Fishin’ with Capt. Gus! Deep Water White Perch 2-15-15

John Langford of Huntersville, NC holds two winter crappies Photo courtesy of Capt. Gus Gustafson

John Langford of Huntersville, NC holds two winter crappies
Photo courtesy of Capt. Gus Gustafson

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While most Lake Norman anglers will target bass, hybrids and stripers this month, a few will fill their coolers with white perch that weigh up to a pound – surprising to those who fish for them during the summer months when average fish are half that size.

Why so big?  White perch are among the first to spawn, usually on the full moons in March and April. During the pre-spawn, the adult perch that measure 10” to 14” spend the end of February bulking up on baitfish. Since the forage is deep, most feeding activity occurs in or near the old river channel. Many times the perch are feeding with, or just below, the stripers and hybrids. 

Once they’re found, either under diving birds or with the aid of a fish finder, lure placement is critical. The bait has to be positioned just above the feeding perch and worked very slowly. In some cases, the up and down movement of the boat is all that’s needed to trigger a strike. Even though the perch are feeding, they are quite sluggish when water temps are in the forties. When in doubt, slow the retrieve or jigging action.

When available, small live or fresh dead shad or herring will entice more bites than an artificial lure. Crappie minnows or cut pieces of white perch on one or two flies of a Sabiki rig or jigging spoon, will also help improve the strike ratio.

White perch are easily confused with hybrid striped bass. Both have similar profiles and are silver in color. A white perch, however, lacks the black and often broken lateral lines that the hybrid has. Why is this important? Because there is no size or creel limit on white perch, while hybrids have to be sixteen inches long and only four can be kept in aggregate with striped bass. The mistake can cost over one-hundred dollars in fines. 

Locating white perch in February:

* Begin searching for perch schools in fifty feet of water along the edges of the river and major creek channels.

* Next, zigzag the channel and keep a watchful eye on the fish finder.

Best places to find fish:

            * Under diving birds within sight of the Highway 150 Bridge

            * Between channel markers 12 and 14 

            * The main river channel in front of Sailview and Governor’s Island

            * The triangle formed by channel markers D1, D2 and main channel marker 3

            * The deeper water in front of the Marshall and McGuire discharge canals

The white meat of the perch is tasty, so keep as many as you want for a fish fry. Batter and fry the small ones. Larger fish are easily filleted, skinned and prepared as you would a striper or hybrid.

Tips from Capt. Gus: White perch are the perfect fish for introducing children to the sport. Not only are they plentiful, but they fight hard on light tackle. And better yet, no casting is required when using Sabiki or live bait rigs.

Hot Spots of the Week: Cat fishing is excellent in front of the Marshall Steam Plant between channel markers 15 and 15A. Spotted bass are hitting on river points, deep docks and under diving birds.

Hybrid and striped bass are striking slow moving Alabama rigs and live bait fished in the river channel. Large crappies are hitting jigs and minnows in water to thirty feet.

Upcoming Events: Free fishing seminar – “Getting Ready for Spring” – Jake Bussolini and I will discuss the “how’s” and “where’s” of catching pre-spawn and early spring bass, hybrids, crappies and white perch. This ninety-minute session will begin at 6:30 p.m. on February 18th at Gander Mountain, Exit 36, in Mooresville, NC. For additional information, call 704 658 0822.

Lake Conditions: The water level on Lake Norman is about 4.4 feet below full pond and is 2.8 feet below on Mountain Island Lake. The surface water temperature is in the mid to high forties in water not affected by power generation on Lake Norman.

Capt. Gus Gustafson of Lake Norman Ventures, Inc. is an Outdoor Columnist and a full time Professional Fishing Guide on Lake Norman, NC. Visit his website at or call 704-617-6812. For additional information, e-mail him at


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