Yellow perch

Common name

Yellow perch

Scientific name

Perca flavescens 

Fish family


Also known as

American perch, bandit fish, calico bass, convict, coon perch, coontail, Eisenhower, jack perch, lake perch, raccoon perch, red perch, redfin, redfin trout, ring-tail perch, ringed perch, river perch, sand perch, striped perch

Back to Top

What they look like

Perca is an early Greek name for perch and flavescens is Latin, meaning "becoming gold colored", refering to its yellowish coloration.

Yellow perch have brown or greenish backs, olive or yellow sides with 6 to 8 thick dark vertical bars and a cream or white belly. Its first dorsal fin is dusky and blackish on the first 2 and last 3 to 4 membranes and the other fins are more lightly pigmented . The first dorsal fin is spiny and the second is softrayed, and there is a very sharp edge on the gill covering. The pelvic and pectoral fins are often yellowish or reddish in color. Yellow perch have an elongated body that is, laterally compressed and moderately deep. Its head is slightly concave above the eyes giving a somewhat humpbacked appearance. They have no canine teeth on the jaws or roof of the mouth like walleye.

Breeding adults are similar to non-breeders, but colors of spawning males are more intense, with bright orange-red fins and are generally brighter in color. Juveniles are similar to adults, but are slightly less deep-bodied.

Back to Top

Where they live

The yellow perch travel in schools and is primarily a lake fish, though also found in ponds, slow moving streams, and rivers where they tend to be much smaller. Not present in large numbers in flowing waters. They prefer cool, clear water, though quite adaptable, tolerating low winter oxygen levels better than many other fish species. (though still susceptible to winterkill). They prefer water temperatures of 65 to 70 °F. and some suggest they follow the 68 °F water temperature levels in their seasonal movements. They are rarely taken from waters more than 30 feet deep, but can be found in waters as much as 150' deep. Larger fish tend to prefer the deeper regions of lakes, leaving the shorelines to smaller individuals.

During different seasons, they prefer different areas of the lake. They tend to travel shoreward each morning and evening to feed, while during the spring and fall they appear to feed throughout the day. At night they appear to rest on the bottom and refrain from feeding. Perch remain active all winter long under the ice in both shallow and deeper water, hence they provide the ice fisherman with much sport and many a meal. In spring, perch seem to pefer bottom structures such as rock piles and bottom drop-offs. In summer, they seem to perfer outside edges of submerged vegetation. In fall prominent land points with bottom structures and in winter, they stay over the flat bottom reaches near bottom structures.

The first recorded introductions of yellow perch into Washington were by the U.S. Fish Commission. Between 1890 and 1895 perch were released into Loon and Colville (Sprague) lakes near Spokane, the Palouse River, Silver Lake in Cowlitz County, and Lake St. Clair in Thurston County. They were also probably introduced into the lower Columbia River during this period, included in shipments of warmwater fish species salvaged from receding overflow channels of midwestern rivers.

A list of the better-known and most productive perch fisheries today would include Banks Lake, Moses Lake, Potholes Reservoir, Lake Washington, Lake Sammamish, Lake Stevens, Silver Lake in Cowlitz County, and the Columbia River. Hundreds of smaller lakes and ponds provide abundant fishing for this species throughout the state.

Currently (as of May 1, 2004), only Banks Lake and Potholes Reservoir have special yellow perch regulations. In both of these bodies of water, perch are not only popular gamefish, but also an important forage species.

Back to Top

What they eat

Yellow perch are strictly carnivorous, consuming small fishes, aquatic insects, crayfish, and snails depending on the forage base available. They feed by sight and therefore need light to find prey. They feed throughout the daylight hours in deep water but often move into the shallows during evening to feed on schools of small fish. Aquatic insects and larvae often comprise a large part of their diet. They may feed off and on throughout the day, but have two peak feeding times; once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

A recent study reported yellow perch showed a positive growth response in the presence of zebra mussels. Zebra mussels increase the biomass of benthic invertebrates which juvenile and adult yellow perch feed on, therefore improve the growth of the fish.

Larval yellow perch feed on zooplankton, primarily copepods and cladocerans. Juvenile eat zooplankton, other aquatic invertebrates, and insects. As they become adults, they consume less zooplankton, and more things such as insects, snails, and crayfish. They also eat the eggs and young of other fish, even juvenile yellow perch. Bass, walleye, and northern pike all prey on perch. Because they are actively feeding all winter, they are great to fish for through the ice.

Back to Top

Life cycle

Yellow perch size can vary greatly between bodies of water, but adults are usually between 4-10 inches in length and weigh about 5.29 ounces on average with adult females generally larger than adult males of the same age. Yellow perch are known to live as long as 13 years, and older perch are often much larger than average. The maximum recorded length is 21.0 inches and the largest recorded weight is 4.2 pounds. "Big" perch are 12 inches long. Some lakes are known as producers of "jumbo" perch that are consistently large.

Perch are prolific breeders, but growth and ultimate size depend on population density and habitat productivity. Crowding results in stunted offspring that may never exceed a length of six inches; thus, a controlled harvest program can benefit both the angler and the fish themselves.

Back to Top


Yellow perch spawn even earlier than crappies, usually at night or early morning beginning when water temperatures reach 45 or 50° F. Males reach sexual maturity between ages 1 and 3. Female yellow perch mature between ages 2 and 3. Spawning is extended over only a short period, each female extruding all of her eggs at once, they do not build nests. Eggs are deposited over a variety of substrates such as sand bars, submerged vegetation, fallen branches, or other debris in the water. These spawning grounds provide some of the best perch fishing available. The female deposits a long, flat, ribbon-like, amber colored mass of eggs. This strand of eggs is fully formed in the ovary and is covered with a thick mucilaginous sheath. The sheath protects the eggs from infection and predation. As the female deposits the eggs, she is followed by 2-25 males who fertilize them. After fertilization, they swell and the string of eggs can become up to 8' long. Reproductive potential (fecundity) is high, with as many as 15,000 eggs for a six-inch fish, and many times that for larger fish.

Many egg masses are eaten by other fishes, washed up on shore, or stranded by low water. Surviving eggs hatch in 12-21 days, depending on water temperature. There is no parental care of eggs or fry once they hatch. After hatching, the young fish travel together in schools or near weedy areas where food is abundant. Slow swimmers when young, they must depend upon aquatic plants for cover. Young reach about 3" in their first summer.

Heavy predation from most fish-eating fishes and birds is common. Consequently, perch provide a great deal of forage for other species. If not heavily preyed upon, their numbers can quickly overwhelm the food supply in a lake, resulting in stunted populations. On occasion their numbers are quickly reduced by disease mortality, evidently the result of a pathogen peculiar to the species.

Back to Top

State Record

2 lbs. 12 oz. caught in Snelson's Slough, Skagit County by angler Larry Benthien on June 22, 1969

World Record

4 lbs. 3 oz. caught in Bordentown, NJ by angler Dr. C.C. Abbot on May, 1865

Back to Top


User login