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You can feel it in the air – no not spring – perch season! In most popular ice fishing lakes in Ontario March 15th marks the close for lake trout, whitefish, and of course walleye which closed March 1st on prime locations. You can almost feel the withdrawal of many of the hard water enthusiasts.  Nothing is worse than having the best ice of the year only to run out of species to fish for.
Now that the hard water season is all but a fading memory there are options for die hard anglers that don't want to risk fishing the last of the drifting ice.Last ice perchinYou can head for the rivers for steelhead and salmon, or find enough open water to launch a boat and fish for ice out perch and crappie.
Some may not get too excited about what they consider a transition period, but for many this is the best time of the year. There are a few lakes where perch are the number one targeted fish. Lake Simcoe may have record size smallmouth bass and it might be teaming with trout and whitefish, but Perch are the number one reason visitors from all over come to the lake.  This could be true of Lake Erie as well. Perch fishing is even making a comeback in Severn Sound on Georgian Bay where ice anglers reported good catches of jumbo’s, particularly in Penetanguishene Bay.

Some of the best perch fishing is during early ice out, even when there is still ice floating around and often the biggest fish will follow the ice as it drifts around near spawning areas.atherly ice-out Perch spawn in very early spring and tend to stage and consolidate in large schools when the ice starts to melt. They are random spawner’s meaning they don’t need a bed, nest, or structure but tend to migrate back to the same areas every year. They feed aggressively during pre-spawn and can be caught on almost anything on the right days. Other times you may have to resort to minnows and certainly for the less accomplished anglers with no feel for the bite or techniques, this is the easiest way to catch them. Even the old standby worms can catch a meal in short order and they tend to stay on the hook longer for the kids. If the bite is really tough, maggots on a small hook will make any perch bite.


Perch are plentiful in lakes like Lake Simcoe and Lake Erie and are showing signs of a comeback on Georgian Bay. They grow reasonably fast, particularly on Simcoe where the average 10 inch perch is about 5 years old. perch dinnerAs for table fair, they are the favorite of many and given they are a renewable resource, keeping enough to feed the family won’t endanger the population, are fun to catch for everyone, and are a very healthy food source.

Where to find them?
On Lake Simcoe last ice and ice out perch can be found in Kempenfelt Bay near the Barrie docks and along the north shore from Barrie to Shanty Bay. Some of the best fishing is away from the water access points so a good walk or boat ride along the shore  is often well worth it. You can reach the perch from shore in many locations. The Rack n Reel on Simcoe St. in Barrie has a great supply and assortment of tackle. big simcoe perch

Cook’s Bay is always the most popular spot through the ice and it doesn’t change during early ice out. As soon as the ice starts to break up you can see anglers in small boats working their way around the ice and fishing the cracks and any open water they can find. Many of those same anglers venture down the Holland River which is one of the few places Crappie are a sure bet.

South Shore inside Georgian Island is always a popular spot. From Pefferlaw to Port Bolster have several great areas. Live bait and tackle can be found at Casey’s Fish Huts and Bait & Tackle on 81 Clovelly Cove, Port Bolster.


The Atherley narrows between Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching might be the hottest spot. This is typically the first area of open water as the currents melt the ice for a few hundred meters either side of the narrows and the shallow sandy bottom of Smiths Bay helps the ice melt quickly allowing access for boaters with the closest free launch to the narrows. perch fest 
Another reason for the popularity of the narrows is the annual Orillia Perch Festival where hundreds of people hit the water hunting for one of over 60  tagged perch worth from $500.00 to $3000.00 plus thousands of dollars in daily,weekly, and grand prize draw. You only have to catch a single perch to be entered in the draw.  This year is the 30th anniversary of the festival.  It runs from April 16th to May 7th. Tickets can be purchased at most bait and tackle stores around the lake.


Perch Festival Live Release Program is operated by the Orillia Fish & Game Conservation Club. For Club information, call 826-4263 or John at 325-2864.


Where and How to Catch Perch in the Narrows?
Perch can be anywhere depending on weather conditions. The ice went out a little later in 2011 so some of the best perchin was following the floating ice. Bigger females take refuge under the ice for as long as it is around. Water temperatures in the high 30’s will keep the fish a little deeper so look for 12 to 25 ft. of water with grass or low growth weeds for best results.

The areas between Grape Island and Victoria Point can be productive but the narrowest point between the island and the mainland can get quite crowded on weekends or nice days. When the water warms on sunny days perch become active and move shallower in rocky areas and on almost any structure in the area. Most of the marinas hold good quantities of fish and during the festival, marina operators loosen their “no fishing” policy as long as anglers are considerate of customer’s boats and in and out traffic. Those big cruisers need lots of room.  These are often the best places to see tagged fish swimming around. The problem is getting the tagged fish to bite before what could be a hundred other fish in the school. spawning pikeYou may also see pike moving in to spawn, so remember it is illegal to target them while the season is closed even if you intend to release them.

Fish from shore

There are areas that you can fish from. Port of Orillia offers good action once the ice has gone and several tagged fish have been caught there through the years. The old rail swing bridge and bays on either side hold fish and the south east side under the bridge is still accessable. You can also head over to Gill St. and fish the canel or shoreline around the bridge.

What to use?

As we said earlier, when perch are aggressive they will bite anything. If you are fishing deeper water jigging spoons like Slab Grabbers work well and tend to catch bigger fish. Small plastic baits including micro tubes, grubs, and leeches work well in all depths. One of the most effective techniques is a drop shot particularly in areas where spring slime covers the bottom. You have the option of using live bait on the hook or drop shot plastic baits such as Xzone PanSlam. Most effective colors for us have been smoke copper, pearl, and chartreuse.perch baits

If all else fails you can resort to minnows, worms, magots on a bare hook.


Take the Kids

Perch fishing is easy and a lot of fun and could there be a more perfect day than to spend the day on the water, register a perch in the derby, and finish the day with fish & chips that they caught themselves.


Boat rentals are available from Blue Beacon Marina and there are several guides at reasonable rates that can almost guarentee fish and a geat time. Check the guides and charts section for available charts.

Guides and Charters

orillia service


atherley chart

smiths bay

Smiths Bay Ramp and parking. Take Hwy 12 to Forest, first street on the left is Collins, follow to the end.


tudhope park

Tudhope Park is Perch Festival Central and where you would take your perch to be registered. If you launch at Smiths Bay, you can walk accross the road to the park. Remember, your perch must be alive before you can check it in.





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