Outdoors: Yellow perch a grand prize for any lake

I was talking with my friend Leon Cole, who for many years has operated Cole’s Bait and Tackle next to Paint Creek Lake with his wife Jean. Leon, who also frequently fishes at nearby Rocky Fork Lake, was telling me about a customer who brought in several nice yellow perch he had just caught at Rocky Fork. With that report, that lake just joined a growing list of lakes I have heard about supporting yellow perch.

That, of course, is good news. Any time you find out about a lake having a desirable species like yellow perch that you didn’t realize existed in that location, it’s good news. In only two cases that I know about have yellow perch been stocked in southwest Ohio lakes. They are Grand Lake St. Marys and, most recently, East Fork.

And yet I have heard of perch being caught at Indian Lake, C. J. Brown, Caesar Creek Lake, Cowan Lake and Lake Loramie. That’s not to say yellow perch (not to be confused with the invasive white perch found in Lake Erie) are not in other lakes in the region. I just haven’t heard about it if they are.

How did those perch ever get in those lakes that were never stocked?

“I have no idea,” said district fish management supervisor Debbie Walters. “Someone could have dumped some in and they have multiplied. That’s most likely.”

Probably more than one person has brought a live well full of yellow perch back from Lake Erie and (illegally) dumped it into, say, Rocky Fork. You can’t rule that out.

There are many who would like to see stocking of perch in places like Loramie or Caesar Creek. Mike Campbell at Spillway Bait in Loramie and Bill Wallace at Spillway Party Supply at Caesar Creek are perch proponents, feeling a species like perch will attract more anglers. More fishermen mean more business for not only bait stores, but for restaurants, gas stations, carryouts and others. Just look what saugeyes have done for Indian Lake.

But stocking yellow perch — or any species — is easier said than done. The habitat has to support them so one day they might reproduce on their own to constitute a genuine fishery. Some lakes have the right habitat, some don’t.

Another important factor is the state has to have enough perch in the first place. The hatchery at St. Marys has been very successful in recent years with yellow perch. That has enabled the state to pump a large number of fry and fingerlings into Grand Lake. They decided perch might help the region that has been hit so hard by the toxic algae in the lake that has delivered a sizable jolt to the economy there.

To date, since the perch stocking began in 2012, Grand Lake has received 31,101,086 fry and fingerlings. Of that number, more than 1.6 million have been fingerlings. Fingerlings are 1-1.5 inches long. Fry are – quite unscientifically – two eyes and a wiggle. Naturally, fingerlings have a better chance of survival. Even then, only a couple percent will grow to be fish large enough for your frying pan.

Let’s say three percent survive. Three percent of 31 million is almost a million fish that Grand Lake St. Marys would not have had there been no stocking. Three percent of just the 1.6 million fingerlings means 48,000 keeper-size yellow perch could be swimming around.

The state will be checking Grand Lake to see if the program has been a success. And if they figure out how to grow even more, another lake or two in the area might share in the surplus.