You don’t hear much in the way of hymns from a congregation of alligators, which is the name for the reptiles when they’re found in a group. Likely, you don’t turn to a shrewdness of apes for advice as they’d most likely be chasing you off, especially if they are of the bigger varieties. Society has come up with a number of odd names for when animals get together, but the common ones and those seen most frequently in our neck of the woods are easy to remember: a flock of geese, a herd of deer, a pack of coyotes, and of course, a school of fish. But this weekend, while hitting a favorite perch lake, my brother and I came up with a proposal to rename those groups of the slough-dwelling football-sized fish we were catching, but with the caveat that the reference be made only for those under the ice and the memorable moments of absurdity they brought with them.
Yellow perch are well known to winter anglers as nomads. They roam the basin of frozen lakes throughout the hardwater season, seeking out prey such as minnows, aquatic insects, and small bottom-dwelling worms. In the process, they encounter the offerings of anglers, which can make for incredibly fast fishing. A blank sonar screen can light up with the snap of a finger as the fish roll under a chosen set of ice holes and the first bobber goes down. Getting to work attacking whatever might be available — a minnow on a small hook below a slip float, a jigging spoon tipped with wax worms, or a small jig dressed with a spike — the fish bring action with them which can be some of the most remarkable in all of angling.
But the mere fact that perch are present, and biting, does not necessarily make for a flurry as we’ve defined it. No, a true flurry brings with it chaos; a line twisting, bait stealing, one fish with three hooks on it form of mayhem, and it often starts with the pop and slow-motion sink of a float in the furthest hole. From there sonar screens buzz with the expansion of two or three lines into seven or eight great big blobs that fly up off the bottom at an active offering, and in the moments of deciding whether to grab the deadstick or work the fish on the screen, fish have struck around the house and every rod is doubled over, or precariously sliding its way toward a watery grave, towed by a tank of a yellow perch leading the charge.
If you’ve been in the midst of a perch flurry, you know the feeling. The brain’s ability to prioritize next steps is tossed out the window, and instead of executing any sort of plan, the remaining creative synapses in that jiggling glob of gray matter is imagining how sweet fishing would be if we could grow an extra arm or two to manage reeling, resetting bobber stops, rebaiting treble hooks, and unhooking the black striped behemoths coming up from below. Oftentimes, it’s best to make it a rule to just bring the bobber fish up the hole and toss it in the bucket if it’s a keeper, and just focus on the active rod, limiting the work one’s brain has to put into the situation. If the perch in that particular moment are on that insane of a feeding frenzy, having an active presentation will likely pay off with more hits, and time can be spent focused on them, rather than sticking a hook into a slippery minnow and trying to lower it down while keeping an eye on the sonar.
Sometimes too, even with just the fast-moving offerings going, the mere minutes seem to pass by in the blink of an eye. Like a sweet, fleeting dream in the middle of the night that begins to fade the moment you wake, a flurry of perch can move through and almost be forgotten. That is of course, except for hopefully a handful of fish that end up in the keeper bucket for dinner, but then, quiet returns. In the calm, bobber stops can be reset, treble hooks can be freshened with new worms, and a quick count of the same black striped behemoths now in the bucket is in order. The single flickering line of your jig or the gentle fading in-and-out of the minnow moving about at the bottom of the water column is all that remains on the sonar screen of what seconds ago was a light display to rival that of the Las Vegas strip.
On a good perch lake though, that stillness won’t last forever. Flurries of fish come in unexpectedly and repeatedly, and they seem to get their cues from the action above. Take a second to step outside the house to check your fluid levels and a shout of “they’re back” will almost be a guarantee. Text your fishing buddy a picture of the spoils from the last swarm that swamped the lures and rigs under every hole and tied them all in knots, and your just-adjusted bobber will be gone before you have a chance to view the smiley face emoji he sends back. And while it’s been said that a watched pot never boils, it’s not surprising to see the area around that small green flicker you’ve been staring at during the lull become engulfed by a large line during a quick glance away, bringing in the next flurry of perch, and another amazing round of fishing … in our outdoors.