Yellow Perch Rigs

Lake Erie perch rigs

Perch Fishing with Davis 4.jpgFishing guide Larry Davis of Marblehead, a former commercial fisherman, was dunking a couple of emerald shiner minnows in Lake Erie on Tuesday to catch yellow perch and hauled in a pair of the chunky, green-and-gold fish. D'Arcy Egan, The Plain Dealer

MARBLEHEAD, Ohio - For more than half a century, Larry Davis made a living from the wide waters of Lake Erie and the remnants of the Black Swamp, a fertile marsh once covering much of Northwest Ohio.

If the commercial fisherman had grown up around the Chesapeake Bay instead of Reno Beach, just east of Toledo, he'd be known as a waterman, a rugged breed of outdoorsman with the skill set to fish, trap and hunt in order to keep the home fires burning. At 74, his life still revolves around Lake Erie fishing, waterfowl hunting and muskrat trapping.

Davis seldom lowers a trap net to the bottom of Lake Erie anymore to round up the bounty of yellow perch so popular in homes, restaurants and social clubs from Toledo to Conneaut.

He retired from commercially netting yellow perch a few years ago. This season, he's guiding anglers who want to catch yellow perch with hook and line aboard his lumbering 40-foot steel commercial fishing boat. The 60-year-old Verlyn H can be found tucked into a corner dock at Schrock's Marina on the Marblehead Peninsula, a few miles from Davis' home. With a 14-foot beam and a trustworthy diesel engine, Davis now cruises to his favorite perch fishing holes at a slow-and-steady 10 knots per hour. The spacious deck boasts a picnic table, a dock box full of lifejackets and safety gear, bait buckets, coolers and comfortable folding chairs instead of the trap nets he lowered into the lake for so many seasons.

Davis did get in a couple of days of trap netting yellow perch recently, but not to round up a cash crop.

"The Ohio Division of Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have a joint operation to insert transmitters in yellow perch to track their migration patterns, " said Davis. "They wanted me to set trap nets off Fairport Harbor. It didn't take me very long to catch about 7, 000 yellow perch for them."

A lifetime of chasing schools of Lake Erie yellow perch - in weather that can change from pleasant to outrageous in the blink of an eye - has provided Davis an insider's guide to where and when yellow perch can be found throughout the year. On Tuesday morning, Davis first dropped anchor in deep waters north of Kelleys Island. When the perch refused to gobble emerald shiner minnows fast enough, Davis headed east to Kelleys Island Shoal.

Chris Conti of Columbus was aboard for his first Lake Erie trip of the season. Charlie Kuns of Castalia passed around out small buckets of lively minnows. It wasn't a surprise Davis hooked the first yellow perch of the morning, and the next three or four. Davis has had almost 70 years of practice, learning to fish and hunt from his father, Keith Davis, a Toledo fireman, part-time commercial fisherman and all-around outdoorsman.

"Dad was a layout shooter, too, " said Davis. "It's in his honor that I still take his shotgun, a 20-gauge L.C. Smith side-by-side, out hunting once a year."

While Conti, Kuns and I slowly picked away at the yellow perch and scads of white perch and white bass, Davis had already collected enough yellow perch for dinner - if he was planning on feeding the neighborhood. Perch are a favorite, but when Lake Erie is still chilly in spring, Davis also likes to dine on its channel catfish and small white bass. He'd rather catch medium-size walleye. They're tastier, he says, than the big ones.

Davis' perch fishing charters are $300 for six anglers. That includes bait, ice and a wealth of fishing and hunting tales from Lake Erie's premier Waterman.

Davis a heavyweight perch fisherman

When the yellow perch bite is a subtle one, Lake Erie anglers often back off on the weight of the sinker attached to their perch rigs. It helps them to feel the tap-tap-tap of a pint-size perch nibbling on an emerald shiner minnow.

Veteran perch fisherman Larry Davis relies on much heavier 1 1/2- to 2-ounce sinkers to get his rigs to sink quickly to the lake bottom, and proves time and again the extra weight doesn't stop him from feeling the lightest bites from small yellow perch. He spools his level-wind casting reels with no-stretch braided line to help transmit a nibble from hook to hand.

I've always preferred crappie rigs for perch fishing, which sport two or three leaders and hooks spaced vertically a foot, or so, apart. I want to catch perch hugging the bottom, as well as fish suspended a foot or two off the bottom. Davis always ties on traditional perch spreaders, a horizontal bow-shaped rig with a leader and hook at each end.

Davis' perch spreaders have longer arms than most. His monofilament leaders are at least 18 inches long and tipped with No. 4 long-shanked octopus-style hooks, which are larger than the more popular straight-shanked No. 6 hooks. The octopus-style hooks have a slightly curved shank and are often used to present live crayfish or leeches to smallmouth bass.

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