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After trying to crack the code on the annual summer perch bite that disappears just when the traditional perch fishing season should be starting, I think that I have some plausible ideas why.

In short, the perch are relying heavily on the Spiny water fleas (Bythotrephes longismanus, if my spelling is correct- an invasive species from roughly the same part of the world as Zebra mussels originate, the Caspian-Ponto Region of Eurasia.

After overwintering in dormancy, the water fleas begin to multiply, especially while water temperatures are within their preferred range of 57-79 F.

Perch have lots of options of what to eat in the spring, including mayfly larvae, which they pull from the mud all winter and into spring; midge larvae at their peak sizes; and ever-present mollusks, such as snails and zebra/quagga mussels.

Once most of the mayflies have emerged in mid to late June after 2 years of growth in the sediments, the perch are left with the much smaller 1 year-old mayfly larvae and much fewer late-stage midge larvae, as many of them have emerged by then also.

Meanwhile, Zooplankton populations such as Bosmina, Daphnia, Copepods and Bythotrephes spike as a result of the abundant beneficial spring species of algae that lays the foundation of the Lake Erie aquatic food chain.

The perch feed heavily on zooplankton, with Bythotrephes becoming more important, due to their size and abundance into late July. These are often found in-between the bottom and the surface, depending upon sunlight penetration levels, forcing perch to hunt in the water column at wherever these prey are currently swarming.

However, once the water temperatures reach the upper tolerance limits of what the Bythotrephes can handle, their populations crash. Then, the perch must look for other prey to stoke their metabolism, which is running at peak levels due to the water temperatures too.

Fortunately, by this time many Young-of-Year fish larvae are very abundant and the perch train their attention on a fish diet, along with also using insect larvae, scuds, snails and Zebra mussels to fill their bellies.

This puts the hungry perch on the bottom, where larval fish tend to hide during the day, and the insect larvae, scuds and mollusks are found- and where anglers normally target them while fishing using minnows.

I believe that while the water temperatures are too warm to allow for the presence of Bythotrephes, the perch fishing becomes good- from late July until Mid-August during the Spiny water flea's absence.

Once the water temperatures drop into the acceptable range of the Bythotrephes and their populations explode again (up until the temperatures drop too far and send them into dormancy for the winter) perch target this prey item to the virtual exclusion of other baits. Catches only occur if you can find schools of perch before they have filled up on the fleas and are still actively feeding.

In the late fall, often after mid-October, perch fishing improves again until next summer when the B.l. begin another season of population expansion.

Do my observations match what others are seeing?
 

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That is some thought out research and some speculation their. My only question is why just 4 short years ago was perch fishing on fire but not now? Their were plenty of the same little critters in the water back then as their is now. I can remember some miserable days on the water with so many bugs on the boat that it drove you crazy. And seeing those fleas on the lines when running dipsys.
The only difference was the walleye population in the lake was no where near as it is now. The perch fishing was great with minnows. I can remember running out of bait, and using the spit up minnows in my live well and the ones spit up in the boat when catching a perch for bait. And catching plenty of fish with them.
I have no answers as to where the perch are hiding or if their numbers are so far down for the reason for poor perch fishing. Someone who has one of those underwater camera's, could answer some of those questions if they could find the perch.
 

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If I remember correctly fish have difficulty swallowing those spiny water fleas. The spines prevent the fish from swallowing the fleas, it gets caught in their throats. Any scientists out there confirm this?
 

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Discussion Starter #5
If I remember correctly fish have difficulty swallowing those spiny water fleas. The spines prevent the fish from swallowing the fleas, it gets caught in their throats. Any scientists out there confirm this?
I played a scientist at work on Lake Erie for over 30 years, so I'll try try to address your question:

Difficulty in handling/swallowing/processing the water fleas is well documented for small, YOY (Young of year) larval and juvenile fish, but adult fish have no difficulty with wholly ingesting, consuming and digesting them, according to the scientific papers that I have read on the subject.

Of course, they would reap more benefit from prey without the digestion time that the spine requires, but the body of the flea provides enough nourishment.

The ecological concern with them being in the lake includes Spiny water fleas consuming smaller zooplankton like Daphnia and Bosmina which are relied on by smaller fish and their competition with the the lake's formerly largest native Cladoceran, called Leptodora kindii, a zooplankton prey that doesn't have the protective spine and potentially leaving the small, YOY larval/juvenile fish without enough preferred-size food.

It seems like yellow perch and steelhead trout use them the most while available in the summer, based upon my informal stomach content surveys. At least they are the only species that I have seen with stomachs entirely FULL of the Spiny water fleas.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
That is some thought out research and some speculation their. My only question is why just 4 short years ago was perch fishing on fire but not now? Their were plenty of the same little critters in the water back then as their is now. I can remember some miserable days on the water with so many bugs on the boat that it drove you crazy. And seeing those fleas on the lines when running dipsys.
The only difference was the walleye population in the lake was no where near as it is now. The perch fishing was great with minnows. I can remember running out of bait, and using the spit up minnows in my live well and the ones spit up in the boat when catching a perch for bait. And catching plenty of fish with them.
I have no answers as to where the perch are hiding or if their numbers are so far down for the reason for poor perch fishing. Someone who has one of those underwater camera's, could answer some of those questions if they could find the perch.
Another hunch of mine, which I feel needs to be investigated, is whether this is a new warmer temperature tolerant Spiny water flea (Swf) species that has arrived since 2016 which now dominates the Western Basin. Researchers that I worked with in the late 1980's felt that water temperatures were too warm for Swf's to be present until the late fall when the lake cooled down enough. Spf's in Lake Erie were at that time restricted to the Central Basin during the summer.
 

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Spiny water fleas were still coming in on Dipsy lines last Friday the 21st. at Ashtabula in 70' of water. I can remember perch spitting up fleas as long as fleas have been in the lake. It seemed like they were always hungry even with a full stomach. Whatever the problem is in the Central Basin,I don't think it is the fleas. I haven't tried perching this year.
 

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So, in lieu of all this great information.... what bait will the perch prefer over the fleas?
 

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I would think with the sophisticated sonar equipment on your research vessels. That there should be someway to estimate perch populations using a grid format.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Spiny water fleas were still coming in on Dipsy lines last Friday the 21st. at Ashtabula in 70' of water. I can remember perch spitting up fleas as long as fleas have been in the lake. It seemed like they were always hungry even with a full stomach. Whatever the problem is in the Central Basin,I don't think it is the fleas. I haven't tried perching this year.
The Central Basin has more going on there that needs fixed. Very poor hatches for starters, an expanding dead zone below the thermocline AND the competition for your attention from Spiny water fleas! The last time that I fished Ashtabula, we were just outside the Harbor in 63 FOW and caught some perch on the bottom, but added many more by watching the fish finder on flasher mode and cranking up our bait (emerald shiners) when we saw fish coming through suspended as much as 24 feet off the bottom. Lower numbers of perch and low energy in the presence of low dissolved oxygen may explain some of why they may be tougher to catch on the bottom nowadays there. If anyone cracks the code, please share......
 

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WALLEYE, SMALLMOUTH, LARGEMOUTH, PERCH, BLUEGILL
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Hagerman.2
I agree with much of what you ate stating, but I thought the last few hatches have been OK to above average
 

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The theory of too spiney to swallow is just not it. Up ground reservoirs are loaded with tiny craw fish. Have cleaned a few with one inch craw fish in their guts.

Sent from my LGLS990 using Tapatalk
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Hagerman.2
I agree with much of what you ate stating, but I thought the last few hatches have been OK to above average
Looking at the Ohio Div. of Wildlife Lake Erie Status Report, the perch hatches have been near or even above average in the Western Basin each year since 2013, especially 2014, 2018 and 2019, but the Central Basin hatches have been dismal, other than in 2017, which was particularly good in Management Unit 3- Fairport Harbor to Conneaut.
 

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Looking at the Ohio Div. of Wildlife Lake Erie Status Report, the perch hatches have been near or even above average in the Western Basin each year since 2013, especially 2014, 2018 and 2019, but the Central Basin hatches have been dismal, other than in 2017, which was particularly good in Management Unit 3- Fairport Harbor to Conneaut.
what was the totall comercial harvest lb perch last 5 years lake erie?
every lb harvest multiply by 10 dead fish.
 

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Looking at the Ohio Div. of Wildlife Lake Erie Status Report, the perch hatches have been near or even above average in the Western Basin each year since 2013, especially 2014, 2018 and 2019, but the Central Basin hatches have been dismal, other than in 2017, which was particularly good in Management Unit 3- Fairport Harbor to Conneaut.
I believe 2017 was the first year of the commercial fishing agreement off of Fairport. This year is the last if so. I still think we need to change tactics.
https://www.greatlakesnow.org/2020/02/perch-shiners-fishing-population-diet-business/
 

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After trying to crack the code on the annual summer perch bite that disappears just when the traditional perch fishing season should be starting, I think that I have some plausible ideas why.

In short, the perch are relying heavily on the Spiny water fleas (Bythotrephes longismanus, if my spelling is correct- an invasive species from roughly the same part of the world as Zebra mussels originate, the Caspian-Ponto Region of Eurasia.

After overwintering in dormancy, the water fleas begin to multiply, especially while water temperatures are within their preferred range of 57-79 F.

Perch have lots of options of what to eat in the spring, including mayfly larvae, which they pull from the mud all winter and into spring; midge larvae at their peak sizes; and ever-present mollusks, such as snails and zebra/quagga mussels.

Once most of the mayflies have emerged in mid to late June after 2 years of growth in the sediments, the perch are left with the much smaller 1 year-old mayfly larvae and much fewer late-stage midge larvae, as many of them have emerged by then also.

Meanwhile, Zooplankton populations such as Bosmina, Daphnia, Copepods and Bythotrephes spike as a result of the abundant beneficial spring species of algae that lays the foundation of the Lake Erie aquatic food chain.

The perch feed heavily on zooplankton, with Bythotrephes becoming more important, due to their size and abundance into late July. These are often found in-between the bottom and the surface, depending upon sunlight penetration levels, forcing perch to hunt in the water column at wherever these prey are currently swarming.

However, once the water temperatures reach the upper tolerance limits of what the Bythotrephes can handle, their populations crash. Then, the perch must look for other prey to stoke their metabolism, which is running at peak levels due to the water temperatures too.

Fortunately, by this time many Young-of-Year fish larvae are very abundant and the perch train their attention on a fish diet, along with also using insect larvae, scuds, snails and Zebra mussels to fill their bellies.

This puts the hungry perch on the bottom, where larval fish tend to hide during the day, and the insect larvae, scuds and mollusks are found- and where anglers normally target them while fishing using minnows.

I believe that while the water temperatures are too warm to allow for the presence of Bythotrephes, the perch fishing becomes good- from late July until Mid-August during the Spiny water flea's absence.

Once the water temperatures drop into the acceptable range of the Bythotrephes and their populations explode again (up until the temperatures drop too far and send them into dormancy for the winter) perch target this prey item to the virtual exclusion of other baits. Catches only occur if you can find schools of perch before they have filled up on the fleas and are still actively feeding.

In the late fall, often after mid-October, perch fishing improves again until next summer when the B.l. begin another season of population expansion.

Do my observations match what others are seeing?
 

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Saw a lot of small perch swimming in the marinas in the spring of this year for the first time in many years. This was in Cleveland. Maybe they are on the rebound.
 

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Saw a lot of small perch swimming in the marinas in the spring of this year for the first time in many years. This was in Cleveland. Maybe they are on the rebound.
I’ve seen and caught many small
Perch in our marina every year I’ve been here also. But I tell ya. I havnt seen or caught any shiners whatsoever in that time but have seen some for the first time this year. Quite a few schools actually.
 
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