Most anglers keep themselves busy during the winter months by tending to much-needed tackle maintenance, or by attending several outdoor shows scheduled throughout the winter and early spring. But let’s face it, during any mild spells, our instinct and concentration quickly drifts to fishing the waters we love. While ‘tog may be chewing well at the deepwater wrecks, and cod may be slamming diamond jigs and clam baits off of Block Island, this kind of winter action is not the most accessible. For shore and kayak anglers looking to shake the winter blues, white perch stage an exceptional winter run in many local rivers and creeks.
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When the Water Gets Cold, White Perch Fishing Gets Hot
Through the winter into early spring, white perch are tightly schooled and ravenous. Since white perch can also adapt and become acclimated to freshwater, many landlocked lakes are abundantly populated with this underrated species. Anglers often encounter them as bycatch, and in spite of providing excellent sport on light tackle and fine table fare, they maintain a low profile.
Not True Perch
“White perch” are not a true perch, but a member of the temperate bass family, a relative to the striped bass. Like their striped bass cousins, the adaptable white perch roams widely in a never-ending search for food including crabs, shrimp and worms, all of which are abundant during the winter and spring. In addition, white perch will never grow nearly as large as striped bass. In fact, “whites” are typically small and slow growing. The average white perch caught in flowing waters mostly weigh less than 1 ½ pounds, but don’t be surprised to land one pushing two pounds, particularly in areas with an abundance of baitfish.
White Perch Bait and Tackle
Light tackle is best for a fair yet fun battle against these feisty little critters. Spinning outfits in the 6- or 8-pound-line class are ideal and can still handle any lingering schoolie bass as well.
Whether you prefer natural or artificial bait, rest assured that both methods are productive. Some days one method will outdo the other, so it’s wise to plan accordingly and be ready either way.
Bait for White Perch
On the natural side, casting out a nice fat juicy nightcrawler is hard to beat. I like a size 8 Eagle Claw or Mustad bait-holder hook tied directly to the main line with a Palomar knot and allow the worm to sink to the bottom.
If you can obtain live or fresh grass shrimp, they are extremely effective as well. Just as productive and relatively easy to maintain are live shiners and killifish, which should be hooked through the lips for maximum results.
Should the current be moving too quickly to allow the bait to lie on the bottom, it wouldn’t hurt to place a split shot or two a foot or so above the hook to help keep it in the strike zone.
Lures for White Perch
Small fish will feed on small forage. Keep in mind that as a relative of striped bass, white perch will feed on downsized versions of striped bass lures. Hair jigs, soft plastics, floating minnow plugs, and metals are a great place to start.
Of all these offerings, 1/16- to 1/8-ounce white or chartreuse marabou jigs are a must-have on hand. As a backup, 2- to 3-inch chartreuse or pink twister tails on a 1/8-ounce lead head will account for a good share of perch as well. Keep in mind that these colors have proven effective over the course of time, but there are many productive colors such as red, yellow and black. Bring along a healthy assortment should the fish be on the picky side.
Where to Find Winter White Perch
Despite the relative abundance and schooling nature of white perch, finding them day to day can be challenging. In creeks where tide and current play a significant role, the top of the outgoing tide—when food flushes out of the backs of creeks and estuaries— is peak feeding time for perch. More often than not, you will have to search out schools of perch with no visible clues to their location; prospecting is a key part of the game. Covering water far outweighs the option of staying stationary while hoping that a school may swim your way. Tin boats and kayaks are perfect tools for plying tidal creeks and rivers as they give you access to areas that would otherwise be unreachable from shore, and they allow you to cover lots of water in a relatively short time.
White Hot Perch Spots
Just about any feeder creek or river that spills out into a bay has potential for producing white perch from January to March.
During the winter, these fish populate many of the same waters as their relative, the striped bass. Tidal rivers and creeks will be a prime location to begin your search. They can also be found in deep lakes and reservoirs where they are highly populous and can be caught year-round from shore, by boat or through the ice.
While these fish may not win any awards for acrobatics or speed, white perch are feisty little scrappers with a lot of heart. And they’re plenty tasty in the pan, too! So this winter, after the gear is tuned and you’ve had enough of the outdoor shows, grab a rod and shake off some of those cobwebs in exchange for a few hours of white perch fun. More importantly, don’t forget the kids.