116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
LANSING — The good multispecies fishing on the Upper Mississippi River has gotten even better with the recent population explosion of yellow perch.
“It’s becoming a destination for perch anglers,” said Dave Bierman, Bellevue Station team leader for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
“Pools 9 and 10 (from Genoa, Wis., to Guttenberg) are best, but the good perch fishing is spreading downstream,” Bierman said.
Increased water clarity, in part due to filtration by invasive zebra mussels, has stimulated a surge in aquatic vegetation, which yellow perch need to flourish, said Ryan Hupfeld, a fisheries researcher at the DNR’s Bellevue Station.
Vegetation concentrates the minnows, crustaceans and insect larva that perch eat, while providing their preferred spawning substrate and sheltering them from predators such as walleye and northern pike, he said.
To learn more about perch habitat preferences, Hupfeld conducted a yearlong radio telemetry study of 20 perch in pool 9. Those fish spent most of their time, he said, in shallow, vegetated sites with minimal current.
The limiting factor for perch, he said, is the availability of overwintering habitat — backwater pools with sufficient depth and minimal current.
To counter the ongoing sedimentation that has been encroaching upon suitable overwintering habitat, state and federal agencies, through the Habitat Rehabilitation and Enhancement Project, have dredged and slowed the current in several Upper Mississippi backwater sites.
“The goal is to maintain what we have while creating more overwintering habitat,” Hupfeld said.
Yellow perch have historically been only a minor component of the Upper Mississippi fishery, but anglers are increasingly targeting them, both through the ice in the winter and in open water, especially in the spring and fall.
“The perch have become prevalent. They are everywhere,” said Burt Walters, the DNR conservation officer in Allamakee County.
Walters said aquatic vegetation has “exploded” in pool 9. While weeds fouling hooks may handicap game fish anglers, the vegetation provides ideal habitat for yellow perch, Walters said.
Compared even to other panfish, yellow perch do not attain great size — the state record weighed 2.79 pounds. Nor do they put up much resistance to capture. But with their orange fins and dark stripes on a green background, they are as pretty as any fish, and many, myself included, consider them the tastiest of all freshwater fish.
Perch anglers have the additional advantage of a relatively modest outlay for equipment. You don’t need a high-powered boat, complex electronics and a deck full of rods, reels and lures to catch perch. A simple boat, a basic rod and reel and some minnows or night crawlers will do.
The rules are simple too. Iowa has a continuous open season, no length limit, a daily bag limit of 25 perch and a possession limit of 50.
Should you be skilled or lucky enough to catch 25, you needn’t feel guilty about keeping them.
“They have a short life span. They grow fast and die young. It’s impossible to overharvest them,” Hupfeld said.