The Yellow Perch

by Fly Fisherman

The Yellow Perch
(Perca flavescens)

ORIGINAL HABITAT.—This fish was originally common throughout the eastern United States and Canada in the states bordering the Great Lakes as far as Minnesota and along the Atlantic slope as far south as North Carolina.

PRESENT RANGE.—Because of extensive artificial propagation this fish is now well distributed in practically every state where it was not native, except Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida, and Louisiana, where none is reported. In some states it has become well adapted to the waters with excellent results, but in other states the results have been very destructive to other fish and fishing.

FAMILY AND WATERS FOUND.—It belongs to the perch family which has numerous representatives in Europe and the eastern United States and Canada. It prefers the lakes and ponds and sluggish waters. While the lake is nature’s intended home for this fish it is found in many of the rivers where there are coves and sluggish water with plenty of vegetation. It travels in large schools and ranges all over the water in search of food. Any fisherman with a half-dozen yellow perch may be proud of possessing one of the best panfish of the fresh waters. The flesh is white, firm, flaky, and one of the most tasty of any fresh-water fish.

GENERAL LINES AND COLOR.—Another fish upon which nature spared no effort for color is the yellow perch. The general lines of this fish are somewhat similar to those of the bass as to shape and fin construction although the perch has a more pointed head and is, of course, of entirely different color. The dorsal fin is very stiff and sharp and has from twelve to fourteen spines. The other fins are of the same type as those of the pike perch, but the shape is slightly different. The scales also are very hard and difficult to remove. The background color is a dark olive or brassy green on the upper part of the body where it merges into a golden or yellow which extends to the belly. The overmarkings are a series of dark vertical bars extending from the back well down over the body of the fish. These bars are usually about seven in number. The ventral and anal fins are usually a bright orange and faint yellow to finish a brilliant color scheme.

SIzE.—The yellow perch sometimes attains a size of sixteen to eighteen inches in length and a weight of three pounds. This size, however, is rather exceptional. The average size is about ten inches, and in some bodies of water very much smaller. The small sizes are usually due to inbreeding over a long period, or to a lack of sufficient food. The official world’s record is four pounds three and one-half ounces and was caught in New Jersey in 1865.

FOOD AND FEEDING HABITS.—The food of the yellow perch consists of the larvae of insect life, immature mussels, snails, crustaceans, worms, minnows, small fish, and some plant life; and it is not averse to eating the spawn of other fish when available. The feeding habits are confined chiefly to daylight when it feeds entirely on food under the water. It is rare to see this fish rise to the surface for food.

SPAWNING.—It spawns in late April or early May and the period lasts about two weeks. The eggs are produced in a narrow zigzag ribbonlike mass. When the eggs leave the body they are not much larger than a pencil, but as they absorb the water they swell very rapidly. The eggs may be entangled in available brush along the shore, in old treetops or limbs submerged under the water, or on the bed of the body of water. The spawning usually takes place near the shore where the mass of eggs is very easily seen. In a few days this mass of eggs may become separated through many causes; however, this will not affect hatching unless the eggs are smothered in some way. Since the perch gives the eggs no protection nature must take its course during the period of incubation, which is about eighteen to twenty-one days, and during this period
they may be washed and moved about by the movement of the water caused by storms, motorboats, etc. Many of the eggs are often washed up on the shore by the waves and become a total loss.

As a general rule most of the perch spawn on the west shore of the lake or pond where the morning sun has a greater chance to play its rays upon the water as nature’s scheme of warming it.
During the spawning period, which is governed largely by the temperature of the water, the female is very easily recognized by her brilliant color. It is not uncommon to see her followed by several hundred male fish to impregnate the eggs the moment they are extruded. There is a terrific commotion and milling about in the water by the males as they strive to reach the eggs to fertilize them. Very often the water becomes colored by the milt as it is sprayed over the eggs. This sudden milling about often roils the water if the bed of the pond happens to be mud. During this operation the perch seem to have absolutely no fear of man. It is very easy to catch them in a small net if one is present during the activities.
The perch is a prolific spawner and a single fish may produce from 20,000 to 40,000 eggs, which hatch in about eighteen to twenty-one days. Because the eggs are laid in a solid mass they are very easy to gather by the conservation agencies.

ARTIFICIAL PROPAGATION.—After the eggs are gathered from the water they are immediately shipped to the hatcheries, sometimes great distances, where they are placed in a series of jars or batteries. Here a constant flow of fresh water is maintained until the eggs are hatched. Almost immediately after the eggs hatch, the baby fish are prepared for shipment and distribution to various waters designated for stocking. The fact that the numbers are so great is one reason for their not being held at the hatcheries for a longer period; another reason is lack of available holding space. However, modern methods have increased sufficiently to enable the hatcheries to hold greater numbers of perch. This makes it possible to stock fish about an inch in length in the spring and three to four inches in the fall. This method also gives the fish a much better chance since they are better prepared to secure food than when planted in the fry stage.

VALUE TO MAN.—This fish may be in a class all by itself, since many people consider it a game fish and others refer to
it as a food fish. As a fish to furnish sport the yellow perch ranks very high. It will strike an artificial lure or a live bait, and both children and adults may enjoy many fine hours of sport while fishing for yellow perch.

FISHING LURES.—They will bite during almost any month of the year on almost any bait from the angleworm to flies or plugs. Even the ice fisherman has a fine opportunity to fish during the winter. Small minnows are excellent bait at this time of the year. The fly fisherman usually employs the small fly and spinner that is used for bass fishing. This lure is very effective in either trolling or casting. Plug baits are also very good when fishing in waters where the yellow perch are large.

LOCAL NAMES.—Local names often applied are perch, ringed perch, red perch, raccoon perch, striped perch, and
jack perch.

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