Catching the “Coon Tail”

By Ronnie Parris

Hey folks it’s getting cold outside, but one thing is heating up and that’s the Yellow Perch, known locally as the “Coon Tail”. Yellow Perch can be caught almost anytime but late fall and early winter is your best chance to get into big schools of these beautiful fish.

I usually fish for them in Fontana, Nantahala and Santeetlah but they’re present in most all our mountain lakes. Sizes vary but usually they school by size so if you’re only catching smaller ones you might want to check other spots. These fish change depths depending on weather conditions but usually this time of year I get them in 25 to 30 feet of water.

I usually use minnows, but Perch aren’t picky and will hit a variety of baits including worms and grubs.  Artificial baits such as ice jigs and small crappie jigs also work well. The key is finding them and fishing slow. Perch are excellent table fare and are great eating. Be sure not to over harvest when they’re schooling because the big females are preparing to spawn.

Most of the bigger perch are gonna be located really tight to the bottom so pay really close attention to your fish finder.  Also try to be as quiet as you can, I’ve had someone drop a rod in the boat and spook a school away. Also, you may want to have a small set of pliers for removing hooks from perch as their mouths are really small.

Although they’re fun to catch, I don’t suggest taking kids out on extreme cold days or you might turn them off to the sport. Be careful while handling them as they have a sharp hill plate and I usually end up getting cut a few times. There’s absolutely no prettier fish and no fish I enjoy more so go out and try your luck on beautiful mountain Coon Tails. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

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; (828) 488-9711.