Mountain Lake Perch, Ohio Style
Paul Turman grew up in Ohio catching yellow perch from Lake Erie. Now he uses the same tactics to catch bragging-sized perch from north Georgia's mountain lakes.
Fisherman Paul Turman lives in Hoschton. He is a transplant to Georgia from Ohio, where he grew up catching walleye and yellow perch from Lake Erie. When he moved to Georgia, he went to school on the perch (and walleye) in Georgia’s mountain lakes, and he has been catching them for 30 years. You may recognize Paul’s name from a story in the May issue of GON announcing him as the Lake Rabun record holder for walleye. On March 26, Paul caught a 9-lb., 6-oz. walleye from the upper end of the lake to set the new lake record.
Paul likes to catch walleye, and he has an affinity for catching yellow perch — especially BIG yellow perch, Paul’s biggest north Georgia perch was an 18-inch Lake Burton fish caught on a spinner-rig that weighed two pounds — not far off Georgia’s state record of 2-lbs., 8-ozs. that was caught from Lake Burton in 1980. He has caught numbers of fish in the 12- to 15-inch range using the techniques he learned in Ohio.
Yellow perch fishing on Georgia’s mountain lakes is summertime fishing. The fish usually begin to school up over the grassbeds around Memorial Day, and the fishing is excellent until mid September.
“When it is too hot to go fishing, the perch will be biting,” says Paul.
What perch lack in size, they make up for in numbers and cooperation. They are generally ready, willing, and eager to bite.
“On an average day you should catch 75 to 100 fish,” said Paul. “And 25 to 50 of them will be 11 or 12 inches or larger.”
Amazingly, despite their abundance, almost no one fishes for perch.
Finding perch is your first task.
“When you are looking for perch, the main thing you look for are weedbeds,” says Paul. “As a general rule, start in about 15 feet of water and work down to about 30 feet,” he said.
When you are watching your electronics, watch for fish holding just off the bottom. The backs of coves are good spots to check, and so are any pockets with a flat.
“Perch will be on the bottom or within about five feet of the bottom,” said Paul.
To get down to fish that are just above the bottom, Paul trolls with an unusual rig he imported from Ohio — a sort of mini cannon-ball rig. First, he ties a three-way swivel onto his line. Then on a foot-long leader he ties on an 8-oz. hand-poured weight. That’s right — eight ounces. Lighter weights tend to come up off the bottom and pull the bait away from the fish.
On the other side of the three-way swivel he ties on a three-foot line and slides on a Quick-Change clevis with a No. 1 Indiana blade before tying on a No. 1 hook. The blade is painted, and in Paul’s boat the blade color is always chartreuse.
“Color doesn’t matter as long as it is chartreuse,” says Paul.
He hooks a bit of nightcrawler — maybe a piece an inch long — onto the hook, but he does not use a gob of worms.
“You don’t want to spoil them with too much worm,” he says.
But he allows that it is the worm, not the flasher, that seals the deal.
“Perch are meat-eaters,” said Paul. “They like minnows and night- crawlers. They will hit some artificials, but the best trips have all been with bait. If you don’t have a worm behind the spinner, you are not going to catch fish.”
Paul trolls using his 40 hp gas engine. If you were pulling crappie jigs, the speed would be considered a fast troll.
He fishes the heavy weight on the least expensive baitcaster he can find.
“The gears don’t last long pulling that heavy weight,” he says.
When he is underway over a likely grassbed, he releases the spool on the reel and lets the weight plunge to the bottom. As soon as it hits, he engages the reel and pulls the weight a foot or two above the bottom. The idea is for the weight, and the bait, to travel along the top of the grassbeds — exactly where the perch will be hanging out.
“To catch perch, you need to be right down there with them,” says Paul.
Because you are dragging the heavy weight across grassbeds, it is necessary to check your line frequently. If there is grass on the spinner, the fish won’t bite, says Paul.
The day I fished with Paul, the fish at Burton were in the 20-foot range. Once you establish the depth, you can find perch at the same depth all over the lake, he says, but schools of fish will move.
One summer Paul located a big school of perch across the cove from the ramp at Murray Cove.
“They were on that spot for two months, and the fish were so thick that you couldn’t fish two rods,” he said. “Then they moved, and the rest of the summer they were not there. The fish will move around, and you have to find them.”
We fished more than a dozen places on Burton checking for fish. Paul watches his graph, and if he finds good grassbeds, he will drag his heavy weight, spinner and nightcrawler rig over the grass. If he doesn’t get bit in just a few minutes, he is ready to try the next grassbed.
“If they are there, they will usually bite right away,” he says.
The spinner on the heavy weight serves as Paul’s fishfinder rig. Once Paul has located a school of perch with his spinner rig, he makes a change to minnows. Minnows are likely the most common bait used to catch yellow perch by the few Georgia fishermen who target the yellow-and-orange cousin to the walleye. But Paul’s approach is a bit different. He is targeting the biggest of the perch — fish above a foot long. To select for those fish, and to eliminate small perch, he uses medium- or large-sized minnows.
“You don’t catch as many fish on a three-inch minnow, but the ones you catch will be good ones,” he says.
Paul hooks minnows through the nose on a No. 1 hook and fishes them straight down below a 1-oz. sinker. He uses his trolling motor to ease over grassbeds or channel ledges, keeping the minnows just off the bottom.
Yellow perch aren’t the only fish you are likely to catch in the mountain lakes. Bass and chain pickerel will also hit the big minnows or the worm behind the flasher. But when Paul begins catching pickerel, which feed on perch, he usually picks up and moves to a new location.
“If the pickerel have also found the perch, the perch usually scoot,” he said.
Oddly, he rarely catches trout and seldom catches walleye when fishing for yellow perch.
The day we fished Burton, the fish were scattered. We picked one up here and there, but could not find the big concentrations that Paul likes to find. At 3 p.m. we put his boat on the trailer and made the short drive to Lake Rabun. We launched in the river at Rabun Beach and went downriver to the first hard curve, maybe a half-mile downriver. We immediately began to catch perch. We were pulling Paul’s spinner rig along the edge of the river channel in about 10 feet of water, and the perch were on the edge of the ledge. In five minutes we caught three — all in the 11- or 12-inch range. Then we doubled on two more perch.
On Paul’s best day, he and a friend caught about 200 perch including 60 or 70 over 12-inches. There is no limit on perch, so help youself. And they are great on the table. Paul sent me home with a package of fillets from our trip. Battered and deep-fried, they were excellent.
Paul fishes lakes Burton, Seed and Rabun for yellow perch, and he ranks them this way: For high numbers of yellow perch and a good shot at big fish, go to Lake Burton.
For good numbers of smaller perch — but with the chance for a real monster — fish Lake Seed.
For trophy-class perch, but in a more-difficult-to-fish lake, try Lake Rabun.
“Rabun has some good perch, but it is harder to fish because it has fewer flats with grassbeds. You have to fish on steeper banks.”
Rabun, however, gets the nod as a great place to take a kid on a fun fishing trip, says Paul.
“Just take a kid up the river, and fish crappie minnows a couple of cranks off the bottom,” said Paul. “You will catch a lot of perch, and the kid will have a ball!”
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