Massachusetts Fishing Report – January 19, 2023

yellow perch
The lack of ice opens up the possibility of a rare opportunity to catch an open water trophy winter yellow perch!

Anglers by nature are optimists, but these conditions are testing the mettle of even the most eternally hopeful. Shop conversations continue to be less about what’s biting and more about the upcoming weather forecast as anglers yearn for any signs of a cold snap!

Massachusetts Fishing Report

It’s not all bad, there is that rare opportunity to catch a jumbo yellow perch in spawning splendor from open water. Of all our panfish the one most likely to be given short shrift in these parts is arguably the perch. That’s ironic and maybe a testament of how lucky we are because throughout the ice belt anglers love them! There was a time when I took yellow perch for granted and considered them as little more than nuisance bait stealers. It all changed one snowy day in January when I slid a 2 pound monster out an auger hole. That fish garnered me a gold pin for the Masswildlife Sportfishing Awards Program that year and forever changed my viewpoint towards our only indigenous panfish.
While the likelihood of a fish such as that is slim, the odds of catching a special specimen right now even from open water. Having caught a number of yellow perch from 1 1/2-2 pounds through the years inspired me to pen a few featured articles on what it takes. Coupling catching them with observing their behavior has made me realize how different the truly big ones are from run-of-the-mill runts. Breeder perch are always hunting and go about their business nose down to the bottom always looking for opportunity. For the jumbos that opportunity is often a crayfish dinner – just like smallies, big perch love them. I’ve caught big winter perch which have had two or three crayfish crammed into their gullets.

Water, which supports crayfish, and is relatively weedless and deep, often holds big perch if not necessarily a lot of yellow perch. Those same ponds and lakes also often contain smallmouth bass and are stocked with trout. Weed-choked shallow spots need not apply when it comes to growing big perch. Because of their penchant for chewing on crawfish and keeping their noses on the bottom, a presentation which is heavy on bottom dragging/bouncing works best for the big breeders. Save the spinners, swimmers, crankbaits and other stuff for others times and species, a jig/soft plastic on the bottom is the way to go. Work soft plastics as you would for smallmouth bass – low and slow – except downsize your presentation. Small crawfish/jigs are effective as are Ned Rigs.

One year I just happened to be in a Greater Boston bait shop when a very accomplished angler came in with a monstrous yellow perch. Ironically the day before I had caught and released a 2 pound class fish and in hindsight wasn’t sure I made the right decision with a fish I thought would be a contender. Any regrets on that decision were put to rest when I looked into that guys bucket. The scale told the tale – the fish weighed more than 2 1/2 pounds and easily won the gold pin that year! The angler caught it from a rocky/gravely kettle pond on the Cape which held crayfish, smallmouth bass and trout. When he told me of the particulars I wasn’t surprised in the least. That fish, like most of that size, was caught through the ice but right now we have that rare opportunity to duplicate a catch such as that in open water.

The western part of the state/higher elevation areas remain the only place in Mass where there is good ice at the moment. Many of you are familiarizing yourself with Martin of B&R Bait and Tackle in Cheshire and it’s little wonder since that area seems to exist in bubble of ice which so far has been unique in the Bay State. Martin told me that pike up to 18 pounds have been pulled out of Lake Pontoosuc, Onota Lake and Cheshire Reservoir. Trout remain the top draw in the Hilltown Ponds such as Plainfield Pond, North Pond and Windsor Pond.

Spencer of Berkshire Bass had an interesting take on things when we spoke. He said that with nearly all of the attention focused north/northwest of the shop when things lock up locally the fishing is going to be hot! Everyone knows that first ice is best ice and if the weather forecast is accurate that could be a week to 10 days away. If you want in with the Berkshire Bass bunch than you had better act quickly as the only available weekend dates are February 11th/12th!

Something else worth considering is the New England Fishing Expo on January 27th-29th in Boxborough. Spencer will be at the show in force and will feature a massive Megabass display! Also at that show will be Boston Harbor’s own Captain Brian Coombs of Get Tight Sportfishing who will not only have a booth but will be a featured speaker scheduled throughout the weekend!

Massachusetts Fishing Forecast

During a recent trip to a Greater Boston waterbody I’m familiar with, I achieved a first I never aspired to accomplish – I was able to cast into mid-January open water! X Raps and Kastmasters found willing pickerel up to 17” which had me thanking the fish gods for this native species. I was not prepared for perch on that day as I was more than grateful to connect to anything. Next up I will be unleashing a Z Man Ned Rig with my preferred color, “coppertreuse”. I’m hoping that a few jumbo yellow perch have the same preference.

1 thought on “Massachusetts Fishing Report – January 19, 2023

  1. Steve

    Ron, This time of year most of us are praying for some significant ice but you have a point about open water.The fish are there to catch we just need target a specific fish and go for it while we wait for the hard water to shape up.

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