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Ice-Up Diversity
by Ron Anlauf

 
First ice is made for hooking up with more than walleyes.  Sure it can be good (even great), but a little diversity might round out the perfect plan.   Walleyes are notorious for turning on during low light periods, especially when fishing shallow water early in the season.   Activity during the day can be almost nonexistent  Rather than pressing the daytime issue you might have more fun by switching target species and chasing down a bunch of jumbo perch. 

Most good walleye waters also produce decent perch, with some that fall into the desirable ďjumboĒ category.   Mille Lacs Lake in central Minnesota can do it, so can Lake of the Woods, Eire as well.  Devilís lake in North Dakota used to, but things have changed.  According to Team Crestliner member Johnny Candle: ďThe lake is overrun with walleyes right now which has taken its toll on the perch.  Theyíre getting gobbled up and the perch fishing isnít what is used to be.  On the other hand the walleye action is incredible.Ē  The thing to keep in mind is that lakes go through cycles and there are peaks and valleys in both size and numbers, and if you can hit it when itís right youíll have a ball. 

The most important key to cashing in on early season perch (and walleyes) is location.  Fortunately for those primarily chasing walleyes the hot perch spots usually arenít that much different, and can even be the very same.  Itís just that the timing is different.  Walleyes will typically be most active early in the morning and late in the day over the top of shallower rock and gravel bars, and along shoreline breaks and deeper weed edges.  When theyíre in they rule the roost, at least when it comes to perch.  When theyíre out the perch take over and have free run of the place.  It doesnít happen immediately though, and you may have to wait for a few hour or more before the jumbos start to show up. 

Midday is probably a safe bet for finding active schools of perch using said areas and when you should start mining for green and gold.  Mobility is the key as there will be certain areas that hold most of the fish, even if they all look the same.  That means a move, fish, and move approach is in order.  Portable shelters and power augers make moves a lot quicker and easier and will let you cover some ground.   Eskimo has introduced the new Profish 150 which is a one person flip action shelter that has a rugged sled and a cover that flips to the side making it extremely roomy and comfortable.  Itís still light enough to be pulled around on foot and is a time when youíll want to keep your gear to a minimum.  

Actually finding fish can be as easy as drilling a hole or two and then getting down on your hands and knees and having a look for your self.  If the waterís clear enough you can see if thereís any appreciable number of perch using an area and if theyíre big enough to be worth your time.  Darker water will have to be fished to find out if any jumbos are in the neighborhood.   The thing is shallow water perch are usually plenty active and it shouldnít take long to find out if youíre barking up the wrong tree.  A smaller jigging spoon like the Northland Tackle 1/16oz Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon is a great search lure and can quickly attract fish which will show up on a good depth finder. 

Marcumís LX-5 will show your bait and anything thatís coming in for a look, even if itís tight to the bottom.  The target separation is incredible and can reveal fish that would otherwise be overlooked. By softly working the spoon tipped with a minnow head or smaller crappie minnow, youíll either catch fish or eliminate water.  Perch donít need a big snap like early season walleyes often want and youíre usually better off keeping your action to a minimum.  Short strokes followed by light upward twitches are about all it takes to trip their triggers.  If youíre seeing fish but not hooking any you might be dealing with small fish, too small to take a bait.  Theyíll come in and look, and look, and look, and drive you crazy if you arenít aware of what youíre dealing with.  When that happens Iíll drop down the Marcum VS560 which is an underwater camera and have a look for myself.  Itís a little difficult to distinguish size right away but with some time operating the unit you can soon figure it out.  

If things donít happen in short order itís time to move.  That doesnít mean you have to completely pick up and go, itís just that you might have to move ten yards this way or that, or move a little deeper or shallower, and then finally move on if you come up empty.   If you find fish right away and theyíre the size youíre after then itís time to dig in and lay your claim.  You can expect fish to turn on and then turn off and probably turn on again.  Pike and muskies moving through an area can temporarily shut things down as perch will head for the hills, that is until the coast is clear again. If the action stalls out completely you may have to pick up and look for greener pastures.  

As good as early ice walleye action can be the perchiní can be even more intense.  When you find the mother load you can catch, catch, and catch.   Activity will typically peak late in the afternoon just before the walleyes take over, and can keep you plenty busy.  In fact you might be forced to fish with only one rod, as there may be no way to keep up.  When it does happen youíll have experienced the best, and youíll be back to try it again, and again.  See you on the ice.