Species Profile: Yellow Perch

Facts About the Life and Behavior of Yellow Perch

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Egg-laden springtime yellow perch. Photo © Ken Schultz

Yellow perch (Perca flavescens) are members of the Percidae family of freshwater fish, which consists of hundreds of species, some of which are unarguably among the best-tasting freshwater fish available. Most of the species in this family, however, are much too small to be pursued or eaten by humans, including 160 species of darters, which represent 20 percent of all fish in the United States. Close family members include sauger and walleye.

The most widely distributed member of the Percidae family, the yellow perch is one of the best loved and most pursued of all freshwater fish, particularly in northerly states and provinces in North America. This is due to its availability over a wide range, the general ease with which it is caught, and its delicious taste. Yellow perch are particularly popular for ice fishing. Abundant populations result in typically generous bag limits, allowing anglers to provide a family’s worth of meals on a given outing.

ID. Yellow perch are colored a green to yellow gold and have six to eight dark, broad vertical bars that extend from the back to below the lateral line, a whitish belly, and orange lower fins during breeding season. Their bodies are oblong and appear humpbacked; this is the result of the deepest part of the body beginning at the first dorsal fin, and then tapering slightly to the beginning of the second dorsal fin.

They are distinguished from walleye and sauger by their lack of canine teeth and by a generally deeper body form.

Habitat. Yellow perch are found in a wide variety of warm and cool habitats over a vast range of territory, although they are primarily lake fish. They are also found in ponds, and occasionally rivers.

These fish are most abundant in clear, weedy lakes that have a muck, sand, or gravel bottom. Smaller lakes and ponds usually produce smaller fish, although in very fertile lakes with moderate angling pressure, yellow perch can grow large. They inhabit open areas of most lakes and prefer temperatures between the mid-60s and the low 70s.

Food. Adult yellow perch feed on larger zooplankton, insects, young crayfish, snails, aquatic insects, fish eggs, and small fish, including the young of their own species. They are commonly believed to feed in the shallows at dawn and dusk, remaining inactive at night, but the conditions under which they feed and under which they can be caught vary widely with their environment and the skill of the angler.

Angling. Yellow perch are not strong fighters, but in cold water and on light spinning or spincasting gear they engage the angler in a feisty battle. Their inclination to avoid turbid and muddy environs and to reside in clean and cool habitat accounts for their firm white flesh, which has a flavor equal to that of its cousin, the highly touted walleye.

Yellow perch are schooling fish, and anglers land them in open water throughout the season; they are one of the most commonly caught species by ice anglers.

They are also caught during their spring spawning runs, in which they ascend tributaries and seek warm shoreline areas in bays and back eddies. Primarily, yellow perch like cool water and will school deep wherever surface temperatures are warm, although they will move shallower to feed.

The best fishing locations are often the weedbeds in shallow lakes, where it is advisable to fish on or close to the bottom. Yellow perch are caught on a variety of baits and lures, with live worms, live minnows, small minnow-imitating plugs, jigs, jig-and-spinner combos, spoons, and spinners being among the best attractors. Small jigs with hair or curl-tail grub bodies are especially productive.

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