There are casual yellow perch anglers, and then there are perch obsessives. You know the type—folks who spend endless days drifting minnows and jigging through the ice, folks who can feel the telltale tap-tap-tap of a perch bite in their sleep.
Pennsylvania is an excellent place to be obsessed with perch. Some of the best yellow perch lakes in the Northeast are right here in the Keystone State, and opportunities to catch these delicious fish are available every season.
Yellow perch are right at home in Pennsylvania’s lakes and reservoirs. Any lake with rocky cover and plenty of forage can support perch, and quite a few PA lakes do so in abundance.
Best of all, many of these lakes’ perch populations are predominantly large perch measuring 9 inches or more. So whether you prefer to fish through a hole in the ice or from a kayak’s cockpit, you have many great options.
Tactics for perch fishing in Pennsylvania tend to be pretty simple. A light or ultralight spinning rod with 6-pound mono is all you really need, along with a few small soft plastic jigs or a hook baited with a live shiner.
If you’re ice fishing, swap out that setup for a dainty jigging spoon or ice jig tipped with spikes or wax worms, and you’re in business.
If you want to learn more about yellow perch fishing, check out the “Catch More Yellow Perch” section at the end of this article.
And there are chances to catch a true giant, by perch standards, in many of the following Pennsylvania lakes. An angler landed a new state record yellow perch weighing 2.98 pounds in Lake Erie in 2021. Even bigger perch are almost certainly out there.
There are plenty of great perch lakes in Pennsylvania, but no other can outfish Lake Erie. Pennsylvania’s Great Lake is impossible to beat when it comes to both size and numbers of perch.
Pennsylvania includes 47 miles of Lake Erie shoreline. Several spots along that stretch offer next-level perch fishing opportunities. The first place to look is Presque Isle Bay, where perch fishing heats up as early as January.
Spanning 5.8 square miles, Presque Isle Bay is a broad, mostly shallow embayment protected from Lake Erie’s winds by a long, hook-shaped peninsula. It’s one of the first parts of Lake Erie to freeze over in the winter and one of the first to thaw in spring.
Ice fishing here is phenomenal. Anglers catch jumbo perch up to 15 inches long using tiny leadhead jigs tipped with emerald shiners. It’s not uncommon to also catch a few walleye, a handful of crappies, a stray northern pike or two, and possibly even a big Lake Erie steelhead.
When the bay thaws out (usually in March), the fishing remains excellent as perch spawn in its rapidly-warming waters. Schools of perch often gather in the deeper waters around the piers that lead into the mouth of the bay. Access is available through Presque Isle State Park.
There’s also a good bite on the main lake this season, but Lake Erie proper really gets into gear in May. Try fishing close to the bottom at 35 to 50-foot deaths over rocky structure near the lighthouse that marks the entrance to Presque Isle Bay.
Waters off Gull Point (about two miles west of the lighthouse) are also excellent from spring into summer. Offshore areas near the mouth of Walnut Creek are also highly productive.
Farther east, North East Marina is a popular launching spot just shy of the New York border. Rocky structure about a mile offshore of the marina offers some of the best summer perch bites in Lake Erie’s deep Eastern Basin.
Schools of perch tend to be mobile in Lake Erie, a trend that many longtime local anglers notice has increased in recent years.
Yet those movements are easy to pattern. For example, if you find one school of perch at 40 feet, chances are good that most other schools of perch will also be at 40 feet.
Experienced local guides will often start fishing at about 50 feet at any given time from late spring through fall and work their way shallower until they find the fish.
The preferred presentation is a perch rig with two or three hooks baited with emerald shiners above a bell sinker.
Perch in Lake Erie almost always relate to rocky cover and stay close to the bottom. It’s no coincidence that this is also the preferred habitat of the invasive round gobies that are now a major food source for perch and other game fish in the lake.
Yellow perch populations are cyclical in many Pennsylvania lakes, with one or two particularly strong year classes commonly leading to more and bigger perch within a few years.
But even within that context, the rise of Culver Reservoir as a major perch lake has been surprising.
Located just outside Ebensburg in West-Central Pennsylvania, Colver Reservoir is a small lake of just 73 acres that anglers have long known as a solid-but-unremarkable fishery for walleye, largemouth bass, and various panfish.
That reputation was upended in 2017, when a PA Fish & Boat Commission electrofishing survey brought in a surprising 512 yellow perch. That eye-popping number was more than 10 times as many as had been caught during the previous survey in 2009.
Even more remarkably, 94% of those perch measured 9 inches or bigger. Since then, this off-the-beaten-path lake has become one of the top perch lakes in Pennsylvania. And given the lake’s small size, finding fish is never all that challenging.
Big perch are caught throughout shallow parts of the lake just after ice-out in early April. Ice fishing can also be very productive. Live minnows are popular for anglers targeting both perch and crappie.
The Cambria County Water Authority owns Colver Reservoir, and the shoreline is mostly undeveloped and open to bank fishing.
You’ll find the boat launch on the northern shore. Know that only electric motors or non-powered craft are allowed.
Look for great fishing along the riprap earthen dam.
A vast artificial lake that encompasses nearly 17,000 acres, Pymatuning Reservoir straddles the line between Pennsylvania and Ohio. It’s probably best known as one of both states’ best walleye lakes, but yellow perch are the second most abundant game fish in Pymatuning.
Pymatuning Reservoir can be divided into a deep, rocky southern basin and a comparatively shallow northern basin. The Route 285/85 causeway serves as the dividing line. Most anglers who target perch do so in the deeper southern basin.
There’s a ton of picture-perfect bottom structure in this part of the lake, including numerous rocky humps that top out between 12 and 6 feet deep. These structures are ideal for perch, especially in spring and fall. Don’t be surprised if you hook into a few walleye too.
There’s also excellent perch habitat in the northern basin. Check out the stretch between Tuttle Point and Clark Island, which offers shallow humps and a series of submerged bridges at 10- to 15-foot depths along the river channel.
Pymatuning puts out incredible numbers of perch, and PA Fish & Boat Commission Surveys in 2017, 2018, and 2019 showed increasing populations yearly. A total of 2,518 perch were netted in the most recent survey, ranging in size from 3 to 12 inches.
Perch numbers are arguably more impressive than sizes here, but lures like jigging spoons and blade baits help to select for bigger fish.
There’s also great ice fishing in January and February, with plenty of structure a reasonable walk from Pymatuning State Park.
One of Pennsylvania’s largest reservoirs, Lake Wallenpaupack is also almost certainly the best yellow perch lake in the eastern part of the state. Anglers catch incredible numbers of perch here, both through the ice and during the open water season.
It’s also an incredibly diverse fishery, with 60-foot depths that support striped bass and brown trout, as well as shallow cover that harbors black bass and muskellunge. Walleye are a favorite target here too, but perch are the most abundant game fish in Lake Wallenpaupack.
Perch roam Lake Wallenpaupack in vast schools, with most fish in the 8- to 10-inch range. Aside from the ice fishing season, April is the best month to target big perch in shallow water.
Perch spawn shortly after ice-out and are commonly caught in harbors and around boat docks and marinas. Smaller perch often remain in shallow water all summer, providing easy shore fishing options for kids and families.
Anglers catch the biggest perch, up to 14 inches, in 20 to 35 feet of water in winter or just above the thermocline in summer.
When the lake stratifies during the hotter months, look for places where the thermocline meets the bottom.
Some of the best areas to find perch include Martins Cove and around the lake’s various islands, including Kipp Island, Burns Island, and Epply Island.
Six Public Recreation Areas provide boat ramps, camping, and bank fishing around the lakeshore.
Rose Valley Lake
Spanning 389 acres just outside Williamsport in North-Central Pennsylvania, Rose Valley Lake is the largest lake in Lycoming County. In addition to an abundance of yellow perch, the PA Fish & Boat Commission manages the lake as a walleye and largemouth bass lake.
Perch inhabit the lake in good numbers and impressive sizes. Most of the perch caught here are between 9 and 11 inches, and some up to 14 inches are caught every year.
Perch are available year-round but anglers most enthusiastically target them after the lake freezes in winter.
Rose Valley Lake is a reservoir with moderately steep and fairly uniform drop-offs around the shoreline to a depth of around 10 feet. Most of the lake is a broad, featureless flat between 10 and 14 feet deep.
Numerous artificial fish habitat structures, including porcupine cribs, felled trees, and brush boxes have been placed in Rose Valley Lake and provide some of the best fishing spots. A map showing their locations is available here.
Three public boat ramps around the lakeshore offer launch facilities and bank fishing access. Only electric motors and unpowered craft are allowed.
Anglers also catch plentiful perch along the Lake Road causeway toward the northern end of Rose Valley Lake.
Tucked away in the Pocono foothills in Northeastern Pennsylvania, 250-acre Gouldsboro Lake is a diverse warm water fishery that supports abundant yellow perch, along with largemouth bass, chain pickerel, and various panfish.
Perch populations have exploded here in recent years. A Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission trap net survey in 2018 brought in 219 perch, up from just 38 in a similar survey from 2015.
Even more impressive is the size of the fish. Perch caught in the more recent survey ranged from 5 to 14 inches, and 78% were greater than 9 inches.
Gouldsboro Lake is shallow, just 9 feet at its deepest point. Anglers catch perch along weed edges, points, and drop-offs, which are steepest along the eastern bank.
The water is tea-colored from tannins, and gold-colored spinners, spoons and jig heads are effective.
A boat ramp, bank access, and fishing pier are located within Gouldsboro State Park.
Boats are limited to electric motors and non-powered craft, making this an ideal kayak lake and a quieter alternative to nearby Lake Wallenpaupack.
Gouldsboro Lake is also known for being one of the best ice fishing lakes in this part of the state. Anglers catch some of the biggest perch all year by jigging through the ice. Try tipping your ice jigs with maggots or spikes.
Stephen Foster Lake
Stephen Foster Lake is another excellent option for perch fishing in Northeastern Pennsylvania, located a stone’s throw from the New York state line. This 78-acre reservoir is also one of the all-around best panfish lakes in this part of the state.
In addition to an abundance of yellow perch, Stephen Foster Lake supports a healthy black crappie population and hefty bluegills that commonly weigh a pound or more.
Perch tend to max out at about 12 inches, but there are huge schools of 8- and 9-inch perch here.
The lake is located in Mount Pisgah State Park, which includes boat ramps and bank access. There are also free spots to fish along the park entrance road, which follows the lakeshore leading up to the gate.
Stephen Foster Lake freezes by late December or early January most years and provides at least two solid months of safe ice. Winter is arguably the best time to target perch, but you can catch these fish year-round.
The deepest part of the lake is near the dam, and the bottom drops off swiftly to 20-foot depths west of the dam along the southern shoreline. You’ll usually find perch in these deeper waters in summer, but the shallow flats at the west end of the lake are excellent in spring.
Catch More Yellow Perch
Yes, yellow perch are among the easiest fish to catch for anglers of all skills, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve to catch more and larger perch.
Check out our simple guide to yellow perch fishing, with the best techniques and tips.
We also have a separate article will literally dozens of excellent (and some oddball) fishing baits that will put plenty of yellow perch on your hooks.