Lake Erie Perch Bite “is on!”

2-Hook Rigs
4-Anglers Help Keep Active Fish Under the Boat

Master angler and Western New York fishing legend from Blasdell, New York, Herb Schultz, is usually catching 12-14 inch perch not far from Sturgeon Point marina. Shultz says, “The fish are usually biting at mid-morning!” Forrest Fisher Photo

While many in the outdoor world right now are chasing King Salmon, archery hunting for deer and bear, or hunting for various forms waterfowl, a good number of outdoor folks are looking to fill their freezer with some of the best tasting fish fillets in the world. These can be found in the eastern Lake Erie deep – Yellow Perch fillets.

The Lake Erie perch bite was delayed this year due to the extended hot summer weather, but the last few mornings of 30-degree weather have convinced the fish that winter is right around the corner and it’s time to start their annual binge feed!

Emerald shiners are the hot minnow bait, with ample supplies of these in frozen/salted minnow form and limited supplies of live minnows at local bait shops. Both work well. Some anglers are dipping their own at the foot of West Ferry Street in Buffalo, New York, but minnows have been in and out on days there.

From Buffalo, anglers accessing the lake at Buffalo Small Boat Harbor State Park start their search for perch off the windmills (southeast) near the old steel plant in 45 feet of water with 2-hook rigs fished right on the bottom. Similar rigs work at Sturgeon Point in 45 to 50 feet right straight out from the boat launch in 51 to 60 feet, three to four miles west of the launch. Likewise off the mouth of Cattaraugus Creek 35 miles south, where anglers fish off Evangola State Park in 56 to 72 feet of water.

The hotspots are easy to find. Look for a tell-tale circle of boats to find the huge moving schools of these tasty perch, but try not to crowd anglers already on site. Boat noise from above can spook an entire school of fish to move to another area. You’ll know if you get too close, as it is common for a friendly verbal greeting to accompany such a neophyte boat movement error. Of course, the greeting might not be as friendly as you might imagine.

Schultz may be fishing with perch leaders made from 50-pound test, but his perch rods and reels are ultra-sensitive models – he is a rod builder too! Note the rod-balance rigs – one of many Herb Schultz perch catching secrets.

During these fall perch fishing trips, I have occasionally been privileged to enjoy a fun trip to Sturgeon Point waters at the invitation of master perch angler, Herb Shultz. We generally fish together with friends and it makes for a day filled with laughs and great conversation on all the outdoor issues you might imagine. Johnny Held (“Chugger”) and Lenny Ingoldsby (“Gunner”) are among usual participants with Schultz, though I’m not sure if the day-long conversation about the upcoming hunting season, the Lake Erie water quality, 2nd Amendment, the upcoming Presidential election or the great fishing was more fun.

On one trip while fishing only ¾ mile out from the boat launch in 48 feet of water, we were alone for the first 30 minutes or so. As other anglers saw Schultz’s high-profile 22-foot Starcraft fishing boat as they left the marina, not many passed and he seemed to draw a crowd. In fact, in less than an hour, there were at least 20 boats within rock-throwing distance, sparking some occasional boat-to-boat angler greetings, as active fish down below turned right off for our group of expert minnow dunkers.

The water was slightly stained from a combination of strong west winds and cooler air temperatures that provided the contributing momentum for lake physics to initiate the annual cool-weather lake turnover, which causes the bottom and top water layers to mix and turn stained or cloudy green.

While this phenomenon occurs three or four times before winter gets here, when it happens, the fish usually become disinterested in chow, but recent fish-catching activity shows this is not so with the yellow perch in our eastern end of Lake Erie for right now.

Shultz asked regular fishing partner, Len Ingoldsby, to weigh anchor in the big boat rig and this process is something to see and is another reason why, if you are in another boat – you really do not want to get too close to others, especially Schultz, before dropping your anchor.

Using a large, 15-inch orange ball float attached to a 3-foot long slip line and sliding hook rig, Shultz starts up and moves the boat forward in a 100 yard wide circle around the dropped anchor as the floating ball works its way down the anchor line to effortlessly dislodge the anchor and float it upward toward surface to allow for an easy anchor pull into the boat.

Shultz learned this trick from professional Alaska anglers when he visited his daughter in military service while she was stationed there about a decade or so ago. Schultz says, “I am always careful about not disturbing other anglers, but if they anchor too close to me, I can’t get my anchor out using this special “old man” anchor rig. I hope I don’t upset too many of them as we leave one area to head in or try another spot.” He was serious, but had a sort of grin. His usual facial profile.

We moved about two miles west to 50 feet of water where no other boaters were anchored and using his dash-mounted 4-inch Lowrance color screen sonar, Schultz grinned and said, “the fish are here guys, let’s drop anchor”. Ingoldsby quietly slid the anchor into the water and using the special bow-slip knot arrangement, was able to anchor off the bow without leaving the back of the boat. I constantly learn “new things” when my 60-years of fishing experience is in the midst of these savvy veteran Lake Erie anglers!

A few minutes later we all had our lines in the water and the fish seemed to have a case of lockjaw. “Chugger” switched to a Ted Malota 2-spinner perch rig with minnows, “Gunner” switched to a custom in-line spinner, a two-hook crappie-style rig with colorful beads, and “Unc” switched to an all-monofilament 2-hook dropper loop rig. Over the next 30 minutes, only Schultz with his all mono-rig was catching any fish and the rest of us were solidly eyeing up the details of his “hot rig” quite closely, especially with every fish he pulled up, which occurred every minute or two.

Being the gentleman that he is, Schultz offered each of us a custom rig like his from a well-stocked perch fishing box and only minutes later, we were all catching perch that had been spooked by wire rigs and spinner blades. “One more thing”, Schultz added, “I am tail hooking the minnows in one place, not two, like we usually do when fishing for perch”. This was an amazing discovery for some of us, that the fish would turn on and off with such a rig and minnow hook-up change, but that was the case.

Fishing with Herb Schultz is a seminar onto itself and can put you into a successful good-memory state of mind. Herb’s special advice? “You gotta keep it simple”. Herb says, “For perch, don’t get crazy with really light line and fancy rigs, you’ll just break them off and spook other fish, like you guys did.” He said that with a grin and there were teeth showing. That’s a big grin. He added, “Perch are fish that feed when they are hungry. They don’t care about anything else except where that minnow is coming from, just get it down there!” “Remember that!”

On the right day, angler hotspots and secret rigs that work can be shared at the marina.

To prove his point, Schultz told us he uses 50-pound leaders to make the rigs, then 20-pound test to tie the hook leaders on because he says, “I don’t like to lose multiple big perch when my line snaps off as I hoist them into the boat. It doesn’t happen anymore with the heavier leader line!” Schultz uses gold-plated Mustad hooks on a two-hook rig he ties himself with a sliding-loop bottom hook.

If you wanna know more about that trick “slider bottom hook”, look Schultz up at the next Southtowns Walleye meeting every third Thursday of the month at 7:00 p.m., 5895 Southwestern Boulevard in Hamburg.

We all cleaned our fish for about an hour apiece later that day and the winter freezer is looking good. Get out there and follow some of Herb’s simple advice and keep your hooks sharp.

Tight lines to all!