When Perch Won’t Bite Through the Ice

February 9, 2009 by  

By Chris Hustad


Jon Madison with a nice, chunky perch

Jon Madison with a nice, chunky perch

Here’s a scenario that I’m sure most ice fishermen will play out a lot of the times during the winter. You’re setup for some perch ice fishing, with a few fish coming here and there, but you’re seeing a lot of action on your bobber or fish displaying on your sonar. If you’re a bobber fisherman, which I can’t blame due to the excitement of seeing it drop – you could be missing out on a good bite. When the going gets tough, put your ice fishing in your hands.

Just the other day I was out fishing a lake for the first time in search of midday perch and walleyes. I’ve fished the lake before in the summer, but never in the winter, but I was aware of it’s unique contours. We drilled our first set of holes right in a deep hole (24 feet was deep for this lake), right off a drop-off from 12 feet. We were in a casual mode on this lake as we planned to fish 2 other lakes the same day. We started with a relaxed scenario like I painted earlier, but after about 45 minutes and only a couple fish through the hole, I knew we were missing out. I pulled out my Aqua Vu Scout underwater camera and dropped it slowly down the whole. The lake was stained and only had visibility for about 3 feet, and I rested the camera about 3.5 feet down off the bottom. I started with a Genz Worm tipped with a couple wax worms and started jigging it about 12 inches off the bottom. Within seconds, the camera filled with various sized perch. The fish were bumping it, nibbling at it, and sometimes inhaled the bait; all without the bobber moving at all. It was times like this where a tool such as the Marcum underwater camera can really help you learn about what’s happening below the ice. For the next hour or so our fishing was fast and furious, with as many as 6 perch at a time fighting for the bait. My fishing partner, Scott Terning, and I took turns dropping the bait down the hole while the other guy released the fish. It was a heck of a good afternoon to say the least.

Cameras are coming a long way since the old days (Marcum VS825c shown)

Camera's are coming a long way since the old days (Marcum VS825c shown)

While the underwater camera helped our fishing immensely, the first tip off that this was taking place started with the sonar and the bobber. If you’re fishing with a sonar such as a Marcum (I use the LX-5), you know that the fish are there, just not reacting to your presentation. By looking at the bobber, I could tell when the aggressive fish were “moving” the bait to cause the bobber to twitch and move sideways. Usually knowing that fish are present is obvious, but at times it can be tricky.

The first thing to do in this instance is to get rid of the bobber and put the feel in your hands. Having extremely light line will help detect the softer bites. I’ve started using Berkeley Fireline in Crystal with the smallest diameter. It combines the strength and sensitivity of Fireline with the transparency of other conventional lines. A good Ultra-Light action ice rod is helpful as well, let alone enhancing the fight of the fish. You can also add spring bobbers to your rod tip which is one of the simplest but effective accessories you can add to your rod. The slightest reaction from the fish to your bait can be enough to trigger a spring bobber. Another interesting ice rod to use is the Marmish Ice Rod. This rod literally puts the action in your hands and is probably the most sensitive rod for ice fishing I’ve ever used. It does take some practice however, to truly master it’s technique. I always keep a rod rigged for this situation in my rod case, just in case I need it.

Once you’ve got the setup for light fishing, you’ll want to downsize your lure and bait. I have had my best luck with 1/32 ounce, red Genz worms, but I’ve iced perch with everything from small spoons to small Rapala jigging raps. I also switch from small minnows to waxworms, with as many as 3-4 waxies being the most ideal. But it usually doesn’t take long with just one. Mousies, spikes, and perch eyes are also equally effective most of the time. It’s just a personal preference.

The best presentations usually involve finesse with just enough action to wiggle the bait. My best presentation involved 3, ½ inch jigging motions which fluttered the waxworm. Most often then not, the perch couldn’t resist. Watching how the fish react on a camera or sonar will tip off what’s triggering the fish that day.

There’s nothing more enjoyable than getting on top of the fish out on the ice, especially when you’re in a location where they just won’t leave. From there, it’s all up to you in terms of what you make of the bite. When the going gets tough, get rid of the bobber. You’ll be glad you did.


4 Comments on "When Perch Won’t Bite Through the Ice"

  1. jamie on Fri, 12th Feb 2010 4:08 pm 

    how good are the jumbos hitting on lake st clair by jimmys bait cought 2 jumbos 1 13 incher and 1 huge perch that was 15in

  2. ryan on Fri, 21st Jan 2011 10:06 pm 

    I and a few buddies are going to mills lacks lake
    mn and we couldnt get time for early ice we are really wanting
    to get into the perch and walleye. Would I be wasting hard earned money to fish Mille Lacs Lake, MN this late in the year? We leave Saturday, January 22, 2011 and is there a better lake close to Mille Lacs that the fish report has been better? Thanks!

  3. mike fashingbauer on Sun, 11th Dec 2011 12:09 am 

    thank u so much for your website about ice fishing perch! it helped me alot! im 14 years old and i love ice fishing

  4. Matt Phillips on Fri, 24th Feb 2012 7:57 pm 

    Just read your tips a few days ago. I am 15 and a huge fan of fishing. i used your tips when i went into an ice fishing tournament a few days ago and won 10,000 dollars on one 17″ perch. He was a MONSTER!!!! Thanks a lot.

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