Everything You Need To Know About Using Perch As Bait


by Robert Ceran

Small yellow perch are a sought after prey fish of almost every game fish that grows bigger than them, including bass, catfish, walleye, pike, and muskie.

Since they are a popular food source for game fish, but are themselves also classified as game fish, this raises two important questions:

  • Can you use yellow perch as bait?
  • What’s the best way to use them as bait?

Here’s the quick answer:

It’s legal to use perch as bait in some states, but not others.

This is because some states categorically prohibit the use of game fish as bait, while others allow it under certain conditions.

In addition to your state laws you also need to check the regulations for your lake or river.

If you are allowed to use them, perch are an excellent bait for big catfish, pike, muskie, and even for bass. You can use them either live, dead, or as cut bait.

Is it legal to use perch as bait?

Whether or not it’s legal to use them depends on the sport fishing regulations of your state.

For example, in Philadelphia it is legal to use perch as bait, as the requirements published in their regulations state that “legally taken gamefish may be taken as bait.” In California, however, this is currently prohibited (source). 

In addition to checking whether it’s allowed to use them in your state, you also need to check the rules on whether you are allowed to transfer them from one lake to another.

For example, in Pennsylvania the rules state that “transferring fish from one Pennsylvania watershed to another where that species is not always present is illegal” (source). 

In other words, you need to make sure that you are allowed to catch fish in one lake, and then use them as bait in a different lake, or if you can only use them if they are caught in the same lake. 

Finally, you also need to check the local regulations of the lake that you are fishing. In some cases there is a closed season, and there may also be a minimum size requirement on how big they must be before you can keep them.

In order to comply with regulations like that, you can only use the ones that exceed the minimum size requirement.

How to find out if you can use perch as bait in your state

The best way to find out what’s currently allowed in your state is by looking up the website of your state fish and wildlife management agency. 

Click here for a Wikipedia list of all state wildlife management agencies in the USA

You can use the list on Wikipedia to find the right one for your state. Once you’re on the website, search for their fishing regulations, and more specifically, the baitfish regulations. 

Do bass eat perch?

Yes, bass regularly eat perch, especially if they are abundantly present in sizes between 2 and 5 inches.

And while bass are often opportunistic, lunging at almost anything that moves, they do specialize in hunting perch in some lakes, if perch are the most common forage there.

Because of this it’s worth checking the stomach content of a bass or two after you catch them, since that may reveal if they are keyed in on perch in your location.

How to use yellow perch as bait

Once you’ve determined if you are allowed to use them in your state and on your lake, you then have three main options on how to use them.

You can use them as live, dead, or cut bait. All three of these can make formidable baits for large game fish, and if you can make one of these options work for you, that may even put you ahead of other anglers using more conventional methods. 

1. For catfish: 

Perch are considered by many catfish anglers as one of their secret weapons, especially when it comes to catching BIG flatheads or blue catfish. 

While small ones around 2” to 3” can be a great live bait for channel catfish, try using the 6” to 8” size instead if you want to target big catfish specifically.

This is an extremely effective method to catch fish north of 50 pounds regularly. 

Finally, you can also use them dead, cut in half (use the head end), or as a filet to attract catfish with their smell. 

2. For pike:

Just like for catfish, perch are one of the secret weapons for catching big pike.

If you use a 5”-6” fish as bait, that’ll probably catch you some decent sized pike, but if you specifically want to target trophy sized pike, increase the size to 8 inches, or even bigger.

That way you’ll tend to catch pike that are north of 10-15 pounds, while avoiding the small ones.

Keep in mind that the preferred prey fish of pike can vary from lake to lake.

In some waters they catch a lot of perch, while in others they tend to prefer other species.

The best way to find out what they prefer in your lake is to take a look at the stomach content of freshly caught pike. 

One of the great things about pike is that they will readily take dead fish, so you don’t have to worry about keeping them alive. 

3. For bass:

Bass have been known to eat almost anything, and a popular method for catching big largemouth bass is by using live bluegill, and you can also use perch to catch them with very similar methods.

However, unlike for catfish and pike, the ideal size to go for is about 2-4 inches, to make sure they are small enough to fit in a bass mouth.

The best method to fish for bass this way is with a slip bobber that you can cast close to areas with cover, where bass like to hang out.

Getting a strike on this kind of rig and watching the bobber disappear as a large fish pulls it under is always a really exciting moment.

4. For ice fishing:

Small yellow perch are one of the most commonly caught fish during the ice fishing season, which means it’s easy to get access to them during the cold season. 

If you’re a pike angler who likes to use tip ups, then perch are an ideal bait to try with this method.

You can use them either live or dead, as pike are even more partial to dead fish during the winter.

And remember that you can use big ones of around 8-9 inches to target those trophy northerns. 

Smaller sized ones of 2” to 4” can be a good bait option for catching bass through ice as well, though in the case of bass you should only use live ones. 

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