I’ll never forget a trip I took several years ago. My clients that day were from South Louisiana. When the client asked me if we had any coon tail in our lakes, I replied that we didn’t. A little while later, he caught a really nice yellow perch and as he saw it, he hollered, “Yeah, yeah, big coon tail!” I’m not sure if the wildlife resource department stocked them or if they were always a few here because I never caught one ‘til I was probably 18 or 19 years old. Vic Bridges and I were fishing Noland Point, catching crappie, when I caught a small perch. Not really knowing what it was.
Well, several years have passed since then and all our local lakes seem to be getting more and bigger perch every year. The perch are one of the prettiest fish I’ve ever seen. Bright yellow and green stripes with brilliant orange fins. For table fare, they just can’t be beat. We recently fried up a big mess and I really think they’re better than walleye. My favorite bait to catch perch is minnows but I’ve caught them on crickets and worms to. They are aggressive feeders and I’ve had good luck on ice jigs and crappie lures like the smaller Bobby Garlands. I’ve caught them on spoons and small plugs too. If you have good electronics, you can usually find them, especially from December to March when they bunch up for the spawn.
Contrary to their cousin, the walleye, they don’t run up in the headwaters in the moving water but prefer to spawn on shallow flats. After the spawn, they tend to migrate back to deep water for the summer and can be caught all year long. I’m not really sure why the perch are doing so well with the walleye numbers going down, despite the state’s stocking efforts. I think it’s because the walleye still try to spawn in the headwaters and at this time, the bluebacks are there by the millions eating all the walleye eggs as well as the small walleye that are lucky enough to hatch. Hopefully, we can get stripers stocked soon and they can eat enough bluebacks to lower their numbers so the walleye can bounce back. At the time of this article, it’s still a little cold so be careful when taking kids out for a day of fishing. You don’t want them to have a bad experience with the cold and not want to go back. Be safe, have fun, and go out and catch a good mess of coon tail!
Ronnie Parris is owner and head guide of Smoky Mountain Outdoors Unlimited-Fontana Lake Fishing Guides, headquartered in Bryson City, N.C., heart of the Great Smoky Mountains smokymountainoutdoorsunlimited.com; (828) 488-9711.