Ice-Fishing Tactics for Perch in Deep Creek LakePosted on: January 24, 2019 By: FHMD
One of the premier East Coast destinations for icing jumbo 12- to 15-inch yellow perch for adventuresome ice-anglers is Maryland’s Deep Creek Lake. At 3,900-acres in Garrett County, the lake also offers a shot at walleyes, northern pike, chain pickerel and huge bluegills once the ice forms. With a 10-fish limit on yellow perch (per angler, per day) the regulation helps to limit the potential for over harvest of these massive, top-end panfish that can sometimes exceed the two-pound mark. These schooling, nomadic fish can be found shallow during early-ice time frames and then deeper as the long winter and ice fishing season progresses. As a staple for ice fishermen everywhere, yellow perch offer great tasting fillets with a flavor all their own.
While many species can be had through the ice at Deep Creek, the day-in, day-out target would have to be the yellow perch. These big panfish offer challenging fishing with a solid effort needed for success. They are not pushovers…if you catch your limit of 10 a day then you have had yourself a good outing. You have to be mobile and drill lots of holes until you locate the fish. Some days it seems easy. Most days you’ll have to work at it.
There is a fair amount of Deep Creak Lake regulars who prefer to set stationary tip-up devices over prime areas and bait up with minnows and wait. That’s OK, but for me, I’ll take my chances on finding active fish by staying on the move. Winter time perch are on the move and the action can be fast and furious or like a dead pool.
Our ice jigging rods are from 24- to 30-inches long and have sensitive tips with some backbone to set the hook from water as deep as 35 feet from a vertical jigging position. Rods that are soft or wimpy will not drive the hooks home very well when you fish waters deeper than 18 or 20 feet. We spool quality 6-pound monofilament on light, not ultralight, spinning reels and use #10 and #12 cross-look swivels to attach our lures. Our secret weapon, if you wish to call it that, is a two- to three-inch extension of the tip top that is a stainless steel wire with a loop and an orange or red bead attached at the end of the wire. This wire ‘indicator’ allows us to see sensitive and deepwater strikes from perch that would otherwise go undetected with just the rod tip alone. The line is threaded through the wire loop guide and then the swivel and lure are attached.
Our arsenal of lures includes Rapala Jigging Minnows in sizes three or five. Gold, silver, and blue seem to be the favored colors throughout much of the season. We also use a variety of spoons such as Kastmasters in 1/12th– and 1/8th-ounce, Swedish Pimples in 1/8th– and 1/5th-ounce, and Little Cleo and Blue Fox Rattle Flash Spoons in 1/16th– and 1/8th-ounce. Gold, silver and bronze patterns work well throughout the entire ice season. At rare times, we will use 1/16th-ounce jigheads with Panfish Assassins on them. Always, we tip our lures with either waxworms or maggots. In a pinch, we use Berkely Gulp! products for tipping. If the perch are really on a tear, we don’t bother to tip, just get your lure back down where active fish are feeding. As a general rule, we use heavier lures when we are fishing 20 feet or deeper and lighter lures when shallower. But the heavier baits work just fine in shallow situations as well. On the Rapala Minnows, always thread baits on the center, treble hook. On spoons, it’s a good idea to replace the treble hook with the single hook that comes with most of them. Pierce wax worms, maggots or Gulp! products on the single hook.
Traditionally, we drill six or eight holes and give each one about a 10- to 15-minute effort. If we do not get a strike or a fish, then we move on to the next hole. If one of our group gets a couple of fish, then we all swoop in and drill additional holes in hopes of cashing in quickly on a big, roaming school of jumbos. We will drill ‘satellite’ holes in other directions and use portable depth finders to key in on the fish.
First, drop your baited lure so that it settles on the bottom. From a comfortable, seated position, reel up tight and work your offering from six to 12 inches off the bottom as a starting point. Almost all perch, and walleye as well, are going to be within two feet off the bottom but more often they will be much closer to the lake floor, sometimes only inches off the bottom. With your lure a few inches off the lake floor, “anchor” your rod and establish the depth by holding your wrist on your knee with the hand that is holding the rod. I’m right handed, so I simply rest my right hand on my right knee and give the lure several initial twitches with pauses of several seconds in between each twitch of the lure. Sometimes, this initial jigging motion will draw strikes, but often more is needed.
With your hand again anchored on your knee, lift the lure about 12 inches up from the starting point and give it a series of twitches at that position. If done correctly, your spoon or minnow should now be about 14 inches off the bottom. You can also drop the lure very slowly and pause it at 6-inch increments, giving it twitches at each depth. Another good pattern is to lift the lure up quickly and hold it steady for several seconds, then snap it up again several inches higher in the water column and hold it still again.
On almost every occasion, a strike will occur after you have imparted some type of movement to your bait. A ‘strike’ will be in the form of a movement in the wire indicator. With perch, it is usually a brisk snap downward of the wire. But sometimes the bite will be more subtle. You may see the wire ‘lift up’ from its stationary position…a sure clue that a fish has taken the bait from below, and the released tension will be telegraphed with your wire lifting up. Set the hook! At other times the wire may just slowly bend over towards the surface of the water, Again, set the hook with a sharp, upward motion that will lift your rod even with your head or higher. If you miss the strike, drop the lure right back down to the zone and the fish may very well come back for a second chance.
Before You Go
As Maryland’s largest freshwater lake is located at the southern extent of the “ice belt” region of the Eastern United States, keep in mind that ice forms, thaws and weakens differently throughout various areas of the lake depending on many environmental factors. The minimal 4-inches of clear, hard ice may be present in one cove, yet only two inches may exit just down the lake. Consult the Maryland Department of Natural Resources page for the state park on Ice Dangers and Safety for a comprehensive guide for safe travel on the ice and what to be aware of.
Besides great multi-species ice-fishing options at Deep Creek Lake there are many winter time activities ranging from hiking, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing at the Wisp Resort at McHenry and a myriad of “winter fest” activities offered by many area establishments for evening dining and entertainment. There are a variety of accommodations around the lake. However, one option would be to rent a cabin at nearby Herrington Manor State Park where there are 20 full-service cabins for year-round availability and New Germany State Park. For cabin rental information and availability call (888) 432-2267. Access onto the ice is offered at Deep Creek Lake State Park and any lakefront rental will provide access to the ice as well. Plan now for a long winter weekend or a short ice-fishing vacation to this mountain-top powerhouse!
Before planning an ice fishing trip to Maryland, be sure to visit Maryland Department of Natural Resources online for information on licenses and regulations. Be sure to visit the Plan Your Trip section of our website for lodging options, guides, outfitters, and more.
This post was written by Jim Gronaw
Images courtesy of the author