Whether you’re on a Chesapeake tributary or a lake out west, chances are you’ve encountered the infamous yellow perch. Wide-spread, delicious, and usually willing to eat a fly or jig, yellows are one of the most sought after and accessible species around. I’d argue most perch fillets end up getting battered, then dropped into hot oil. It’s a tried-and-true method with recipes aplenty, but we’re dropping them into something a little different this go-around. So with that said, let’s trade oil for cream and sit down to a bone-warming bowl of perch chowder.
Habitat & Habits
Yellow perch (Perca flavescens) call home to a wide array of environments. Be it lakes, reservoirs, or coastal rivers, streams, and low salinity estuaries, yellow perch have a way of fitting in wherever they go. Often found in schools, they tend to frequent shoreline areas where submerged aquatic vegetation can provide food (i.e. insect larvae, crustaceans, and small fishes), cover, and spawning habitat. With vibrant hues of bright yellow, nearly-fluorescent orange, and dusky olive green, the mere sight of a yellow perch is sure to brighten up any drab, winter backdrop.
In Chesapeake Country, spawning runs usually take place during February and March when water temperatures hover between 45-55⁰F. Once those conditions are met, freshwater tributaries receive a push of migrating fish gearing up for the spawn. This is when most yellow perch are harvested, both commercially and recreationally. The largest commercial harvest of yellow perch comes from fyke nets, while pound nets, gillnets, and haul seines are generally less popular. The spring spawning runs also present fly anglers with their best chance to land a few neds (‘ned’ is a regional term used to describe large yellow perch) for themselves.
How to Catch Yellow Perch
I know a Clouser minnow will catch damn-near anything, but I tell you what, they sure catch the hell out of yellow perch. My go-to rig consists of an intermediate line, a 3-4ft section of 15-20lb fluorocarbon leader, and a trusty Clouser. You can get away with lighter leader, but in my opinion, there’s no reason to. Yellow perch aren’t leader shy and they live in the same waters as bigger fish, such as chained pickerel and bass. I like to be ready for whatever hand I’m dealt.
Processing Yellow Perch
Another nice thing about yellow perch is they’re easy to clean. For this recipe, fillet them just like any other fish. Make an incision behind the gill plate, follow the spine down to the tail, cut the meat away from the center of the fish, and then remove the skin from the fillets. If you notice some small white or red worms in the fillets, don’t be alarmed. In some areas, including the rivers where I harvest my yellow perch, this is fairly common. Although unsightly, they are not dangerous to humans as long as the flesh is cooked thoroughly. If you see some, just use the tip of your fillet knife to remove them from the fillet. Next up, rinse the fillets in cold water and pat them dry with paper towels. You can freeze the fillets for later use or go straight into the recipe from here. If freezing, dry the fillets as much as possible, then vacuum seal.
Until next time, enjoy and good luck out there!
Yellow Perch Chowder Recipe
- 10 ounces hickory smoked bacon, sliced into matchsticks
- 4 cups yellow onion, chopped
- 1 cup celery, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 5 cups Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and medium diced
- 6 cups fish stock (learn how to make fish stock HERE)
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 teaspoon fresh marjoram
- 2 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
- 4 tablespoons butter (half stick)
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 1-1.5 pounds skinless yellow perch fillets, cut in half
- Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- Salt, to taste
- Fresh parsley, chopped
- Brown bacon bits in a stockpot over medium-low heat. Remove bacon bits and place on a paper towel lined plate. Keep bacon grease in pot.
- Add onions and celery to the pot. Cook for 8 minutes.
- Create an opening in the center of the pot, then add garlic. Cook for 2 minutes.
- Add potatoes, fish stock, bay leaf, marjoram, Old Bay, and half of the cooked bacon to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until potatoes are nearly fork-tender (about 15-20 minutes).
- Add butter and half-and-half to the pot, stir while adding. Bring back up to a simmer.
- Add black pepper and salt to taste.
- Add yellow perch. Simmer until fillets are opaque and flake easily (about 4-5 minutes).
- Serve with freshly chopped parsley, the remaining bacon bits, and a toasted baguette.
- Pair with your favorite stout, brown ale, rauchbier, saison, or white wine.
Article by Flylords Food Editor Kirk Marks, an angler, photographer, and culinary aficionado based in Kent Island, Maryland. Give him a follow at @kirkymarks.