In my opinion, yellow perch are the tastiest fish in Wyoming. Yes, even better than walleye. Near Sheridan, we are lucky to have a lake that’s chock full of these tasty fish. Healy Reservoir is located 5 miles northeast of Buffalo on Highway 14/16 toward Ucross.
Healy is a 225-acre privately owned lake, but public access is allowed for fishing. Along with a large population of yellow perch, Healy has good numbers of nice-sized largemouth bass and tiger muskie. While open water fishing can be very good, especially for bass and muskie, most anglers take to the hard water to target perch.
For the experienced Healy ice angler, it is not uncommon to catch more than 100 perch in a couple hours. But that experience comes with time on the ice, understanding where perch live and what they eat and using the proper rods, reels and jigs for perch.
Let’s start with where perch live and what they eat. Perch are generally bottom-oriented fish that cruise in schools looking for aquatic invertebrates. So, if you’re not fishing near the bottom, your chances of hooking a perch are far less likely. While perch inhabit all water depths, the bigger schools of perch tend to be 20 to 30 feet deep at Healy. A device called a “flasher” (sonar) will quickly tell you the water depth, if fish are near and exactly how far off the bottom they are. I personally don’t fish without one. Honestly, if my flasher does not mark a fish or if I don’t get a bite within five minutes, I’m drilling more holes and moving, looking for active fish.
While your basic ice rod and reel setup can catch a perch, there is gear more specific for perch that will increase your odds of landing fish. Perch in Healy range in size from 4 to 10 inches (a 10-inch fish is a big perch for Healy).
Like most fish, perch suck in their prey (or your jig), and detecting a nibble can be very difficult. Using a light, sensitive rod allows an angler a better chance of feeling a nibble. Reels generally don’t make a big difference. The typical, small ice reel will do.
However, the line that goes on the reel does make a difference. Light line from 2- to 6-pound test is all you need for perch. The lighter line helps with presentation and is sensitive enough (in combination with the lighter rod) to feel the little “ticks” of a perch bite. Ten- or 12-pound test line typically used for walleye or larger fish is just not sensitive enough to feel those little “ticks.” Perch bite so light, that sometimes the only indication is the line going sideways in the hole.
Perch, like most fish, are opportunistic and will feed on just about anything, but in Healy’s case, smaller jigs are generally better. There are several on the market in tons of shapes, sizes and colors. As with other types of fishing, if perch don’t bite one style, switch and try another. In addition to the smaller jigs, it is important to tip the jig with some sort of bait. Wax worms, meal worms, spikes, Berkley Power bait (several types for panfish) or a chunk of nightcrawler will work. More often than not, at least in the case of Healy perch, if you’re not getting a bite, they probably stole your bait. My favorite perch setup is an Ice Blue rod, four pound test line and a Hali lure tipped with a wax worm.
With the abundant perch population Healy can be a great place to take young anglers that like a lot of action. With the proper equipment and fishing in the right place, the frequency of bites will keep a young angler occupied for quite some time.
Andrew Nikirk is a fish management biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in Sheridan.