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It's hard to fumble when fishing for perch in cooler waters during this time of year.

COURTESY PHOTO: LUKE OVGARD - Yellow perch are an abundant invasive species in Oregon that is best targeted during football season. You can easily catch enough for a whole team if you find their spawning grounds.

Football is here, boys and girls! For the first time, you can stream both Monday Night Football (ESPN+) and Thursday Night Football (Amazon Prime) without having cable. This is a fantastic development, and huge for people like me who look forward to the National Football League more than any other sport. Well, almost any other sport.

Though helmet-topped boys of fall take the field, other boys of fall attempt to play the field, chasing ladies around in hopes of swapping genetic material. As air temperatures plummet below 70 degrees and the sun spends a little less time heating this side of the Earth every day, water temps eventually dip. Warm, summer waters drop ever closer to the 65 degrees Fahrenheit that will trigger the humble yellow perch, Perca flavescens, to rush in and spawn en masse.

Targeting might be illegal in football, but it's essential in fishing, so here's where to look.

Yellow perch will congregate in shallow, weedy areas for the next two months as they spawn and then attempt to guard their spawning grounds from would-be predators. As you look at your depth chart, you'll note that just like in football, perch look to score in the red zone.

In other words, perch try to find mates in water at a depth of less than 15 feet, the depths where red light is still visible. Much deeper, and you'll be out of the red zone and into the orange or yellow zones — depths at which this species doesn't score, err, spawn.

Despite not having traditional nests, all perch (but especially males hoping to spawn more than once) linger in the red zone long after scoring. Though this extended celebration would draw a personal foul on the field, it's the norm with perch, and makes for a concentrated target within easy casting distance of every angler — even those poorly suited to play quarterback. Perch always bite readily, but they're especially aggressive now as they defend their turf. Cooling water temps and physical exertion during the spawn increase a perch's caloric usage and make them dive on any morsel of food like a loose ball.

Females spawn annually, but do not die after spawning unless very old or in poor health, which means you don't have to focus exclusively on the boys of fall; the ladies are here, too.

Game plan

Perch are smaller fish with relatively large mouths. They are midlevel predators that will take lures, flies, jigs and bait, but tend to move slower than gamefish like bass and pike and trout that make meals of perch from time to time.

If you rip a lure through their spawning grounds, don't expect the same explosive hit you'd get with a trout or salmon. Instead, you'll have to work your lure, fly or jig more slowly or sit on bait and wait for the hit.

When weather conditions include extreme cold, rain or snow, football coaches will throw less often and focus on the ground game. Perch anglers should do the same. You can catch fall perch throwing large lures and deep bombs, but you're better off running a dive (diving lure, that is), flinging a small jig or even fishing bait on the bottom.

You likely won't have many highlights for your reel, but you will slowly, steadily catch a pile of fish that will move the chains (chain stringer, that is) or fill a bucket. And you should keep them if you like fish. Invasive in most of the western United States, yellow perch are a rare combination for freshwater fish, in that they are fun to catch, easy to clean, plentiful and actually taste good. Furthermore, in today's world, you can stream the game on your phone from the side of a stream. That way if your team flops, at least you can have a few fish flopping out of the water to redeem the day.

Though wings, bean dip and guacamole dominate game day celebrations, what's stopping you from serving up fried fish? Leave your perch on the couch and chase some perch on the water.

Read more at caughtovgard.com; Follow on Instagram and Fishbrain @lukeovgard; Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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