The Yellow Perch is a freshwater fish native to much of North America. It is closely related to the European perch; and is sometimes considered a subspecies of it. Other common names for yellow perch include ringed perch, American perch, striped perch, lake perch, raccoon perch, coontail, and ring-tail perch.
When I was growing up from 1957 to 1970 on a 13,000 acre Midwestern lake, none of the local anglers used artificial flies for Yellow Perch. It was a game of live bait-fish, or spinners and spoons. Of course, I was the only fly fisherman in my village so that was no surprise. However, since I didn't have a boat, I used the public (and sometimes private) docks or waded for my sport. Consequently, I rarely caught a Yellow Perch as they liked the cooler, deeper water at my normal haunts.
During the winter I would catch and eat them out on the ice with my father. We roasted them over an apple wood fire and added a dash of salt. On smaller lakes I had no trouble catching them, but I too used live bait-fish or hardware, adding fish eggs in the spring. Eventually I got around to using flies for them and subsequently learned more about their environmental and dietary preferences.
Yellow perch normally like cool water and will school deep wherever surface temperatures are warm, although they will move into shallow water to feed. Weed-beds in shallow lakes are a great place to search for them, with flies capable of presenting on or close to the bottom. Yellow perch are easy to catch on a variety of baits and lures, such as live worms and minnows, small plugs, jigs, spoons, and spinners being among the best attractions. Small flies and jigs with hair, marabou or curl-tail grub bodies are especially good.
To fly-fish for Yellow perch most of the time you will want to get your lure deep. Light trout-size Tenkara rods with lengthy fluorocarbon line and/or some "MojoMud" applied are perfect and can still get the kebari fairly deep. Lightly weighted wet flies and small streamers are good choices, fished at moderate depths around the edges of weed beds. Smaller perch will sometimes be found in schools swimming just below the water's surface. It's a good situation for young fly fisher's to work on their skills. Dry flies or Dr. Ishigaki wets presented just below the surface is a great way to fish these schools.
My first choice would be small wire weighted Killer Buggers in black, olive, tan, white, purple, or yellow with flash. Bead heads are also highly effective, and on a jig hook are close to weedless. If I could only bring 3 flies they would be a black Killer Bugger, a green wool body sakasa kebari on a bead-head jig hook and a lightly weighted Utah (pink, orange or yellow) Killer Bug. Depending on the depth and the bottom structure wait until your fly is close to the bottom. Then inch it along in slow short tugs. A strike often comes close to the bottom.
Traditional patterns to try would include the Woolly Bugger and Hare's Ear or Pheasant Tail nymphs. Deceivers are also good in white and black. Larger perch will take larger flies. The white Killer Bugger with some flash is great for perch. Generally, with buggers, the longer shank hook you use, the shorter the marabou tail should be to get the best action.
Buck-tails patterns tied sparse like a white or orange with Peacock herl back, or the all-time favorite Mickey Finn are great choices. A couple of the top flies I know that folks use are the clouser and any simple, sparse buck-tail streamers, especially in red on a size 6, 8 or 10 hooks, under-wrapped with lead or copper wire. Jig Flies will get down better. Flies that fish “point up” like a red or gold Tarcher Copperbari, are also handy to lessen the risk of snagging.
Yellow Perch feed on small bait fish, aquatic insects and crayfish. One method of targeting perch, is suspending a chironomid, dragon fly and damsel fly nymph pattern under a dry fly (a big 10-12 Royal Wulff, Takayama, Adams or pan-fish patterns like the Gurgler), or with a strike indicator. But a small weighted bugger on the bottom (slow retrieve like a crawdad) and higher in the water like a minnow also works well.
Generally my absolute favorite colors for perch would be white and yellow, often with a hint of red in the mix, plus a few strands of flash material.
Perch are not as quick or as willing to move several feet to grab a fly as pike, so the key is often in getting the fly close to the fish. Try a twitchy and “busy” but not overly fast action, unless the fish are obviously scattering fry near the surface. More often it’s a case of keeping your perch fly moving, but not stripping so fast that your artificial lifts up in the water, out of the strike zone. If it’s really cold or challenging though, another useful trick with the jig flies is to twitch or “hop” them across the bottom. A great trick in lakes is jigging up and down. Bait-fish tend to head straight up when chased by predators.
If you had never thought of perch in terms of Tenkara, you might want to give them a try. They are an interesting fish that are not only excellent eating, but hold a place in the food chain which is halfway between the largest predators and the smallest bait-fish. They give a respectable fight on light tackle for their size, and are worthy of your consideration.
More details re: Yellow Perch:
In many populations, yellow perch often live 9 to 10 years, with adults generally ranging from 4 to 10 in (10 to 25 cm) in length. The world record yellow perch (18 in (46 cm); 4 lb 3 oz (1.9 kg)) was caught in 1865 in New Jersey, and is the longest-standing record for freshwater fish in North America. The yellow perch has a yellow and brass-colored body and distinct pattern, consisting of five to nine olive-green, vertical bars, triangular in shape, on each side. Its fins are lighter in coloration, with an orange hue on the margins. The body is laterally compressed.
As with all percid fishes, yellow perch have two dorsal fins. The anterior is convex in shape and consists of 11–15 spines. The posterior dorsal fin has a straight margin, consisting of one or two spines and 12–16 rays. The nape, breast, and belly of yellow perch are all fully scaled. A complete lateral line (50–70 scales) is present. The anal fin consists of two spines and six to nine rays. A single spine and five rays make up the pelvic fins, and the pectoral fins consist of 13–15 rays. The caudal fin of the yellow perch is forked.
Yellow perch are only found in North America; they are native to the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River and Mississippi River basins. In Canada, its native range extends throughout Nova Scotia and Quebec north to the Mackenzie River. It also is common in the northwest to Great Slave Lake and west into Alberta. In the United States, the native range extends south into Ohio and Illinois, and throughout most of the northeastern United States. It is also considered native to the Atlantic Slope basin, extending south to the Savannah River.
Yellow perch typically reach sexual maturity in 2–3 years for males and 3–4 years for females. They spawn annually in the spring when water temperatures are between 2.0 and 18.6 °C (35.6 and 65.5 °F). Spawning is communal and typically occurs at night. Yellow perch are oviparous, as eggs are fertilized externally. Eggs are laid in a gelatinous strand (commonly 10,000–40,000), a characteristic unique among North American freshwater fishes. Egg strands are commonly draped over weeds, the branches of submerged trees or shrubs, or some other structure. Eggs hatch in 11–27 days, depending on temperature and other abiotic factors. They are commonly found in the littoral zones of both large and small lakes, but they also inhabit slow-moving rivers and streams, brackish waters, and ponds. Yellow perch commonly reside in shallow water, but are occasionally found deeper than 15 m (49 ft) or on the bottom.
In the northern waters, perch tend to live longer and grow at a slower rate. Females in general are larger, grow faster, live longer, and mature in 3-4 years compared to males, which mature in 2-3 years at a smaller size. Most research has showed the maximum age to be about 9–10 years, with a few living past 11 years. The preferred temperature range for the yellow perch is 17 to 25 °C (63 to 77 °F), with an optimum range of 21 to 24 °C (70 to 75 °F) and a lethal limit in upwards of 33 °C (91 °F) and a stress limit over 26 °C (79 °F). They do not build a redd or nest. Spawning typically takes place at night or in the early morning. Females have the potential to spawn up to eight times in their lifetimes.
Their micro habitat is usually along the shore among reeds and aquatic weeds, docks, and other structures, temperature permitting. They are most dense within aquatic vegetation, since they naturally school, but also prefer small, weed-filled water bodies with muck, gravel, or sand bottoms. They are less abundant in deep and clear open water or unproductive lakes. Within rivers, they only frequent pools, slack water, and moderately vegetated habitat. They frequent inshore surface waters during the summer. Almost every cool- to warm-water predatory fish species, such as northern pike, muskellunge, bass, sunfish, crappie, walleye, trout, and even other yellow perch, are predators of the yellow perch. They are the primary prey for walleye, and they consume 58% of the age zero and 47% of the age one yellow perch in northern lakes. However, in shallow natural lakes, largemouth bass may be most influential in structuring the quality of yellow perch populations. In Nebraska's Sand-hill lakes, the mean weight and quality of yellow perch is not related to invertebrate abundance, but is related to the abundance of large-mouth bass. The three primary factors influencing quality pan-fish populations are predators, prey, and the environment.
Perch are commonly active during the day and inactive at night except during spawning. Perch are most often found in schools. Their vision is necessary for schooling and the schools break up at dusk and reform at dawn. The schools typically contain 50 to 200 fish, and are arranged by age and size in a spindle shape. Younger perch tend to school more than older and larger fish, which occasionally travel alone, and males and females often form separate schools. Some perch are migratory, but only in a short and local form. They also have been observed leading a semianadromous life. Yellow perch do not accelerate quickly and are relatively poor swimmers. The fastest recorded speed for a school was 54 cm/s (12.08 mph), with individual fish swimming at less than half that speed.
Yellow perch inhabit an equally broad array of aquatic environments, from brackish coastal waters, to large lakes and ponds and the slow-moving waters of rivers and streams. Their primary requirement seems to be for a sustaining amount of rooted vegetation. That said, they are often encountered in open water away from any vegetation. They tend to live relatively close to the water's surface and to a maximum depth of only about 30 feet.