The most widely distributed member of the Percidae family, the yellow perch is one of the best loved and most pursued of all freshwater ﬁsh, particularly in northerly states and provinces in North America. This is due to its availability over a wide range, the general ease with which it is caught, and its delicious taste.
IdentificationUnlike the white perch, which is actually a temperate bass, the yellow perch is a true perch. Although it resembles the true bass in many ways, it is more closely related to fellow Percidae family members, the walleye and the sauger. Its most striking characteristic is a colorful golden yellow body, tinged with orange-colored ﬁns.
The yellow perch is colored a green to yellow gold and has six to eight dark, broad vertical bars that extend from the back to below the lateral line, a whitish belly, and orange lower fins during breeding season. Its body is oblong and appears humpbacked; this is the result of the deepest part of the body beginning at the ﬁrst dorsal ﬁn, then tapering slightly to the beginning of the second dorsal ﬁn. This trait is somewhat similar in white perch, to which the yellow perch is unrelated, although both fish may inhabit the same waters.
The yellow perch is distinguished from the trout and the salmon by its lack of an adipose ﬁn, which is ordinarily located between the dorsal and the tail ﬁns, and from sunﬁsh by its separate dorsal ﬁns (connected in sunﬁsh) and two or fewer anal ﬁn spines (sunﬁsh have three or more). It is distinguished from the walleye and the sauger by its lack of canine teeth and by a generally deeper body form.
Size/AgeThe average yellow perch caught by anglers weighs between 1⁄4 to 3⁄4 pound and measures 6 to 10 inches in length. In lakes with stunted populations, the ﬁsh are on the lower end of this range, and a 10-inch ﬁsh is usually considered fairly large.
Some lakes produce perch in the 1-pound and larger class, although ﬁsh greater than 1.5 pounds are infrequent. The all-tackle world-record yellow perch, taken in 1865, weighed 4 pounds, 3 ounces and is the oldest freshwater sportﬁsh record in the books. Yellow perch can grow to 16 inches in length and can live up to 12 years.
Life history/BehaviorYellow perch usually spawn in the early spring when the water temperature is between 45°F and 50°F. Eggs are spawned in the shallow areas of lakes or up in tributary streams in gelatinous ribbons by an adult female and are fertilized by as many as a dozen males in weedy areas several feet deep. The ribbons, which may be up to 7 feet long and several inches wide, attach to vegetation until one-quarter to one-half of the 10,000 to 48,000 eggs hatch into fry in 10 days to 3 weeks after spawning.
Yellow perch travel in schools composed of ﬁsh that are similar in size and age, and there is some evidence of the sexes dividing into separate schools. In large lakes, adults move in schools farther offshore than do the young. They move between deeper and shallow water in response to changing food supplies, seasons, and temperatures.
Because of their predaceous nature and swift breeding, overpopulation is a problem in many lakes where yellow perch have been introduced; the ﬁsh may become stunted, and other species may be adversely impacted as a result. The introduction, through natural or artiﬁcial means, of yellow perch into ponds containing trout usually results in a collapse of the trout population, and this may be true for other species of fish that were dominant before yellow perch entered.
Food and feeding habitsYoung yellow perch feed on zooplankton until they have grown to several inches in length and then feed on larger zooplankton, insects, young crayﬁsh, snails, aquatic insects, ﬁsh eggs, and small ﬁsh, including the young of their own species.
Other Namesringed perch, striped perch, coon perch, jack perch, lake perch, American perch; French: perchaude.
DistributionYellow perch are widespread in the northern United States and Canada. They range east from Nova Scotia to the Santee River drainage in South Carolina and west throughout the Great Lakes states to the edge of British Columbia and into Washington. Small numbers extend north through Great Slave Lake almost to Great Bear Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories.
They appear in nearly every state due to stocking, but they are sparsely distributed in the South, most of the West, and parts of the Midwest; they are also sparse in British Columbia and northern Canada. Although the yellow perch is a freshwater ﬁsh, Nova Scotia ﬁsheries personnel report that it is occasionally found in brackish water along the Atlantic coast.
HabitatYellow perch are found in a wide variety of warm and cool habitats over a vast range of territory, although they are primarily lake ﬁsh. They are occasionally found in ponds and rivers. These ﬁsh are most abundant in clear, weedy lakes that have a muck, sand, or gravel bottom.
Smaller lakes and ponds usually produce smaller ﬁsh, although in very fertile lakes with moderate angling pressure, yellow perch can grow large. They inhabit open areas of most lakes and prefer temperatures between the mid-60s and the low 70s.