What's in the lake? Perch.
Perche' no perch? (Why not perch?) - A good question for Eastside fishers to ponder, because both Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish are rife with yellow perch. The number of perch you may catch is virtually limitless according to state fishing regulations.
Although perch are mostly small, averaging about 10 inches and weighing a half-pound, some can get up to 2 pounds in weight. Perch have flaky white meat with a very pleasant and mild flavor. As for eating, if you ask a multispecies fisherman how these fish fare gastronomically you will find them rated far more desirable than trout and bass.
I have caught perch in both of the above urban lakes. However, my most unique experience was during a goose hunting trip to the Potholes Reservoir region of Eastern Washington. Bill Arndt, a longtime Issaquah resident, asked me to accompany him and we drove to Othello for a hunt the next morning. Being winter, there were very few areas of ice-free water in the Potholes area, so we hunted the early morning from a blind near where the geese flew in to feed.
When the geese stopped flying we quit and drove off. Bill stopped the car where we could see a sole person sitting on a box on an ice-covered lake. Bill unexpectedly informed me that we were now going to ice fish for perch! He had a couple of small rods and fishing gear stashed in the car for that purpose. When I inquired about bait, Bill said not to worry, but just to watch.
With a tire iron to punch out a fishing hole, we walked up to the ice fisherman and Bill, noting several perch on the ice, asked, "Can we have a few eyes?"
The fisherman smiled knowingly and answered, "Sure. The fishing is a bit slow but I expect it to pick up."
Bill popped out a couple of perch eyes, we baited the hooks with them and stood on gunny sacks to stay warm while catching a nice mess of yellow perch through a hole in the ice.
Local perch fishing
Just recently, my neighbor, Wally Johnson, reported to me about his perch fishing in lakes Washington and Sammamish. He and his partner kept more than 100 fish on one of them. Wally did remark that it took an awfully long time to fillet them afterwards. Such a complaint is a sure measure of success and an inducement to find a boat and get a line in the water.
Perch are predominantly school fish. They travel together around the lake seeking a rewarding combination of water oxygenation, presence of food and desirable temperature. In winter, they are found in deeper water because the surface waters are much colder. Recent significant perch catches have been made while fishing near 100 feet deep in Lake Washington and 40 to 50 feet deep in Lake Sammamish.
Locating perch schools can be accomplished either through local knowledge, trial and error, or with an electronic fish-finder. In winter, perch school up near the bottom of the lake with northern pike minnows (squaw fish).The larger squaw fish do help with the fish-finder signature while locating schools. Once you locate a school, stay with it as perch feed episodically, sometimes with hours between active times.
Worms are standard perch bait and one of the best. These should be fished from a couple of hooks about two feet apart on a dropped leader with a 3/8-ounce sinker about 18 inches below the bottom hook. Perch are not leader-shy with bait, so up to a 10-pound test leader is good for the task.
However, if you find a school in the biting mood, the better tactic is to switch to 1/16-ounce to 1/4-ounce jigs with black, cream or white marabou tails and use a light spinning outfit with smaller (4-6 pound) line, in order to maximize your opportunity for a lot of fish in a short time.
Preparing your perch
To prepare the fillets, I don't clean the fish, but using a sharp, flexible knife cut behind the gill covers to the spine. I keep cutting along the rib bones, stopping just before the tail. Then, I flip the slab over and cut it near the tail down to the inner skin. I pull the tail and skin, with the knife angled against the inner skin, until the fillet is free.
If you find a couple of bones or inner membrane on the fillet, just pare them off and it is ready to bake, pan fry, or make fish and chips. Folks who pan fry or bake them may leave the skin on the slabs and ignore it during the meal.
Happy perching - wear a flotation device, stay warm on the lake and keep an eye on the hook. Remember to release any incidentally caught kokanee (the silver, trout-like fish with no or faint spots) in order to keep the game warden friendly.