Summer is in full swing, meaning it is the most bountiful time to hit the water for our area’s most desired catches: salmon! We have Chinook salmon all along the coast, resident coho salmon in the heart of Seattle (with big coho soon to follow), and the Columbia River is teeming with all sorts of salmon, including delicious sockeye and trophy kings. More opportunities will be coming shortly! With all this silver in our waterways, many of us focus in only on salmon and overlook some of the state’s other summer opportunities, including panfish!
Yes, it is salmon time, and it may seem a bit crazy to have little green fish on the mind, but it is hard to find a better way to spend a couple hours with the family than by the lakeside, casting an ultralight rod in the water, looking for a little tug. The fish may be small, but they are bountiful along most lakeshores in the summer. When the goal is to go out and just catch a few fish, or introduce someone to the sport, perch fishing is an excellent choice. When I was knee-high to a grasshopper, my mom introduced me to fishing by heading to the dock with a can of worms. We sat for an hour and caught more perch than we could count. There is nothing better than instant success when introducing someone to the sport, and that is something perch practically guarantees. So, follow along with this article, find a couple hours during the day to pack a picnic and grab the family, then get ready to enjoy some time at the lake.
As stated above, perch are found in most lakes (with the exclusion of some alpine areas) in our state. Perch live in schools and are ferocious carnivores that will strike at just about anything they can fit in their mouth. In the summer, perch stay close to shallow structure, especially weed lines, as their camouflage blends them into the green grass and milfoil. Often, it is possible to see the fish with a pair of polarized sunglasses, and where there is one, there is always more. Because of where they reside, finding a presentation that keeps your bait out of the weeds, but as close as possible to them, is a must. They only average 6-7 inches long, but for their size they fight like demons, making them especially fun for young anglers.
To get set up for your perch adventure, start by grabbing a couple light setups with 4-8lb test. Perch are not very line shy, but lighter line allows for easier casting and knot tying, and it will allow the presentation to sit best in the water. There are practically infinite ways to catch a perch, but the easiest is a small (size 6-10) single point hook and nightcrawlers. Above the hook, toss a couple of split-shots and a small bobber: the bobber will allow the presentation to float right above the weeds. Take a little piece of worm, thread it on the hook, cast above the weeds, and wait for that bobber to start bouncing! If weeds are hard to find, try dropping close to dock pilings or other submerged structure. Once one bites, it’ll start a feeding frenzy, sending all the perch in the area towards the scent of your bait. Everyone in the family will be hooked into perch in practically no time! If bobber fishing isn’t your style, casting a nightcrawler on a slow retrieve also works excellently, and in deeper spots, fishing a drop-shot rig along weed lines is also an excellent choice. When looking to avoid bait, small spinners, spoons, plastics, and even flies will work very well. One thing I do when fishing with the family is set the younger anglers up with worms, then cast hard baits to entice the most ferocious perch.
Perch fishing in the summer is as easy as that! Light line, light rod, picnic lunch, worms, small hooks/bobbers, and a little lake access; within no time, you’ll be chest deep in green gold! It is important to remember that perch are part of the spiny-ray family and have sharp dorsal fins and gill plates. When giving to kids to handle, make sure they do so carefully and safely.
Aside from being great fun, perch are some of the finest table-fare in the state. They are boney creatures, so filleting (although the yield is small), makes for delicious, boneless enjoyment. Many places have no limit on perch, and those that do have a generous limit of 25-50 fish in most cases. During the summer, putting the fish in an ice bath before processing will ensure nice, firm, and white meat that is perfect for tacos, fish and chips, salads, and more. Since they are so bountiful, keeping enough for a meal and releasing the rest is great practice. They stay the freshest when alive and are easy to target all summer long.
In conclusion, yes, salmon should be on the mind this time of year, but we all know life can get in the way of big-time fishing adventures. A quick trip to the lake with the family is a great way to scratch the fishing itch for a little bit while showing children and new anglers the great sport. The payoff is delicious, the fun is top-notch! So, grab some soda pop, a sandwich, and a bag of chips or two, find a dock or bank, and get ready for some great fishing and even better memories.