The screen lights up. Missiles are launched. They’re locked in. In the old Space Invaders video game, missiles rain from the heavens. Survival demands getting out of the way or destroying missiles in flight.
Perch launch from below.
“It’s like Space Invaders in reverse on your sonar unit,” says guide Brian “Bro” Brosdahl. “Missiles are being launched. That’s what you want to see—what you’ve been hunting for. That’s when you want a spoon.”
Which spoon? And when do you gear down to a more subtle approach? We pose varying opinions, here. Spoon wars? If so, certainly mild-mannered. In the end, all perch-fishing pros maintain a special place in their hearts for spoons.
Like so many panfish guides and pros, Brosdahl hunts for perch with a spoon. It gets down quick, produces flash, and calls fish from a distance.
“Add a little noise and you can really move perch a long way,”
Brosdahl said. “I always start hunting with a 1/8-ounce Northland Buckshot Rattle Spoon with a small minnow on the treble. But you need to use a camera when hunting and covering water fast.
Some days, perch won’t launch the missiles.
That’s my cue to switch to a subtle presentation, like a Northland Bro’s Bloodworm. I do really well with brighter colors on some lakes, but red is my favorite for perch. And I really slow it down. I’m just basically shaking the rod tip. You won’t feel it. A bite stops the rod tip from vibrating.”
Brosdahl also likes the new Northland BuckShot Flutter Spoon because the wider shape gives off more flash. “And it rattles, and it flutters down enticingly, like a dying minnow,” he said. “You don’t always need bait, but I use a tiny minnow, a minnow head, or I tip the trebles on a BuckShot Flutter Spoon with a maggot or a waxie just in case,” Brosdahl added. “When things get really tough I drop a little tungsten Mini FireBall 2 feet below the spoon on a 3- to 4-pound test dropper. The Mini FireBall falls at the same rate as the spoon instead of tangling, so you can use a longer dropper. I hang one maggot or waxie on the smallest FireBall. Perch typically rise to the attracting sound and flash of a spoon but usually grab the offering below. My dropper is only 6 inches long when perch approach the spoon first. But when they get lockjaw, I go to that 2-foot dropper. The nice thing about a dropper is the opportunity to hook and land a rogue walleye. When perch are really spooky in clear water, a 2-foot dropper excels. On Green Bay it’s super effective.”
Jason Mitchell Outdoors host, Jason Mitchell says he “always starts out with a bigger spoon for perch. Half the time, it’s a matter of finding them. A spoon can pull them in from a long way off with flash. The larger the spoon, the bigger the flash.
I feel very confident that a ¼-ounce spoon can draw perch from 30 to 50 feet in clear water.
If I’m in search mode, I use a slab spoon like the Northland Macho Minnow because it gets down ast and flashes big. If the bite gets tougher, I scale back by degrees.
“If perch are hesitant, I drop down to lighter stuff,” Mitchell added. “But you have to find them. Rip a spoon aggressively and the first aggressive perch you find shoots up from bottom. At least you know they’re around. If they don’t accelerate on the rise, it tells me they’re going to require something subtle. Even without a camera, you can read acceleration by the flutter of the signal. When the fish moves fast it changes body posture and the signal on a flasher flutters more.”
When perch are less aggressive and carpeting the bottom, Mitchell says he tries to change the shape of the school.
“When a school of perch is horizontal, all at the same level, you need to change that to a vertical grouping,” he said. “That’s when you see more aggressive behavior. The way to do it is with speed and efficiency. There are single-hook spoons and treble-hook spoons. On a crazy good bite, you can really reef on perch with a single-hook spoon. If you can visualize a perch coming up to a spoon, one shoots forward and sucks up the spoon. The spoon is gone. When you watch on camera and see that they’re pushing the spoon forward and taking it in on two sucks, that’s when the single-hook shines because no matter how they take it into their mouths, the hook finds purchase.
“When perch are a little less aggressive,” Mitchell added, “you can see them glide in and take it with one accurate suck when you’re sight fishing or using a camera. That’s when a treble hook shines. But aggressiveness is a matter of degrees. If they won’t commit to spoons, I drop down to a Northland Hexi Fly or a bare-bones, tail-hooked minnow on a small treble.”
Bass pro and all-around great angler Joe Balog breaks spoons down into two entirely different groups: Jigging spoons and hardbeads.
“In southern Michigan and northern Ohio, we use traditional small jigging spoons like the Swedish Pimple and Lindy Frostee or what we call ‘hardbeads’ or “beaded spoons.’ One example is the Jack Spoon. These are more of a flutter-style spoon with a bead on the treble in place of bait. We use them to excite a school of perch, as they resemble a school of shiners.
“I use a thin hardbead like Ken’s Hooks Skinny Mini about 90-percent of the time when using spoons for perch,” Balog continued. “For me, a dense jigging spoon is for deeper water or when perch show a decided preference for straight up-and-down presentations. I use a beaded spoon, fished aggressively, any time perch are less than 12 feet deep and schooled up. The shallower and clearer the water, the better. I use a jigging spoon in deeper water, when the water is dark, or the fish are less aggressive (which is very rare on clear water, shallow St. Clair.) In those cases, I fish it slower, and often with bait. For me, a small jigging spoon is a finesse-style presentation, but a heavy one that gets down quick and holds your line taught is an aggressive approach.”
Balog said he learned about the effectiveness of beaded spoons from a group of friends who move around a lot, but always fish together in tight packs.
“They all use hard beaded spoons 100 percent of the time,” he said. “The patriarch of the group has fished here for over 50 years. All his sons and their buddies fish right on top of each other. They get to a spot, drill 6 to 10 holes, fish for ten minutes and move. They stay real close to each other. The fish definitely come in from a longer distance with 4 or 5 baits all flashing in the water around each other. Very effective way to fish. It keeps the school going—keeps it excited and around the hole.”
No matter where we look, the search for perch starts with a spoon.
“In Minnesota, we often use Clam’s new Blade Spoon to start hunting for perch,” says famous ice angler Dave Genz. “Something with flash that makes them come over and investigate and see what’s going on. You’re creating a bigger puff in the bottom when you drop a spoon down into the silt, as opposed to a jig. I don’t want it to drop slow. Perch can hold on deep flats and sometimes you’re forced to hunt them in 40- to 50-foot depths. That requires a heavy spoon.
“Sometimes the spoon is the attractor but you need a smaller bait to get them to bite,” Genz added. “Especially during mid day, the best bites being in low-light periods. Larvae come off the bottom and you need to match that size. Sometimes you need a small jig, like the new Clam Epoxy Drop or Ant Drop, and sometimes you need a bare hook and a single maggot—though a jig allows you to feel the strike below the spoon much better. I’m concerned about hook size more than weight with jigs. You need a size #10 hook or bigger for perch most of the time to keep them holding on all the way up to the hole. It has to do with the size of their jaw.”
Like Mitchell, Brosdahl wants to change the geometry when perch schools flatten out. “If they’re all sitting a foot or so off bottom, try to make them rise,” he said. “That activates the entire school and you can catch a whole mess from one spot. The flash of a hooked fish overhead seems to excite perch. I have people that horse them and I tell them to take their time. Let that hooked perch create a disturbance and excite the entire school.”
Slow on the uptake, sure. But be fast when it comes to getting the lure back down. “If your line gets tangled, have a couple more rods handy so you can always get a bait back down quick,” Brosdahl says.
“That’s what keeps the school on the spot and makes it begin to take on that Christmas tree shape. Otherwise, they wonder off. Catching perch comes and goes in little windows. Be fast. If they’re hitting really hard, stick with the spoon. If they’re bumping it or missing, switch to a Bloodworm or a long dropper.”
When perch flatline, Balog takes a somewhat different approach.
“I almost never sit and work an area hard,” he says. “Most of my fishing is run-and-gun. But ‘run and gun’ doesn’t necessarily mean run to the next county. It can be done in a very small area. Often, the first fish out of a hole—or maybe the second or third—is a real jumbo. Once that fish is caught, the next 20 fish tend to be dinks. So I bounce around in a relatively small area and catch just a couple per hole. We do this all the time.
We drill 15 or more holes and we fish all the holes for just 30 seconds to a couple minutes each. It’s very effective.
What clues me in to move frequently is when I move and immediately catch a few good fish, then the bite dies down. That, to me, signals a run-and-gun approach. If I fish real slow and just get a few big fish every few minutes, I may stay in one spot although that means working 3 or 4 holes in a small area. I seldom fish a single hole very long.”
I use bait less than 5-percent of the time,” Balog said. “On Lake St. Clair, where we have large numbers of small perch, small numbers of large perch, and competition is very strong, I bounce around all day exciting the little guys to make the big fish bite. Creating an aggressive bite requires aggressive jigging. Bait slows you down. That’s why I like the new beaded spoons so much for perch. But we’re blessed in this region to have Erie and St. Clair where we can hammer shallow perch all season long.”
More spoons keep coming out every year that help us match conditions perfectly.
Johnson recently added the Ratlin’ Scout to the menu with a slim shape and subtle rattle chamber that’s so right for attracting clear-water perch. The PK Predator has sound, too—produced by a tiny flicker blade on top of the spoon where it won’t interfere with hooking. The added flash launches many missiles from below in off-clear water. And the Clam Leech is a true flutter spoon, fluttering on the drop, doubling down on flash and vibration, and drawing big perch in stained water like few other spoons.
During a hot bite, don’t waste time with bait—the Leech’s cupped shape makes that feathered treble dance with a quick 3-inch lift-drop and that’s all you need.
When glow is the key, nothing glows longer than the new Venom Inferno Tungsten Spoon. Instead of paint, the Inferno incorporates two soft glow panels pressed onto a tungsten frame that keep glowing for up to 45 minutes.
The Inferno drops faster than larger spoons because of the tungsten core, and has a completely different look than other spoons—something new the perch haven’t seen yet.
Green, blue, white, red, and orange glow versions are available. And, because it glows so long, it can stare down the most finicky jumbos in the system.
All the anglers quoted here believe in ice rods with fast but supple tips for giving spoons the right action. Spoons find perch faster, and put more on the ice faster on those days when the the screen suddenly lights up and missiles are launched. As they say on the Enterprise, “prepare for impact” with a quick stick.
- written by Matt Straw