Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens)

Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens)

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.


Unlike 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.


The 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/Behavior

Yellow 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 habits

Young 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 Names

ringed perch, striped perch, coon perch, jack perch, lake perch, American perch; French: perchaude.


Yellow 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.


Yellow 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.