Yellow perch are one of the most widespread fish species caught in New York. From the Great Lakes to the Finger Lakes, and from nameless Western New York farm ponds to Adirondack glacial lakes, perch seem to be just about everywhere you can cast a fishing pole.
Big perch—those scrappy yellow fish measuring 10, 12, 14 inches and up—are a little harder to come by. But only a little.
New York offers ice fishing from late December through mid-March most years, and the hard water season is one of the most popular times for anglers in the Empire State to target perch. As a result, anglers catch some of the biggest yellow perch of the year during these months.
The fishing from right after ice-out until early May is also excellent. New York’s state record yellow perch (a whopping 3 pounds, 8 ounces) was caught in late April from Lake Erie in 1982.
Fishing for perch in summer often requires searching for schools of fish on deep structure, but big perch often return to shallower weed beds and rock piles in fall as waters begin to cool.
You don’t need a lot of fancy gear to catch perch in New York. A light spinning rod with 6-pound line baited with a live minnow or a bit of nightcrawler usually does the trick. A 1/16-ounce jig head tipped with a 1 to 1-½ inch tube jig or curlytail grub can be deadly in summer, and jigging spoons are favorite winter lures.
Also, check out the additional perch-catching resources on our site, linked at the bottom of this article.
No matter which of the following perch lakes you choose, remember that perch usually stick close to structure. So keep your bait near the bottom, and wait for that telltale tap-tap-tap.
Lake Erie is one of the great North American yellow perch factories.
Some anglers might argue that New York’s portion of the Great Lake isn’t quite as productive for perch as Ohio and Pennsylvania’s share of the lake, but don’t let that discourage you.
New York’s shoreline provides access to Lake Erie’s Eastern Basin, the lake’s deepest and coldest part. Most of the year, perch hold relatively deep, often 30 to 60 feet.
Winter and early spring are your best bets to find perch in shallower water. Ice cover on Lake Erie is often inconsistent, but when available, it provides excellent ice fishing for perch in areas like Buffalo’s Outer Harbor.
Some of the best fishing occurs when the ice breaks up between March and April, and perch congregate in shallow bays, harbors, and other protected areas to spawn.
It’s almost always possible to find some perch that are within reach for pier and bank anglers, but by summer, most perch (especially the biggest ones) are in deeper water. Also, schools of big 10- to 14-inch perch seldom stay in the same place for long.
Evans Bar and Seneca Shoal are some of the most well-known perch spots in Eastern Lake Erie. Look for rocky structures and fish close to the bottom using emerald shiners on drop-shot rigs.
Using your electronics is the best way to pick out schools of perch, but keep an eye out for other boats too. It’s common to see dozens of other vessels in an area where perch are biting.
Start fishing deep (i.e., between 55 and 65 feet) and gradually work your way shallower.
The largest lake that lies entirely within New York’s borders, Oneida Lake is better known as one of the best walleye lakes in the state. But this 51,000-acre natural lake is also an excellent yellow perch fishery.
Most anglers who target this Central New York lake’s jumbo perch do so through the ice. Oneida Lake usually has a fairly long ice fishing season, with safe ice available into the first week or two of March most years.
When the lake is frozen, anglers bring perch up from the lake’s many rocky shoals. In particular, the western part of the lake has several very productive shoals that top out at 6 to 12 feet and provide a mix of rocks and vegetation that hold perch throughout winter.
Small silver jigging spoons are favored by many, though anglers also land plenty of perch using ice jigs tipped with spikes or wax worms. Some of the biggest perch of the year are caught in winter, including some over 15 inches. Jigging may attract a few walleyes to your hook as well.
Perch spawn when the ice has melted and the shallows warm up to about 45 degrees. As a general rule, the perch spawn immediately follows the walleye spawn, usually in late April on Oneida Lake.
The spring spawn is the time to target perch in shallow areas like Big Bay in the northwest corner of the lake and Three Mile Bay on the north shore.
Muskrat Bay, Short Point, and Lower South Bays are good spots on the south shore, along with shallows around Frenchman Island.
Shackleton Shoal, which covers a huge area in the center of the lake is worth checking out in any season. The shoal’s depths range from 6 to 26 feet.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) operates several public launch ramps around the lake.
When you get your fill of perch, Oneida Lake also many excellent fisheries, including some
Sodus Bay (Lake Ontario)
Lake Ontario offers some truly spectacular yellow perch fishing options, but some of the best fishing is in bays rather than the main lake. Sodus Bay, which produces hefty perch limits from fall through spring, is one of the best spots.
Spanning 3,357 acres, Sodus Bay is located in Wayne County and offers depths up to 48 feet and extensive beds of aquatic vegetation. It’s a natural breeding ground for perch.
There are some perch here in summer, but most tend to be on the small side.
If you’re out after bigger perch measuring 10-plus inches—”jack perch” in the local parlance—they arrive in fall. Throughout September and October, anglers catch them along the buoys that mark the channel at the bay’s entrance.
From late fall into winter, perch settle into deep parts of the bay, especially along the deep edges of grass beds. Some of the best spots include just off Thornton Point, Grassy Point, Nicholas Point, the west side of Newark island, and the south end of Eagle Island.
Ice fishing is very popular, and the season usually gets going between Chrristmas and New Years. Unfortunately, in recent years, safe ice has taken a little longer to form. The first place to freeze is the east side of Leroy Island.
Minnows (especially emerald shiners) are the best baits during the open water season. Small tubes and similar soft plastics are also effective. Once the bay freezes, jigs and small jigging spoons often outproduce live bait.
Sodus Bay is one of several productive bays on the stretch of Lake Ontario between Rochester and Oswego. That said, Irondequoit Bay, Port Bay, and Little Sodus Bay also produce a lot of perch.
Yellow perch reside in each of the 11 lakes that make up Central New York’s Finger Lakes. But no single lake in the chain has produced more giant perch over the years than Seneca Lake.
Seneca Lake spans 43,343 acres and at 618 feet, it is also the deepest lake in New York. Like most of the Finger Lakes, it’s long and narrow, with broad flats at the north and south ends and a smaller fringe of shallow water along the east and west shorelines.
Old timers from this part of the state will tell you they used to catch perch in Seneca Lake that topped 3 pounds and measured up to 18 inches long. Sadly, you don’t see many fish like that these days, but don’t be shocked if you catch some that stretch a tape measure past 15 inches.
Like many New York perch lakes, the preferred time to catch perch here is late winter and early spring. But Seneca Lake rarely freezes over completely, so anglers often have open water to fish all year.
Sampson State Park on the eastern shore is a great place to catch perch from the bank, as is the village pier and marina at the south end of the lake in Watkins Glen.
If you have a boat, you’ll often find perch in Dresden Bay on the west shore or Glass Factory Bay at the north end.
When the bite is going strong, you may see 30 or more boats in an area with schools of perch. All the classic presentations work, including jigs and minnows. Cranefly larvae, also known as oakleaf grubs, are a local favorite.
Seneca Lake also scored a spot in our ranking of the best trout fishing lakes across New York.
Chaumont Bay (Lake Ontario)
It’s common to see fresh perch filets on the menu at restaurants near Chaumont Bay, an incredible fishing destination that still supports a commercial fishery for yellow perch. It’s also great walleye and bass fishing water and one of the best ice fishing spots in New York.
Located at the easternmost end of Lake Ontario, Chaumont Bay spans 9,000 acres and, together with its various tributaries, forms the largest freshwater embayment in the world. Some perch enter the lake seasonally, but many also reside here year-round.
The ice fishing season on Chaumont Bay is legendary. Because the bay is relatively shallow and protected from the winds on the main lake, it freezes quickly and generally stays frozen. As a result, safe ice is available well into March most years.
But winter isn’t the only season when Chaumont Bay offers great perch fishing. Extensive mid-lake shoals like Herrick Shoal and Johnson’s Shoal are excellent year-round spots. Perch generally favor the deeper edges of the shoals during summer.
Emerald shiners and other small minnows are usually the best baits. A worm harness rig, traditionally reserved for walleye, will also catch a mess of perch here. Bait it with a small piece of nightcrawler rather than a whole worm, and keep it just off the bottom to ward off bait-stealing gobies.
Numerous access points are available on Chaumont Bay. Long Point State Park is great to launch a boat and camp during the warmer months. Ice fishermen walk out onto the bay from the park and various spots in the village of Chaumont.
Chaumont Bay and other parts of Lake Ontario have a variety of angling options, including some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in New York. You’re likely to catch a few bass even while targeting perch with minnows and small lures.
Keuka Lake is the next-best bet for perch in the Finger Lakes after Seneca Lake. You don’t have the same likelihood of hooking a mount-worthy 16-incher here, but loads of 10- to 13-inch perch are perfect eating sizes.
Keeping in mind that perch populations tend to be cyclical almost anywhere, Keuka Lake often produces better numbers of perch than Seneca Lake, even if the fish sizes aren’t quite as impressive. The difference may have to do with the lake’s size.
11,584-acre Keuka Lake isn’t exactly “small,” in the conventional sense, but it’s just a little over one-quarter the size of Seneca. So tracking down schools of perch isn’t as hard.
One of the best seasons to pinpoint these fish is from late fall into winter, when schools of perch congregate around grass beds in 10 to 20 feet of water.
Like most of the Finger Lakes, Keuka has steep drop-offs, so you seldom need to go too far from the bank to reach 20-foot depths.
Keuka Lake is Y-shaped, and one of the best places to start is just off Bluff Point, where the two forks meet. First, scan a depth map of the lake and look for points and other areas where the bottom contours appear different from the surrounding areas.
You usually won’t find much ice on this lake. Anglers catch perch from docks and piers in late winter and early spring.
Shoreline parks in Hammondsport at the south end of the lake are good for bank fishing, as is Keuka Lake State Park at the north end.
At just 836 acres, it would be easy to overlook Western New York’s Silver Lake. But this modest-sized natural lake offers a healthy and diverse warm water fishery that includes northern pike, bass, and various panfish.
Electrofishing surveys by the DEC show that yellow perch are the most abundant species in the lake. For instance, a study in 2019 yielded a catch rate of 456 perch per hour. And while there aren’t a lot of true giants, Silver Lake produces a ton of perch over 9 inches.
Best of all, it’s possible to catch them in any season. Ice anglers come from all over the western part of the state to fish Silver Lake in the winter, drilling holes all over the frozen lake. Weed beds at the north and south ends are particular hot spots.
Local anglers favor small silver jigging spoons, including Thundermist and War Eagle spoons. Small jig heads tipped with spikes and wax worms are effective, too, often catching a mixed bag of perch, sunfish, and crappie.
Perch remain shallow just after ice-out, spawning among new weed growth before returning to deeper water as the lake warms.
Weeds become a key cover to fish from spring into summer, especially the lines of weeds in the central part of the lake.
Silver Lake suffers oxygen depletion below about 20 feet from June through September most years, restricting fish to relatively shallow water. Look for perch 12 to 15 feet deep.
Access is available through Silver Lake State Park.
Catch More Yellow Perch
We have a full but easy-to-follow guide with everything you need to know about fishing for (and catching more) yellow perch.
We also consulted a true expert to come up with literally dozens of the best perch fishing baits on the planet, along with a few odd surprises that might keep you in the game if you empty your bait bucket before you’re done.