant numbers. The “when” also includes the time of day when you’re apt to find those memorable slabs all in a row. Well, perch are truly “plebian” in so far as you don’t’ necessarily have to arrive before you’ve had breakfast and a good hot coffee. Getting off the lake is another “non” issue as these little fish tend to quiet down as the sun drops behind the trees. I find that I don’t lose as much gear fishing for perch. Generally we can get off the lake in time to see where I’ve left a favorite jig or pair of gloves.

OK, how you do it is a whole other subject for another article. My own approach to tempting these critters to chew is to keep it as simple as possible. Smaller jigs no bigger than 1/8 oz and jigging spoons with treble hooks are central to successfully hooking up with perch. Finally single hooks and split shot can provide a means of delivery even a bit more “natural” then any other anglers will put in front of them at any time of the year. Fresh, lively bait with all of the prior are your best bet for bringing in a good pail full. Fresh bait is most often the best option followed by some of the modern scented plastics and bio-baits. It’s not necessary to use whole pieces of any bait with perch but on most occasions only a little bit will suffice.

Lastly for this reflection on “perchin” Manitoba is why we get out there when the frigid winds January howl…… well to be really honest they really taste good. Some folks suggest that they may even taste a wee bit better than ol’ marble eyes. I’m not sure as to which is better but as the saying goes, they’re in a league that isn’t surpassed by many other fish….. or in short we’re talking about the best of the best. Perhaps the one advantage to perch is the healthy limits given to anglers who like to eat fish. Having a 25 fish limit and no limit on Lake Manitoba and Winnipeg is a good enough reason for getting out in the bitterest of weather to angle these tasty little fish. Finally, I can’t think of a better prescription for cabin fever than to get out to track down a few willing biters.

So what’s so special about the bait steeling annoying little rodents. Well as I’ve mentioned getting to know them and their qualities is more than a probative matter.