“Never leave fish to find fish!” I remember clearly my grandpa telling me this every time we started catching fish and then the bite slowed down. It could have been trout, walleye, pike or perch it didn’t matter. It wasn’t until we hadn’t had a bite for at least an hour before we could search out another spot. I’ve heard that same phrase uttered over and over again, and now it just causes me to grin. The reason for that is that it’s great advice if your goal is simply to catch fish. It makes sense. But what if your goal is a little different? Let me challenge your thinking a little bit and see if you agree.

I like catching perch as much as the next guy. They are super fun, the action can be red hot and, of course, they are delicious! It’s great to take kids out and have them tangle with dinks all day, that’s one of the reasons I came to love this sport so much. But how many jumbos do you catch? What if you could head out and consistently catch 12”, 13”, 14+” slabs all day? Well, here’s why you’re not catching those fish and then I’ll share some secrets to change that for you.

The School

Perch are a schooling fish, but more than that, they tend to school with similar year classes. What this means is that once you find yourself on a school you will be catching similar sizes of fish. They won’t all be identical but normally you can take your average size and add 3” to get the biggest fish you might catch. So if you are catching some good 8-10” eaters there may be the odd 12” or larger out there, but it is highly unlikely that you will pick up a 14” slob in that school. Obviously it’s not impossible because there are always the incidental jumbo perch catches that hit your social media feed, or that one that your buddy got that one time and he won’t let you forget it. But what about the guys that seem to do it all the time? How do they do it? Simple: they have upped the average size of the school they are fishing. They are fishing where the fish are bigger. Here’s how you can do that too:

Pick the Right Lake

The most important rule in catching large fish of any species is that they have to be present in the lake where you are fishing. Find the lakes with a reputation for producing slabs. Look for unpressured, overlooked lakes that should have good populations of perch. It can take a bit of searching but once you find it, it will definitely be worth it.

Be Prepared to Walk Away from a School of Active Fish

If you are on the right lake and you find a school of fish but the average size is not what you are after, keep looking. Yes, leave fish that are biting. It’s hard, I know, but if you want to up your size you have to be prepared to walk away from biting fish to seek out the larger schools. Seek out similar structure, or even different structure to where you found the original school and keep searching until you find the school that you really want and your average size increases. I know it can be tough but this is what separates the jumbo hunters from the rest of the pack.

Use Your Electronics

When you start zoning in on jumbo perch you will find that they can be much pickier than their smaller counterparts. At first anyway. Use your flasher to zoom in on the bottom so that you can see the fish better, and more importantly see how they are reacting to your bait. Smaller perch can be quite eager to hit an active lure, however jumbos always start off much, much more sceptical.

Vary Your Presentation

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to icing jumbo perch consistently. You need to figure out the presentation that gets them to respond. Be prepared to try very simple and subtle presentations like a jig and sit approach or even a deadstick presentation. Often the slightest movement of the tail of your plastic from the movement of the water is what it takes. Sometimes it’s a combination of approaches. An aggressive jig or spoon can call fish in but it’s the subtle movement in a bait that causes a fish to strike. Work through different presentation techniques until you find the trigger that works that day.

Be Prepared for Everything

When you find your school you need to be ready to work. It would not be out of line to have 6 or more rods rigged up with different presentations to be able to switch things up quickly. The ideal rods have a sensitive tip and the back bone to set the hook and get these slabs to the surface quickly. St Croix has a good range of rods that do the job but the Custom Ice 28” Medium Light Fast Perch/Eye Spoon rod checks all the boxes if you are serious about icing jumbos regularly.  Pair that with a 13 Fishing Black Betty FreeFall Ice Reel and you're well on your way to landing lots of jumbo perch.

Carry a variety of spoons, tungsten jigs and rattle baits with minnows, maggots and meal worms to tip them with. Once you start catching fish you can stop tipping your lure as the fish will get curious and progressively more aggressive. At this point speed is key, getting your line back down the hole quickly is more important than tipping your lure with bait.

Check out the range of ice fishing gear in the store and get everything you need to be ready to ice those jumbo perch.

There is nothing quite like it, once you have dialed things in and you have found that school you will be in for some of the best action this ice fishing season. Just remember, Grandpa was right about a lot of things, and most of them fishing-related, but every now and again it pays to challenge that old trusted advice and possibly unlock a new world of possibilities.