Large yellow perch

Last fall, I was fishing for smallmouth bass on the Snake River. It was late in the season, and the action was starting to slow down. My partner and I boated a handful, but it was tough sledding.

Finally, my friend hooked a fish on a live night crawler. He reeled it in to find a pleasant surprise—a fat, 10-inch perch.

I suggested he throw another worm in the exact same spot. He did, and boom! Another nice perch. Needless to say, I quickly changed over to a worm. And for the next two hours, we hooted and hollered as perch after perch came over the side of the boat. We must have caught 50, including a beautiful stringer of 12-inch keepers and a 14-inch whopper.

Fishing days like that are like birdies on the golf course—they’re rare, but they’re what keep us coming back. And those magical trips can happen more frequently if you target perch.

Perch are a relatively common panfish in Idaho waters. They are good-looking critters with yellowish-green bodies, dark vertical stripes and bright orange fins. Perch typically average 6-10 inches in length. A foot-long specimen is a definite keeper, and anything bigger than 14 is a real toad.

Three additional factors make perch a fisherman’s best friend:

  1. Ferocious Feeders: What perch lack in size, they make up for in aggression. Night crawlers are the bait of choice, but perch will also take small jigs, crankbaits, mealworms and more. I’ve even caught them on big soft plastics intended for bass. And if you start running out of bait, simply keep a smaller perch and use it as cut bait. Perch are notorious cannibals!
  2. Pack Mentality: Perch tend to hang out in big schools, so if you catch one, you’re likely to hook a bunch. In my experience, they often gather in schools of like-sized fish, so if you are catching a bunch of dinks, keep moving until you find bigger fish.
  3. Fine Fillets: Perch are great table fare, and when you catch them by the dozen, it’s totally reasonable to take a stringer home for dinner. I recommend filleting them and flash-frying them in a light batter. The meat is white, flaky and delicious!

Popular spots to catch perch in Idaho include C.J. Strike Reservoir, Brownlee Reservoir and Lake Cascade, which has a national reputation for producing jumbo perch. Ice fishermen catch some of the biggest fish of the year, so you can chase perch year-round. Many anglers prefer to target bigger species like bass and trout, but if you stumble onto a school of yellows by mistake like I did last fall, anchor up. You’ll be glad you did. Tight lines!