Brian Brosdahl makes his living guiding for walleyes in the Bemidji area. But when he wants to have fun he chases jumbo perch and big bluegills.
"I cut my teeth on panfish," said Brosdahl, a member of the Lindy Fishing Tackle pro staff.
These aren't just any panfish. These are the biggest of the big. He has a 2-pound perch to his credit and lots of bluegills that stretch from fingertip to wrist. Ice fishing for perch is a great winter pursuit. But perch and bluegills can be just as good during the open water season.
"Summertime is one of the better times," said Brosdahl, who doesn't understand when a client turns up his nose at a 12-inch perch when they're drifting for walleyes. He wants to toss out a marker buoy, pick up the ultra-light gear and go for the panfish.
Brosdahl has an advantage over other panfishermen because he follows panfish movements year-round. For perch, he starts at the shoreline at ice out until they spawn, then tracks them as they move to the first primary breaks near spawning areas. Best spots feature soft bottoms to support vegetation, such as hardstem rushes and cabbage. Walleyes will be there, too, at the edge of the weeds.
Brosdahl targets breaks that are 6 to 20 feet and deeper.
"If you have 30 feet of water near the spawning area, perch will be at the bottom lip," Brosdahl said.
Perch are finicky right after they spawn and respond best to finesse tactics. Often, Brosdahl merely puts his ice-fishing reels with 3- or 4-pound line on ultra-light rods and tips a Genz Bug or Little Nipper with a tail-hooked crappie minnow. When the bite improves in mid-May to early June, Brosdahl switches to a half of a nightcrawler, a shiner or a fathead minnow and steps up to six-pound line.
Action should stay good from July through mid-August and you're liable to get bonus walleyes and northern pike. After that weeds get thicker and harder to fish. Try targeting bigger perch during the key low-light times of sunrise and dusk. During those prime-time bites, hook the minnow by putting the point through the mouth, out the gill and inserting it through the minnow toward the back.
On calm days, Brosdahl uses his electric motor and moves slowly, fan-casting around the boat. Though he might add split shot to help get the bait down, he wants it to fall slowly. A lot of times perch take it on the way down and so line watching is critical.
Preferred depth is usually 6 to 8 feet early in the summer. Later, the "magic depth" is 8 to 10 feet. The best spots are sandy, clear areas amidst the weeds. Perch hide in the vegetation to ambush crayfish in the sand.
Brosdahl uses the same set-up on windy days, but lets the bait go down and drift over the top of the weeds. Find one perch, find a school. Brosdahl tosses a marker buoy as soon as he gets a fish.
Once a location is zeroed in, Brosdahl anchors upwind and switches to a slip-bobber rig with a Genz Bug, Frostee or Little Nipper under a float. Sometimes he uses a small Max Gap Jig. Best colors are white or white/black in clear water. Orange in darker water mimics a crayfish.
In spots that feature lots of snags, Brosdahl uses a variation of a Lindy rig with a No-Snagg sinker to act as a keel under the float, which acts as a bite indicator.You can use the same rig earlier in the year and put the sinker over the weed tops. The bait stays in the strike zone right behind it. Try a Rattlin' No-Snagg sinker for fish-attracting sound.
Best lakes for perch in north-central Minnesota are Winnibigoshish, Leech, Cass and Bemidji. Early ice is good and late ice is great, but it's hard to beat summer, Brosdahl said.
Ted Takasaki, president of Lindy/Little Joe and a professional walleye angler, writes this column with Scott Richardson, an outdoors writer based in Illinois. Ted can be reached at email@example.com, or (218) 829-1714.
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