Yellow Perch, Perca flavescens
Identifying characteristics: (Native Fish) Two dorsal fins separated into a spiny and soft-rayed portion, yellow sides, seven blackish bars on the sides, no canine teeth.
The yellow perch and walleye, members of the Percidae or perch family, are characterized by a dorsal fin, which is completely divided into a spiny and a separate soft-rayed portion. Both are important game fish in the Great Lakes area.
Yellow perch have the distinction of being the most frequently caught game fish in Michigan. In addition their reputation as a tasty treat makes them a doubly valuable Great Lakes product. The gregarious perch travel in schools, generally preferring relatively shallow waters near shore. They are rarely taken from waters more than 30 feet deep, although in spring and fall they inhabit shallower areas than they do in the heat of the summer, they tend to travel shoreward each morning and evening to feed, while during the spring and fall they appear to feed throughout the day. At night they appear to rest on the bottom and refrain from feeding. Unlike many Great Lakes fish species, perch remain active all winter long under the ice in both shallow and deeper water, hence they provide the ice fisherman with much sport and many a meal. When given the choice, perch prefer a water temperature of 66-70 degrees F and some suggest they follow the 68 degree F water temperature levels in their seasonal movements. They inhabit all the Great Lakes, with greatest Michigan concentrations in Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair, Saginaw Bay, the eastern end of the U.P. and southern Michigan.
Adult perch dine primarily on immature insects, larger invertebrates, (crayfish, etc.) and the eggs and young of other fish, which they take both from open water and from the bottom. In turn, bass, walleye, and northern pike all prey on perch.
Perch average adult length is 4-10 inches, with a weight of 4-10 ounces, although adult size is quite variable. Perch are prolific breeders, but growth and ultimate size depend on population density and habitat productivity. Crowding results in stunted offspring that may never exceed a length of six inches; thus, a controlled harvest program can benefit both the angler and the fish themselves.
Male perch reach sexual maturity at about three years of age, females at four. Perch spawn in the spring, laying eggs in gelatinous strings over dense vegetation, roots, and fallen trees in the shallows. These spawning grounds provide some of the best perch fishing available. Great Lakes perch populations were severely crowded and reduced in the late 1960s by the alewife, but perch are adaptable, and have staged a comeback that shows us they are here to stay.
For more information on how and where to catch yellow perch see our Michigan Fish and How to Catch Them and Better Fishing Waters.
Yellow perch graphic courtesy of Joseph R. Tomelleri and copyrighted.