Photo of yellow perch from Curlew Lake n Ferry County. Photo by Brian Walker

Yellow perch take centerstage in many lakes around Washington

Yellow perch is one of several “panfish” species that are very popular for anglers to easily catch across the state, they’re a great “family fishing activity” and they are outstanding eating quality

The plateau for yellow perch in many lakes statewide occurs in August, and one of the better locations to chase these feisty fish is Lake Washington, which lies directly in the backyard of the Seattle skyline.

Yellow perch are a very stable population in the vast lake that covers nearly 22,000 acres and stretches 20 miles from Kenmore on the northern tip to Renton in the southeastern most section. What make these fish even more appealing is the fact they’re available to catch year-round with late summer through early fall being the best period.

“There is much less harvest pressure on yellow perch in Lake Washington for a variety of reasons including competition with pleasure boats in the summer,” said Danny Garrett, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologist. “I would wager that harvesting more perch is still a good thing for Lake Washington in terms of improving growth.”

WDFW is conducting surveys of fish populations in Lake Washington this summer, and those will a better idea of the perch population.

“To my knowledge, little has changed with high abundance and slower growth than lakes with fewer species to compete with,” Garrett said. “In Lake Washington you see a lot of 7- to 8-inch perch (made up of three- and four-year old age class fish) although some will be as large as 12 to 14 inches or longer.”

Many speculate that one day the official WDFW state record of 2.75 pounds caught by Larry Benthien at Snelson’s Slough in Skagit County on June 22, 1969, could be broken and come from Seattle’s huge urban watershed.

Garrett points out this is largely based on ample feed and lots of “elbow room” for yellow perch to grow in the lake — which is the second largest natural-bodied lake in Washington.

A happy youth shows off one of several nice yellow perch he caught using a 1/32-ounce jig baited with a chartreuse curl-tail and worm chunk while fishing on the south end of Curlew Lake in Ferry County. Photo by Andy Walgamott

Unless there’s a high die-off due to some type of fungal infection, it is likely that the perch population will remain healthy in the lake for a very long time.

Yellow perch are colorful with golden-yellow, orange and brass-colored bodies with distinct olive-green, vertical triangular bars along each of their sides.

They spawn in the spring well ahead of many other warm-water fish species in the lake. The female perch are the largest and tend to grow much faster (maturing in three to four years) and are long-lived up to 8 to 10 years.

Fishing tips and gear

On light weight fishing gear, yellow perch will put up a fight, and they’ll often stay active all-day. It is not unusual see thousands of perch schooling in shallow water areas of the lake, and while reeling one in you could see many others following it up to the surface.

The best period to target yellow perch begins around July when the water heats up (this summer it might take a little longer due to the cooler than normal weather) and will peak in August through October.

When the winter arrives in November, yellow perch become harder to catch as they migrate to deeper water locations.

Yellow perch like to school in shallow water, 15 to 35 feet, and you’ll find them close to the shoreline or on the edge of drop offs. They tend to hunker down shaded spots along the cover of weed beds, milfoil, aquatic weeds, and lily pads or under docks or overhanging trees and brush. At night they’ll often hide when predators like smallmouth and largemouth bass in these areas.

Even during the middle of the day, yellow perch aren’t spooked away by boaters or jet- or water-skiers zipping around the lake.

Yellow perch feed on small fish, crayfish, snails, clams, and smaller invertebrates.

What makes this a fun fishery for everyone is the fact that there are so many locations accessible by boat or from the shoreline and public docks.

Look for yellow perch around Seward Park; Gene Coulon Park in Renton; Yarrow Bay in Kirkland; Magnuson Park; Andrews Bay; Newport area; Webster Point in Union Bay; Juanita Bay; Foster Island in the Montlake Cut; and docks at Mount Baker Park, Madison Park, Stan Sayres Pits, Leschi Park, Luther Burbank on Mercer Island, Kirkland, and Kenmore.

Fishing gear is a light-to-medium-action trout fishing rod with a spinning reel attached to 4- to 6-pound test main line. Attach a piece of worm on a 15- to 24-inch leader with a small salmon egg-style hook to a drop-shot egg-style weight.

Once you catch your first perch, you can use a small chunk of the meat or even an eyeball. Colorful tiny 3-inch plastic worms or small-skirted crappie jigs and lures tipped with maggots, wax worms, shrimp will also catch their fair share of fish.

When you first feel the perch nibbling at your bait don’t set the hook hard and let them play with the bait. Wait for your rod to bend before you gently reel them up. Yellow perch like to steal bait so don’t be fooled when you occasionally reel up bare hooks.

Yellow perch are very tasty fish with a firm, white-fleshed body and are similar in texture and flavor as walleye.

Lake Washington has a diverse ecosystem, and you can also catch cutthroat and rainbow trout, catfish, carp, peamouth chub, brown bullhead, smallmouth and largemouth bass, and black crappie. Another abundant fish is the “rock bass” a species of the sunfish.

A youth proudly holds up an 11-inch yellow perch he caught, along with 12 other fish during an outing at Fish Lake near Leavenworth. Photo by Alissa Mercer

Other Washington lakes host good numbers of yellow perch

Lake Washington isn’t the only show around Washington, and you can find yellow perch in many other lakes.

They include Lake Sammamish near Issaquah; Lake Whatcom near Bellingham; Sawyer Lake northwest of Black Diamond; lake Goodwin northwest of Marysville; Harts Lake southeast of Yelm; Lake Stevens east of Everett; Beaver Lake and Pine Lake near Issaquah; American Lake near Fort Lewis; Lake Kapowsin southeast of Puyallup; Angle Lake south of Sea-Tac Airport; Lake Desire in Renton; and Lake Meridian in Kent.

East of the Cascades, yellow perch can be found in Curlew Lake in Ferry County; Moses Lake and Potholes Reservoir in Grant County; Leader Lake, Palmer Lake, Whitestone Lake and Washburn Island Pond in Okanogan County; and Roses Lake and Wapato Lake in Chelan County.

“We’re doing a creel survey on the yellow perch fishery at Curlew Lake right now where our studies show the perch grow faster than they do in Lake Washington,” Garrett said. “In part this is due to less competition with other species, and perhaps due to more harvest from dedicated perch anglers in the summer months and through the ice in the winter.”

There is no daily catch or size limit on yellow perch in statewide lakes but check the WDFW regulation pamphlet for specifics.

You can find yellow perch information on the WDFW website, including an informative video.

A tagged yellow perch from Curlew Lake in Ferry County.

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.