When most fishermen think of a prized gamefish, a white perch doesn’t come to mind. They only grow to be a foot long and often weigh less than a pound. But their prevalence and tenacity to eat many different types of bait make them one fo the most fun fish to try and catch. They’re perfect for getting younger fishermen hooked on the hobby. They also are delicious! So how do you catch white perch?
In this article, we’ll go over what white perch are, where to go fishing for them, the best techniques for fishing for white perch, and even how to cook them! Read on for all things white perch.
What Are White Perch?
White perch are a small silver panfish with a dark humped-back. They have faint white lines that run down their body and a white belly. Their dorsal fin has several spines that keep their dorsal fin ridged while swimming.
They grow to around 12 inches/2 pounds and live in many tidal zones around North America. They’re not native to many fisheries in the United States and are considered an invasive species to some regulatory agencies.
White perch are semi-anadromous because they migrate from the tidal zones they live in to spawn upstream in coastal rivers. Their spawning begins when water temperatures rise in the spring. After they spawn, they swim back downstream to the tidal zone.
Their eggs hatch a week later and the baby white perch live in the streams for the first few months to grow. Once they grow above several inches they swim back downstream to live near the ocean. White perch can live up to 17 years, and spawn multiple times.
White perch are a very adaptable fish and have spread to freshwater only environments throughout the eastern half of the United States, and if you live in the eastern half of the United States, chances are you’re not to far from some white perch.
Author Note: White perch eat small underwater creatures such as insects, baitfish, fish eggs, and larvae. They enjoy feeding on bait that comes to them, which is why they live in tidal zones. They are also often food for larger predatory fish like striped bass, bluefish, and of course – fishermen!
Where Do They Live?
White perch are found naturally along the eastern coast of the United States from Maine to Northern South Carolina.
Like many fish, they have been transplanted and can be found in areas they are not native to, such as the great lakes region, and along the Mississippi river and its’ tributaries.
Nebraska, Arkansas, and Oklahoma make up the western boundaries of the white perch and its’ non-native expansion.
In many of the habitats that the white perch have been introduced into the fish has become a detrimental species that hard the ecosystem, and in some cases efforts have been made to eradicate them from the ecosystem.
On the eastern seaboard, white perch live in the shallow tidal waters near ocean shore breaks. They enjoy living in brackish water (where freshwater mixes with saltwater) and often split time in saltwater bays and freshwater rivers.
In the summer months when the water temperature warms up, they migrate to deeper parts of the water. The same migration happens in the winter when the water temperature in the shallows cools.
They enjoy eating before and after both low tide and high tide. This is when their food (small insects, larvae, and baitfish) is drawn into the tidal zones from the open ocean and rivers.
During high tide, white perch tend to hang out close to the shoreline along bulkheads and areas with seagrass. During low tides, white perch like to hide near steep shorelines and drop-offs.
The Best Tackle for White Perch
Since white perch are relatively small, light to ultra-light tackle works best. A trout rod with a light-rated saltwater spinning reel is a perfect combination for fishing for white perch.
You want to make sure you use light tackle; if you use tackle that is rated for heavier fish, you won’t be able to feel when a white perch bites. It also won’t be any fun to reel in!
How to Fish for White Perch
There are many different fishing techniques that work well for white perch. Both live/real bait and artificial lures will work depending on your presentation. We’ll cover our favorite techniques below.
Many types of live bait will work for catching white perch. Peeler crabs, nightcrawlers, minnows, and more work great for attracting them. Depending on the size of white perch you’re going for, a #6 or #4 hook attached to 3-pound test monofilament line is ideal.
If using live bait, hook it through the back so it can still swim and attract hungry white perch. For dead bait, make sure it is firmly hooked so it won’t fall off.
When live/real bait isn’t working it’s worth trying artificial lures. Small Blue Fox spinners, #2 spoons, and micro-sized shad darts all are great choices for white perch. Focus on chartreuse and green-colored lures.
Both monofilament and braided lines work well for artificial lures. For monofilament, use 3-pound test. For braided, 10-pound test works well (braided is much thinner at higher test ratings.
Several lures that are popular for other species like yellow perch, crappies, and even bass will work well for white perch fishing.
Beetle spins, small spinnerbaits, crankbaits, jigs, soft plastics, and straight spinners will work great in many situations.
Before spawning season, cast your bait or lure near the shoreline where you think the white perch are hiding. You can either retrieve the lure normally or try jigging it near underwater structures. If you don’t feel any bites, work your lure towards deeper portions of the water and try retrieving it at varying speeds.
Remember that perch often seek shelter near seagrass, old piers, brush, and underwater logs, so try and cast your lure/bait near them.
Some lure types excel at working around heavy cover, so try lures like spinnerbaits when fishing around heavy vegetation and timber.
Author Note: During the spawning season, white perch are more aggressive and tend to bite more active presentations. Try using a spinner or spoon and retrieve at a faster speed than you did before spawning season.
How to Cook White Perch
The best part about fishing for white perch is getting to eat them! White perch make a delicious meal both cooked over an open fire and prepared professionally. They pair well with white sauces/white wines and are also delicious deep-fried.
We really like Allrecipes’ Brown Butter Perch recipe as well as The Mountain Kitchen’s Fried White Perch recipe. Both don’t require much preparation and are relatively easy recipes to make well.
Although small, white perch can be one of the most rewarding fish to fish for. Their voracious appetites make them easy for inexperienced and expert fishermen alike to catch. Teaching a young one how to fish? Try taking them fishing for white perch. They’ll end up getting many opportunities to reel fish in and have something to take home at the end of the day. Have a white perch fishing story to share with us? Shoot us a note below in the comments.