Ice Fishing Perch: The Complete Guide

Ice Fishing Perch

You’re looking for some rock-solid information on catching perch through the ice, and we’re going to deliver you the goods! Buckle up – here’s our complete guide to ice fishing perch!

(Special thanks to Brian Brosdahl for the helpful information for this article)

When it comes to hardwater fishing, it’s tough to beat a red hot jumbo perch bite. They are extremely aggressive – lunching anything from a small tungsten jig to a big jigging hard bait – and they make for delicious table-fare.

If you’re more of a visual learn (or you don’t like reading 😉), this video has most of the information you’ll find in this article:

Otherwise, you can read all the juicy ice fishing perch info below…. enjoy!


You are targeting a fish that makes up a good volume of what exists in a lake.

Simply put: There’s a LOT of them in your typical up-north lake.

It is a volume proposition, which means more hooksets more often.

They are wonderful fish for eating and one of the most expensive freshwater fish if you were to go out and buy it from the grocery store or a restaurant. Why? Commercial fishing on the Great Lakes can’t keep up with the demand.

Perch are little predators. They are aggressive and the big ones typically come up and bite right away when they are in the area.

That said, the perch bite isn’t always sunshine and rose. Sometimes they’re downright tough to catch, only biting in the mornings or evenings when they motivate to move.

They have the ability to hide in extremely sparse vegetation, because they physically lay on the bottom. That also makes it a challenge to find sometimes, but they will often show themselves once you drop a lure down into the zone (more on our favorite perch lures later in the article 👍).

Expert guide Brian Brosdahl has had tremendous days on the ice, catching more than 100 perch. While many anglers like to fill the bucket, he encourages selective harvest, limiting your take to around 10 fish.


It might seem obvious, but the FIRST thing you need to do is find out if there are good fishable perch populations in the lake you’re fishing.

If word-of-mouth or fishing reports aren’t an option, you’ll need to spend some time on the ice hunting them down.

Early in the winter, perch will often be on shallow flats, but “shallow” is relative to the lake you’re fishing.

For example, on Devils Lake, a shallow flat could be 10 to 18 feet of water.

A “deep” flat could be 20 feet, 40 feet or even 50 feet on some bodies of water.

On shallower flats, look for weed growth that might be holding crayfish, insects, and minnow. Chara (AKA sand grass) is very hardy and will often persist through the winter, making it primetime ice fishing perch habitat.

That said, weed growth will vary from year-to-year depending on a number of factors. You won’t find much weed growth during years that have an irregular freeze-up.

The bottom line: If you have good green weeds or semi-green weeds and there’s also baitfish in the area (minnows), you’re going to find perch.

If you can’t find any baitfish, look for a new area to fish. Something is wrong: whether it’s oxygen level, water temperatures or there might be a high number of toxins in the water.


One of the biggest mistakes people make when they’re ice fishing for perch is not being patient enough.

They’ll drill out an area, drop their depth finders, look around, not see anything, then move to a different spot – they decide an area stinks without giving it a long enough sniff…. 😉

Sometimes, there aren’t fish around. Other times, you might just have bad timing.

Show up at the right time (when there’s more feeding activity) and you might find fish in every hole.

If perch lay on the bottom – which happens when they are less active – you are not going to see them with conventional electronics. Most folks don’t use 360 Imaging on the ice, but that’s a great tool for seeing fish directly on the bottom, where traditional 2D sonar and live sonar don’t have enough target seperation to differentiate between fish and the bottom.

When perch are keeping close to bottom, you need to treat it like deer hunting. Setup camp, be patient, and take advantage of the opportunities as they present themselves.

It is a long day of grinding, but you’re still going to put plenty of fish on the ice.

A little trick that can help when the fish are acting stubborn: drop flashy spoons higher in the water column – higher than you would normally fish – or right under the ice if you’re in shallow water.

Jigging your lure higher up will attract active fish to your hole from a distance. The perch might be tucked behind a chara bed or in a patch of coontail. They might not be able to see through their the obstructions, but they CAN see up and around them.

Also, the refraction on the ice will draw perch in from a distance, so use the “ceiling” to your advantage as well.


In the case of perch, one of their defining features is their eyesight, and that impacts how and when you can catch them.

Perch cannot see very well at night, not like walleyes. They don’t have supervision like bluegills and crappies, so their feeding habits are at the mercy of their sight. As a result, they are typically going to feed on forage that’s a little larger in size.

They like bloodworms. They also like the crunchy stuff. Crustaceans are on the menu, as are the crunchy bugs species and minnows and crayfish. They will even eat their own (which is more common than most folks would think).

Based on their eyesight, perch typically prefer to feed during the daytime.

Go out on a sunny day, and you can catch perch on a number of different presentations. On darker days or in dingier water, you can tip the odds in your favor by using lures with glow paint or actual glow sticks – like the Northland Fire-Belly Spoon.

A few favorite colors in darker water are Electric Perch, Glow Perch and anything else that might feature brighter colors that will standout in low-visibility situations.

In clear water, perch might still favor the brighter colors, but typically some of the more natural colors will tend to have a leg up. They can be at any depth when the water is clear – this is common on more-and-more lakes as zebra mussels have spread through the perch belt. I have seen perch down to 84 feet of water when I was fishing for eelpout.


Understanding the bottom composition (hard bottom vs. mud bottom) is important when you are ice fishing perch.

Mud-dwelling perch are feeding on insect life that is hatching out in the muddy basin of the lake. The minnows will be there, too, feeding on the bugs. The perch will also eat the minnows.

The zooplankton that rises out of these fertile, soft-bottom areas is great for the food chain and will attract fish and forage. This is true all winter long, but one of our favorite times to take advantage is in late winter when the fish are moving into areas with more oxygen less toxins from weeds.

Chara beds do not give off all the toxins like some of the other dying and decaying weeds. It is an algae, so there are no roots, and it’s not attached to the bottom. Chara beds tend to hold lots of baitfish, including darter minnows and crayfish – which is perch LOVE to munch on.

Crayfish are abundant in many shallow areas, but they do drop down into super deep water. We are finding it more-and-more nowadays thanks to water clarity increasing across the region.

I find myself targeting big mud flats in the middle of winter. The parts of the lake that have all the hatches in the summertime is where I’m hanging out during the deep-freeze. That’s where the perch go to roam and never runs out of food.

Targets breaks that dump into the basin, where that hard-bottom and soft-bottom meets. Sometimes you’ll find them pushed out just beyond the break anywhere from 10 to 100 yards into the basin – some might consider this “no man’s land” but it is not.

When I’m fishing these areas, I don’t drill a ton of holes. I’ll punch a few that are spread a good distance apart. Fish them, see if anythings in the area, then move on. Once you find them, you can do more drilling and dial in your strategy.


One of the best times to fish for a perch through the ice is later in the winter when they school-up and start moving shallow.

There are large populations of perch that dwell in basins, out in the deepest parts of the lake for the majority of the winter. These fish move up shallow later in the season. This is often during the month of March in many areas, but exact movements will depend on latitude and seasonal weather conditions.

The exact dates on the calendar matter to some degree, as the angle of the sun will dictate certain movements and behavior.

The late ice migration sees perch moving up towards and into their spawning grounds. The actual spawn usually happens right around the time the ice is coming off the lake.

Perch need to stick their eggs to weeds. Once they’ve performed the task, the big females leave immediately vacate the area. The smaller males linger. As a result, the best time to target big ice is before the spawn happens on late ice while the jumbo mamas are still in the area.

When the snow is melting, the ice is thawing and the water is running down the holes, you know there’s a mile-long pile of big perch somewhere on your favorite perch lake. 


It’s tough to beat the proven Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon – it does not matter where you fish.

Whether you’re in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, the Dakotas, out east, Lake Cascade in Idaho, you can use the Buck-Shot everywhere.

The 1/8 ounce size is perfect in most places.

If you’re fishing the shrimp-fed lakes of North and South Dakota, you’ll want to downsize your lure – the smaller the better. That’s where a 1/32 ounce lure can really shine.

There are some colors that shine on different bodies of water, but one thing I’ve learned is you can’t go wrong with gold perch or glow perch, no matter where you’re fishing. It works everywhere.

You can also use smaller Puppet Minnows – size #3 is ideal. Best colors are usually Pink Tiger or Electric Perch. Those two colors work in both clear and dark water.


There are a lot of bait options you might potentially use for perch.

Minnow heads and maggots work great, because they stay on the hook nicely.

Wax worms are big-time producers for large jumbo perch, whether you’re tipping spoons, Puppet Minnows, micro tungsten lures, or droppers.

Waxies are my absolute favorite when fishing perch in the Dakotas.

If you’re dealing with cold front conditions, maggots can sometimes be better, because they are smaller and create a more “micro” presentation. Ideally, you want to bring a variety of bait with you on the ice so you an experiment and figure out what works best.  


Tip-ups always produce perch. They just always do.

Using a small fathead chub, a large crappie minnow or any other smaller minnow that you can find at the bait shop. Hook them to a jig like the Forage Minnow Jig or a similar option – single hook lures are the best for this. Alternatively, you can use a small super glow hook and a split shot (to keep the minnow close to bottom).

A live minnow, dangling tantalizingly, can sometimes out-produce someone actively jigging.

Perch are like diesel engines, slow and hard to start. Once they come up and they grab that bait, you don’t need a bobber – they will pull your rod down the hole. They can pull a bucket onto it’s side once they get rolling!

Some days tips-ups (or dead sticks) will catch more fish than the jiggers. On other days, jigging out-produces the set-lines. You never know how it’s going to play out, so you always have tip-ups down!


My personal best jumbo perch was caught on Lake of the Woods.

I caught it on a Northland Rattling Shad in the pink tiger color. I was using the smallest size with no bait.

I was actually targeting walleyes at the time, and I had a school of perch come in. I caught one perch from that group that was two pounds on the nose.

Lake of the Woods is known for walleyes, saugers, muskies and other species, but there are some big perch in that system. They are a lower percentage species there, but in the large basins, they have so much food. It acts just like other big perch fisheries like Devil’s Lake or Cascade. When there’s lots of food available, the fish grow fast in a short amount of time

I have seen perch caught out of Lake of the Woods up to sixteen and a half inches – I actually saw that one in a fish cleaning house at Arneson’s resort. The fish weighed 2 pounds and 9 ounces.


When you are targeting a jumbo perch, you don’t need heavy line.

Three or four pound test will work in most situations – you would never need more than 4lb.

If you’re fishing an area with loads of northern pike or other toothy critters, I could potentially justify running 5lb test, but lighter line = more bites.

Perch don’t have the best vision, but line still matters.

If you are in weed beds, you get by with heavier lines because there is stuff all over the place, but if you’re fish an open, you better have a three-pound test.

With today’s new lines, good fluorocarbons, you can downsize and still feel comfortable that your line will hold up to a tough fight.

Bump down to 2lb test when you are fishing micro jigs like the Gill Getter or Mud Bugs.

Trust me, I’ve caught huge walleyes on a two-pound test and it’s held up. Unless you’re fishing around cover (weeds or brush piles), you can land a big fish with two pound test if you have a serviceable drag system. Just take your time and they will eventually come up.

But a big perch can be fickle so remember light, light, light!


Perch are awesome fish to harvest and eat.

Most lakes have huge year classes coming up, so new fish are coming down the pipe to replace fish that get harvested.

Perch populations really suffer when there is a high number of predators in the lake – walleyes and pike will just terrorize the big perch. They eat the little ones, too, but they are primarily targeting the larger perch.

Human fishing pressure can impact the fisheries, but understand that the population will vary depending on the abundance (or lack thereof) of predators in the system.

For me, I like to let the perch get a little bit bigger before I harvest. 10+ inches is ideal.

If you catch a 13- or 14-inch perch, analyze them before throwing them in the bucket. Look to see if there is any yellow grub in it. Take a look at the tail – if it looks rough or it has been bitten, a big perch has been through the ringer.

The best, cleanest perch to harvest are 10 to 11.5 inches.

My favorite way to eat them is with my coconut perch recipe. It has a sweet taste. Serve it with a little bit of frank’s red hot and I promise it will be some of the best perch you’ve ever had.

I also love using perch in chowders because they have nice firm meat that doesn’t pulverize when you are cooking it in chowder. Some folks like cream chowders, but I like a red sauce chowder that has a little kick to it.

This video walks through my perch chowder recipe:

I like to bring this chowder out with me when I’m guiding in the wintertime. It looks like I am drinking coffee because I keep it stored in a thermos to keep it warm. It is a great meal to have on ice – warms you up and makes you want to drill a lot more holes. Plus, it don’t take that much perch to make! The chowder just needs a few cups.

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