Perched for a comeback.
Michigan City's favorite fish - Lake Michigan perch - are down but far from out.
The current season has been the worst I've seen in nearly 50 years of hanging around the big lake, but there is hope in the hordes of young perch thriving out there. A return to normal summer weather would help greatly with the remaining adults, too.
On Sunday, out with Dan Messina and Tom Riley, we had non-stop perch action for over an hour while on a single, leisurely drift starting in 40 feet of water and stretching a good ways into the 60s. That's one and one-half mile of doubles and triples to the point I quit baiting all the hooks, but still pulled a few triples on plain, beaded hooks.
Unfortunately, at least for now, nearly all those perch were four to six inches in length.
"In about three years its going to be something," biologist Ben Dickinson said on Tuesday, as well as previous occasions. "They're averaging five inches or so now, probably be close to six and a half by the end of next summer."
And pushing keeper size in 2019, and hopefully providing a perch bonanza in 2020 and beyond.
The swarms of undersized perch are from a super crop of hatchlings in 2015.
At the time Dickinson noted; "Indiana saw the second best (perch hatch) since 1985, Illinois its best ever and Wisconsin and Michigan also saw a big uptick."
"Last year was OK recruitment, but this year (assessment of young-of-the-year) looks to be poor," Dickinson said.
There are plenty of mature perch still out there, but getting past the dinks can be perplexing. Aboard Messina's boat, we did have a couple decent days for large perch in mid-July by experimenting with small spoons and plugs, but the weather took a lengthy turn for the worse soon after.
From the end of July into September - prime perch time around here - there was 70 degree water stacked from top to bottom in 70 feet of water. Unseasonable, weekly north blows were the villain.
Perch feed in and tolerate 70-plus water temps at times, but typically only when there is cool water nearby. With favorable conditions five or six miles offshore for the second half of the summer, perch were mighty scattered near Michigan City.
A back-door positive to the poor perch weather this summer is thousands of keeper fish went unharvested. Add that nugget to an already promising future.
The next best thing to catching perch is eating them, although there are times, particularly after a good meal, those feats could easily be reversed.
For perch done right - sauteed, never fried - I have not tried any better than 100 Washington (at the former train depot overlooking the Michigan City harbor). Small, tender filets are gently browned in butter and served with a lime aioli.
A Lake Michigan Fisheries Workshop is set for 6 p.m., Nov. 15, at City Hall in Michigan City. (There will also be a program on Nov. 1 in Hammond).
Indiana biologists, researchers from neighboring states and the folks from Indiana/Illinois SeaGrant will provide updates on chinook and coho programs, an economic impact study and more.
The workshops are free, open to the public and no registration is required.