2018-05-10 / Front Page

Perch turn table on invasive

Perch plentiful in bay
By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff

When Glen Lake and Lake Leelanau remained locked with ice well into the best perch fishing time of the year, few anglers were found on Leelanau’s inland lakes.

“I don’t know how the perch are on Lake Leelanau because everybody’s fishing the bay,” said Greg Alsip, a fishing guide, when asked by the Enterprise a few weeks back.

It’s a trend that few saw in the future of Lake Michigan fishing, as the perch population was deemed a victim of a changed environment taken over by invasive species.

Even stranger is that one of those invasives seems to now be a mainstay in the diet of big lake perch, which are looking healthier — and bigger — than most people can remember.

“I did see a picture last Thursday of a couple people in Northport who caught 100, their limit,” said John Popa, a Bingham Township resident and avid fisher. “There was one person off Lee Point who never threw one fish back. There was this one picture of one over 15 inches.”

That’s a trophy perch, and a meal by itself for many people. DNR district biologist Heather Hettinger said most fishers — and biologists — had about given up on a perch comeback given their paltry numbers in recent years.

“That’s the bugger with trying to manage Lake Michigan right now, everything is so cyclical. And then you throw in the wedge of our food web being so unstable,” said Hettinger.

A previous theory was that the tiny waterflea, an import from Europe and Asia first found in the Great lakes in 1982, was monopolizing native zooplankton required by baby perch to grow into adults. But after a couple successful breeding seasons, perch numbers have rebounded and now are turning to waterfleas as an abundant food source.

“Spiny fleas are too big for minnows. That spine is a pretty rigid structure. Our original thought was that was going to be a tough food item for (minnows),” Hettinger said.

Another import with an even more offensive name — bloody red shrimp — is also being found in the bellies of perch, too, Hettinger said. “They are small, but when they congregate they literally turn the water red. That’s how they get their nickname.” she said.

Hettinger has been fielding reports of fishers in West Grand Traverse Bay having a field day over schools of perch.

“From the size I’ve been seeing from the perch anglers, it looks like two years of good spawning back-to-back. There have been a lot of fish in the midteen range,” Hettinger said.

Popa, a lifelong resident of the county, says a good memory is needed to recall when perch fishing was better.

“When i was a kid in the 1950s and 60s, we were getting perch like that. Once they started planting coho and when you would gut one of those you would find alewives, but you would also find perch. I estimate that perch fishing hasn’t been this good since back in the 1960s,” Popa said.

Hettinger said the contents of perch bellies contains many natural contents as well: wigglers, smelt, smaller perch and shiners.

“They are eating the normal stuff, but with the abundance of bloody red shrimp and spiny waterfleas, they are definitely capitalizing on them,” she said.

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