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!

2016 Lake Erie Sport Fishing Outlook Once Again Good News for Anglers

Photo by Forrest Fisher

Western Basin Lake Erie News – Walleye and yellow perch bag limits announced

COLUMBUS, OH / Ohio DNR– Lake Erie anglers should experience another year of diverse fishing opportunities in 2016, according to Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

Lake Erie walleye and yellow perch fisheries are managed through an interagency quota system that involves Ontario, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio. Each jurisdiction regulates its catches to comply with quotas and minimize the risk of over-fishing these species. Quotas for the upcoming fishing season are determined through consensus agreement by these jurisdictions through the Lake Erie Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, which were just recently announced for 2016.

As a result of the 2016 quota allocation, the walleye daily bag limit is four, and the yellow perch daily bag limit is 30 per angler in Ohio waters of Lake Erie until April 30. The daily bag limit will be six walleye from May 1 through Feb. 28, 2017. From March 1, 2017 through April 30, 2017, the daily walleye bag limit will be four. A 15-inch minimum size limit is in effect during the entire season for walleye. The yellow perch daily bag limit will be 30 from May 1 through April 30, 2017, with no minimum size limit. Lake Erie anglers can find walleye and yellow perch bag limit information at ODNR offices, in special publications at bait and tackle shops and at wildohio.gov.

Walleye
Ohio walleye anglers will catch fish mostly from the 2014 and 2013 hatches, with some fish from the 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009 year classes. Additional fish from 2007 and 2003 will also be harvested by anglers. Walleye from the average 2014 hatch will range from 15-18 inches, while walleye from the 2013 hatch will be between 16-20 inches. Fish from the 2003 and 2007 hatches are likely to carry most of the Central Basin fisheries, and a good number of these walleye will be over the 26-inch range. Large walleye from strong hatch in 2003 will continue to provide “Fish Ohio” opportunities (greater than 28 inches), with this year class nearing the size that may give Ohio a new state record walleye. Additionally, in 2016, anglers should see a number of smaller (less than 15 inches) fish from the excellent 2015 hatch. Anglers are reminded of the 15-inch minimum size limit and encouraged to release these fish with as little handling as possible so they can contribute to the fisheries in future years.

Yellow Perch
Expect good perch fishing in 2016, with improving numbers of fish in the Western Basin and the largest fish in the eastern areas of the Central Basin. Perch anglers should encounter fish ranging from 7 to 13 inches from the 2014 through 2008 hatches this year, with major contributions from the 2014, 2011 and 2008 year classes. Fish from the average-to-better hatches in 2007 will contribute fish in the 10-plus inch range. “In 2015, yellow perch fisheries flourished in the eastern portions of Ohio’s Lake Erie, and we expect this trend to continue into 2016,” said Tyson.

Black Bass
Smallmouth bass fishing in 2016 is expected to be fair but improving. Smallmouth bass catch rates decreased in 2015, when compared to 2014, but are still the highest observed since the mid-1990s. Smallmouth bass should be an excellent size (14 to 22 inches and weighing up to six pounds). The best fishing for smallmouth bass will continue to be in areas with good bottom structure, which is the available habitat across much of the entire Ohio nearshore and islands. Continuing the trend from previous years, largemouth bass fishing should be excellent in 2016. This emerging fishery is producing high catch rates and some large fish in nearshore areas and harbors across Ohio’s Lake Erie. All black bass (smallmouth and largemouth) must be immediately released from May 1 through June 24. Beginning June 25, the daily bag limit for bass will be five, with a 14-inch minimum length limit.

Steelhead
Steelhead anglers should enjoy another year of great fishing in 2016 in Ohio’s Lake Erie open waters and in tributaries. Peak summer steelhead action on Lake Erie can be found offshore from June through August between Vermilion and Conneaut, with catches measuring 17 to 29 inches. Most Lake Erie anglers troll for steelhead in deep waters using spoons with divers or downriggers until fish move close to shore in the fall. The daily bag limit remains at five fish per angler from May 16 through Aug. 31, and two fish per angler between Sept. 1 and May 15, 2017. A 12-inch minimum size limit is in effect throughout the year.

White Bass
White bass continue to provide excellent seasonal fishing opportunities in the Maumee and Sandusky rivers and in the open lake. The 2016 catch will be dominated by fish from the 2012 and 2010 year classes. A few fish from the 2007 hatch could be as large as 16 inches. Anglers should focus on major Western Basin tributaries during May and June and nearshore areas of the open lake during the summer. There is no white bass daily bag limit or size limit.

Other Species 
Bays, harbors and main lake shorelines offer excellent fishing for panfish, as well as occasional northern pike and muskellunge in vegetated areas.

Anglers are reminded that fishing conditions on Lake Erie can change hourly, and adjustments are often necessary to improve success. Anglers should take into account factors such as water temperature, cloud cover, water clarity, boat traffic, wave action, structure, currents and the amount of baitfish in the area. Anglers are also reminded to carefully monitor Lake Erie weather and to seek safe harbor before storms approach.

Updated Lake Erie fishing reports are available at wildohio.gov or by calling 888-HOOKFISH (888-466-5347). Information is available from ODNR Division of Wildlife staff from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at the Fairport Harbor station (440-352-4199) for the Central Basin and at Sandusky Station (419-625-8062) for the Western Basin.

Information on the ODNR Division of Wildlife’s Lake Erie research and management programs, fisheries resources, fishing reports, maps and links to other Lake Erie web resources are available at wildohio.gov.

ODNR ensures a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. Visit the ODNR website at ohiodnr.gov.

Stop Spinning your Wheels this Winter

spinningwheels1

I’d be a very rich man If I had a dollar for every person who believes that the reason they don’t enjoy the same results as some of the more successful anglers is because they don’t have access to secret lures, covert baits, hush-hush scents and cloak-and-dagger waypoints.

The reason this view is so out of whack is because the key to success most days is not in the big picture or the grand scheme of things, but rather in the subtle, often cunning and clever refinements.

The little things really do add up most days to making a huge difference in your fishing success. And if you enjoy ice fishing as much as I do for walleye, black crappies, yellow perch and bull bluegills, I have a brilliant refinement for you.

spinningwheels2

Truthfully, it is a game changer.

In fact, here is what I want you to do this winter to prove it to yourself. Use one of the new single action fishing reels like the Rapala R-Type Ice Centerpin and prepare to be amazed for one very simple reason. Because of the natural way that your line comes off the spool, and goes back on – like a fly reel – and because there is no drag system to twist your line, it never coils and develops a memory.

As a result, when you drop your lure or bait down the hole, it remains dead still and doesn’t spin like it does when you use a spinning reel. And if there is one thing that walleyes, perch, crappies and bluegills detest with a passion, it is a lure or bait that twirls around in circles, as they stare at it and size it up.

spinningwheels3

It is the subject of this week’s video blog that I shot the other day while ice fishing on Northwestern Ontario’s majestic Lake of the Woods.   How good was the fishing? In two days, the yellow perch action was non-stop with only two or three fish measuring as small as 12-inches. The vast majority averaged over 13-inches in length, with so many 13.75 to 14.25 inch jumbos approaching two-pounds that it was spellbinding!

Click on the following video and see for yourself.

 

SECRETS of ICE FISHING: Fool Perch with Living Deadstick

Mark Martin, the original Professional Walleye Trail champion, hosts a unique ice-fishing “school” that teaches techniques for finding and catching fish right out on the ice. Mark Martin’s Ice Fishing Vacation Schools are peopled with fish-head instructors that spend every possible winter moment dropping their lures through holes in the ice.
Ice Fishing Perch
“My pro staff is avid about perch, Martin says.  Over the past five years, they discovered that using a Ice Perch PIX 3of3deadstick and just tapping it once in a while at least doubles your catch. Where three rods are legal, they use one jigging rod and two deadsticks, each sporting jigs tipped with wax worms or just a piece of plastic. I don’t know why, but if you just tap that deadstick once in a while, it will catch far more perch than the jigging sticks. These include piles of porky perch!  Hard to believe? Martin never wanted to believe it, either. “You know me,” he laughed. “I hate it. I’d much rather be jigging with the rod in my hand, but when my staff is catching three perch to my one every single day we are on the ice and that goes on for five years, I realized I had to accept it and change or just keep getting dusted.

Most manufacturers of ice rods build deadsticks. They are easy to distinguish, deadsticks have wimpy, floppy, brightly-colored tips (usually orange) and usually 8-inches to a tad over 24-inches in length. Easy to see against a backdrop of snow and ice, these fishing tools are specifically designed for the tip to bend without the fish feeling any pressure, giving you time to grab it and set the hook. The mid-section of the rod is stout, to drive hooks home with authority, but the tip flops about for quick, easy strike indication. Examples include the Clam Jason Mitchell Signature Meat Stick JMS28MS, the Wright & McGill Tony Roach Signature WMTR128PPF, the Thorne Brothers 28″ Deadstick, and the Frabill Bro Series 28″ Deadstick.

The best fishing program is a single-hook spoon with bait,” Martin said. The JB Lures Gem-N-Eye and Custom Jigs & Spins Demon are both good examples offered in a wide variety of sizes to match baits and conditions. “Lightly hook a minnow under the skin along the spine and that spoon has to turn every time the minnow moves,” Martin added. “Waxworms might work better when perch are feeding on invertebrates near bottom or when perch are really inactive, but if you have bait on the jig and just tap that deadstick every few minutes, they will come.  It’s weird.

Ice Perch PIX 1of3Martin adds, Any under-ice current makes it wobble when you leave it alone and when it wobbles it moves the bait. My staff either uses a split shot and Aberdeen hook, a vertical jig like the Custom Jigs & Spins Rat Finkee or a spoon with a single hook. I sometimes use a swinging-treble spoon like the VMC Tingler, but another favorite is a size #3 Jigging Rapala with no bait. It catches perch better under a deadstick than when jigged. Put a single, light-wire, #8 Aberdeen hook on a small Jigging Rapala and it moves more, it catches more current. Last year on the deadstick rod using a #3 Rapala with no bait, I caught quite a few walleyes and countless perch.”

It may seem like a “do-nothing” technique (only because it is), but one of the keys to successful dead-sticking is picking the rod up without alerting the fish. Martin likes to simply lay the rod over the top of a bucket, keeping it within reach or use a special balance-beam style rod holder. I like the coated-wire Rod Rocker made by Today’s Tackle,” Martin said. “It clips onto the bucket and the rod simply balances on top so you can pull the rod out without popping the tip up and signaling the fish, which would give them time to spit the hook.”

Martin wants to be jigging somewhere near the deadstick. Not just to be within reach, but to attract perch that usually end up hitting the bait under the deadstick.  “Giving perch a decision, between the jigging and the deadstick, that’s the idea,” Martin said. “Sometimes we find the active lure is too much for perch to process in cold water. We can’t hold it still enough for long enough on most winter days.”

Surprising to many students at Ice School is the height off bottom Martin and crew suspend baits.  “If we mark bait 15 feet off bottom, that’s where we set those deadstick baits,” Martin said. “The water is clear in most of the waters we fish, so we always want it well off bottom. About 4 to 5 feet up is normal. If perch are on bottom, they’ll rise for it. Even when they’re on bottom, rooting around for insects, they’ll come up 4 feet or more for these deadstick presentations.”Yet, for Martin and his merry ice-fishing men, deadsticks beat jigging every day, every place they go, and with a record for the past four or five years. These guys get around too, taking the Ice Fishing School to lakes and Great Lakes throughout the North.

“Most of my staffers don’t even jig for perch anymore,” Martin said. “We figured out a new way to jig, and it’s not to jig at all.”