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Dealing with the big perch conundrum

On Sunday, I was ice fishing when a near disaster occurred – my first fish was a nice, plump 11-inch perch, the biggest one I have ever caught around here.

Many people unfamiliar with ice fishing might not think this would present a problem, but they have never been ice fishing so what do they know about problems?

There’s plenty wrong with this.

First, I was fishing for rainbow trout. Second, it was a perch.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with perch. They are a fine fish to eat. The issue, however, is you need at least half a dozen that size to make a meal. 

So, as soon as you catch a perch when fishing for rainbows, you have to decide whether you will invest your time and effort into catching more perch or continue trying for your target species.

I think we can all agree, this is not a decision to be taken lightly.

If you go for trout, you should probably release the perch, since, unless you are dieting, it is really no good to you as a solo fish.

But here’s where the conundrum comes in. If you decide to release it, this is your first mistake. If you decide to keep it, that’s your second.

Permit me to explain.

Option one: Releasing a perch, especially a plump, jumbo like I caught, just means the fish gods will taunt you  by immediately allowing you to catch another of similar size or better. That means you will be kicking yourself for letting go of the first one.

But you did release it and so you are back to square one, standing on the ice with a single perch. So again, you have to decide whether to keep or release it.

If you decide to release you will probably repeat option one. If you decide to keep it, option two will immediately come into play.

Option two: You won’t catch another fish – not a rainbow nor a perch. You might catch a smallmouth bass, but only because they are out of season and must be returned.

This leaves you with the third, lesser known option – what most anglers refer to it as the nuclear option.

You can keep the perch, cut your losses and immediately go home. Of course, this is not without risk.

Other ice anglers will immediately notice you are leaving and stop by to pretend to be sociable but in actuality to claim the holes you drilled – and you will show them what you caught.

Then, they will know that there are big perch in the area. This will mean that they will also catch a perch after you leave and in roughly a week someone will set up a big-money perch derby over the very hole you raised that fish through.

So what is the upside?

Well, if you are vague enough about how you chose this spot and forget to mention you were targeting rainbows, people will start referring to you as “The Perch Master,” which, let’s face it, is not exactly every angler’s dream but much better than “The Chub Master.”

Those who have never gone ice fishing will probably now suggest a fourth choice – just shutting up, hiding the perch under your tackle and telling passing anglers that you have been skunked. This sounds plausible on the surface, but as I said these people have never been ice fishing …

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