Tips to Catching Northern Ontario Perch

By: Tom Armstrong

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world. That brings visions of deep, crystal clear, cold water inhabited by a variety of large salmonids. While this is true the lake is diverse and also harbours a variety of warm water species. My favourite place to target warm water species through the ice is on the north shore about an hour East of Thunder Bay in Black Bay where a thriving population of smallmouth bass, walleye and yellow perch are found.

Black Bay is home to jumbo perch. Meanwhile, the bay is large. Finding and staying on the perch can be a challenge, but when you do action is good. To do so we generally fish in 15-25 feet of water. We are keying in on areas that are large flats where the perch feed. Action can be on and off, and although the fish are plentiful, it definitely isn’t a slam-dunk. It can take finesse and hard work.

I fish a variety of different tactics when targeting jumbo perch in Black Bay. In Ontario we can ice fish with two lines. I’ll generally jig one and setup a jigging rod on a rod balance for a setline. If you like fishing live bait a live Chartreuse Fire Dye minnow can be hard to beat. The added edge of having a bright chartreuse minnow struggling on your hook can be the difference maker for finicky fish, and is a proven strategy for me.

For setlines I run a pink size 8 single Gamataksu Octopus hook, and hook it behind the dorsal of a small dyed minnow. I’ll set that just above bottom, with the lightest shot I can get away with, and set it up on a jigging rod on a rod balance. That chartreuse minnow, struggling to swim, is more than any jumbo perch can resist. (See Pautzke Fire Dye videos for instructions on dyeing live minnows. It works every time if you follow the instructions.)

Fire Balls have become a go-to strategy for me. Tipping small panfish jigs with a Fire Ball is an incredibly simple tactic, and one that undoubtedly produces fish. I love the convenience and the fact that they aren’t messy. I can move from hole to hole, looking for fish with my sonar, and not have to worry about lugging bait around with me. I keep a jar of Fire Balls in my pocket, and I have an unlimited supply of bait.

When it comes to jigging for jumbo perch I employ a few strategies. When finicky, small panfish jigs (often used for crappie) are best. Ultra light finesse jigs, tipped with a single Fire Ball works well. On the other hand, if the perch are aggressive I turn to a medium Buck-Shot spoon, Jigging Shad and other baits I typically use for walleye. Keep in mind, for added scent you can tip these with a Fire Balls or a Fire Dye minnow. If you are looking for 13/14-inch jumbo perch they won’t shy away from these baits. Tip these with one of the above-mentioned options and the perch will find it hard to resist. You can even fish the Fire Balls tipped just on a jig. Try any of these suggestions and you’ll catch more perch!

Editor’s Note: Tom Armstrong is a passionate outdoorsman based in Ontario. For more info on his adventures please visit