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Pound Sand For More Jumbos

By Jason Halfen - February 5, 2021
Few fish captivate me like jumbo perch. I love chasing tigers in early summer as they gorge on emerging mayflies. I structure my fall vacations around peak cold water perch bites as schools of jumbos corral unsuspecting shiners in skinny water. But nothing - and I mean nothing - beats the thrill of squeezing green and gold footballs through the ice. Now that the depths of January's cold is behind us, and February's days are progressively getting warmer and longer, the time is right to enjoy peak wintertime jumbo action - and there's no better way to fill a pail or tangle with a true giant than to pound sand.

Throughout the ice belt, hardwater perch collect in vast numbers on mid-depth, sandy flats. These areas may have some scattered low-growing vegetation or perhaps stands of chara - a calcified algae also known as stonewort. Perch gather here for one reason: this is where their finned forage is - baitfish like small shiners and young-of-the-year perch. Additionally, these same areas tend to have low densities of other predators; pike will be much more weed-oriented, and while walleyes may patrol these flats under the cover of darkness, there are few perch-eating toothy predators on these flats during the day. If you're a winter jumbo, this equation is squarely in your favor: lots to eat, and few things that want to eat you.

An aggressive and extremely fun way to target jumbos on the flats is to pound sand. Slamming your bait into the bottom repeatedly creates sound and stirs up the bottom beneath your hole. Ever the curious critter, active perch will quickly come over to investigate the commotion. Pound that sand a few times and hover your presentation in the suspended sediment. When the fish are really on, you can often "snap jig" those aggressive jumbos, popping your bait 1-2 feet off the bottom and letting it fall back on a free line to the bottom; after a second of two, pop the bait up again and repeat. The erratic motion of your bait will get those big tigers following and smashing the lure into the sediment; when you pop the lure again, you'll be setting the hook.

Big perch on the flats are meat eaters. Leave the waxies, spikes and tungsten jigs at home. Bring spoons - I like to use spoons that cover a lot of ground as they tumble and fall. Spoons like the Slender Spoon from Custom Jigs and Spins, or the VMC Tingler spoon, are excellent choices. Dress that spoon with a minnow head - or even a minnow tail for an entirely different action. I use 10 lb test PowerPro to provide a strong, sensitive connection to my lure, with the braided main line linked to my spoon through a 12-18" leader of 6 lb test fluorocarbon. Use a quality swivel between braided line and leader to help eliminate line twist from the tumbling spoon. I like a 32-34" rod while hole-hopping for jumbos; the 33" G. Loomis IMX-Pro 331F is an excellent choice, as its medium-light power is very sporty when chasing panfish, while its fast action features a sensitive tip that transitions rapidly into a stout backbone for positive hooksets. Rig up a 500-series Shimano Nasci reel, and you're ready for anything that the sand flats throw your way.

Mobility is the key when pounding the sand flats. Drill lots of holes before you ever drop a line. Frequently, the first several bites from a particular hole will be the largest, most aggressive fish in the immediate area. If active fish remain but the average size declines - and it will - move on to the next hole. Yes, it's fun and exciting to see fish filling your Humminbird's screen, but those super-jumbos are the biggest, toughest kids on the block - they simply won't be outcompeted by an undersized member of the JV squad. If your first couple of drops don't produce the quality you're looking for, move on. When every hole seems to produce fish in the 6-8" class, move several hundred yards down the flat and swiss cheese that area. The reward of handling a pound-plus class perch is worth the effort.

If you're looking for a quality Midwest perch adventure, I am happy to recommend Brindley's Harbor Resort, on beautiful Leech Lake near Walker, MN. Brindley's Harbor offers a unique, perch-focused guide service that will keep you filling the pail with fish, with fun on the ice paired with tremendous accommodations and hospitality to match. I've been visiting Brindley's Harbor for years during both the open water and hardwater seasons, and I know that you'll thoroughly enjoy your stay. Find them on the web at brindleysharbor.com.

Gear Used

Jason Halfen
Dr. Jason Halfen is a long-time guide, tournament angler, and specialist in marine electronics. He owns and operates The Technological Angler, dedicated to teaching anglers to leverage hi-tech tools to find and catch more fish. Learn more by visiting www.technologicalangler.com.
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