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Observations in Pan-Fishing, Part 3

Fritz Fratz
By Randy Fratzke, Iowa

Perch and Walleye

Perch and walleye go together like bread and butter. Usually if you find one the other one is somewhere close by. A lot of studies have been done and it's been found that the main diet of the walleye is perch. I've also read many times that walleyes are the laziest fish that swim, meaning they nearly never move too far from their food source. I'll attest to this also, having caught many of each specie while fishing for the other. Now there is a huge fallacy out there that says that walleyes and perch are deep water fish. I'm here to tell you, "I ain't so!" Yes, you can catch walleyes in 30 to 60 feet of water at times, but having lived on a river that doesn't have a depth greater than 12 feet and fishing in the local lakes where the water never gets deeper than 25 feet and having caught a lot of both perch and walleyes in both situations it kind of debunks that whole line of thinking. About the only thing I will say is that both species do live and feed near the bottom of the water so you do need to get down to them, regardless if it's 4 feet deep or 20 feet deep.

To me, a stringer full of perch is one of the tastiest suppers you can put on a table. Especially when they're rolled in a good Cajun seasoned batch of cracker meal and deep fried! Catching them is the tricky part because they they're either feeding or not. Which means you'll either catch a lot or none.

No, I can't tell the magic formula for when they are or aren't. I watch the seagulls here at the lake. When I see them flock to a spot it usually means they're feeding on bait fish, which is what perch feed on also. They are also very fond of "wigglers," which is angler talk for maggots of the golden fly. Don't ask, because I can't tell you. It's like how many earthworms do you see swimming in the water? Another important factor to remember is that perch swim in huge schools, numbering from hundreds to thousands. I've seen 40+ boats in an area and it looks like a "wave" at a football game. As the school of perch comes under the boats on the outside the rods start jerking, as it gets farther into the circle boats, more rods start jerking. Pretty soon the guys on the outside slow down and then stop as the last of the school passes under them. About 15 to 20 minutes later the whole thing repeats. The perch seem to circle swarms of bait fish and feed on them; it's like a slow motion whirl wind.

So, what type of line and flies do you use to catch these delicacies? Obviously, you need a fairly fast sinking line. Along with that, small, light colored, weighted nymphs or small, # 8 to #12 Clouser minnows or streamers in the color of the local bait fish. I've had very good luck using gold, bead headed nymph, a fly called a "Near Enough" tied using additional weight and some of the lighter colored caddis flies, tan shrimp and Cream Nymphs. The bite of the perch is also very tricky. It's one of the lightest of any fish I've found. There's really a fine line between a natural looking free fall of the fly and keeping enough tension to feel the bite. Keep at it and you'll find that point.

As I said earlier, walleyes and perch usually go hand in hand. Usually hanging around the outsides of the schools you'll find the walleyes, picking up perch that stray to far from the school. But catching walleye is a completely different game! For one thing, walleye have teeth. Very sharp teeth and their gill covers are also sharp enough to cut your fingers, not to mention your line. Many times I've been perch fishing only to get a tremendous hit on the fly followed by the line going limp. When I pulled the line in it was cut off as clean as if I'd used a knife on it! Another thing to keep in mind is that when your fishing for perch you need very light tackle, like a 2wt. to 4wt. rod with very light line and a fairly long tippet. On the other hand, for walleyes you really need something a lot heavier, say a 6wt. to 9 wt. rod, heavy leader and tippets made from a braided or Kevlar line or steel. Personally, I prefer the Kevlar, but that's just my preference. Others will argue other lines or combinations.

When it comes to flies, walleyes seem to like them bright, colorful and large. Yes, they also like them to look like their favorite food, perch, but I've caught many on what would normally be considered salt water flies. Deceivers, dressed to look like blue gills, very large (I'm talking 0/1 down to #2) Clouser "minnows" dressed in the normal bass colors but also in white with yellows, orange or chartreuse. They also like large marabou and bunny leeches. You can increase your catch chances by adding a "stinger" hook onto the main hook, using a steel leader.

When casting, be sure to allow enough time for the fly to sink to or near the bottom. Then slowly mend or reel the line in. When a walleye hits it usually feels like light tapping feeling on the line. When you feel the tap, lower the rod tip, wait a second or two until you either feel the tap again or the line tighten, then set the hook, hard! You're going to want to get this fish on the reel as quickly as possible, trying to fight a walleye by hand with your line will usually wind up with the fish getting away and you getting burned by your line. Play the fish using your reel drag or by palming the reel, keep the rod tip up and the pressure constant. If the walleye wants to run, let it run then reel back in. If you allow too much slack it will usually shake the fly and you'll lose the fish. I've had many of them run me into the backing before I could get them turned around. Once you get into a walleye you're hooked on big game fish like northern pike and muskies. On a fly rod it's like you've just hooked onto a freight train. Just hold on and enjoy the ride! fritzfratz@earthlink.net. ~ Fritz Fratz

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