Give ‘Em a Meal

When Jeff Sundin targets jumbo perch or slab crappie, he’s not scared to go big with his bait selections.

“If I’m fishing big perch waters, I want to use a big bait,” Jeff Sundin said as he unhooked a genuinely large Devils Lake perch. “It helps you get past the smaller fish and get the attention of the ones you really want.”

A northern Minnesota fishing guide who shifts his focus from guiding to play fishing, sport shows and other promotional work for sponsors (which includes a lot of ice fishing) every winter, Sundin was plying the famous perch waters of North Dakota’s Devils Lake with guide and fellow Lindy pro staffer Jason Feldner. Sundin was armed with a Frostee that most anglers would consider oversized for perch fishing, but it was paying big dividends.

Sundin actually began the morning with “walleye size” Slick Jig, and caught his first jumbo perch almost immediately. Then the perch turned finicky for everyone for a while, in large part due to a hard cold front that had come crashing through, so Sundin tried downsizing to a small Rattl’N Flyer Spoon before taking the finesse approach a step farther with a 1/32-ounce Lindy Ice Jig.

When downsizing didn’t make a noteworthy difference in the catching action, he decided that he was at Devils Lake to catch its famous big perch, so he tied on his “old standby.”

Sundin’s  standby for jumbo perch is a No. 4 Frostee Spoon (usually in a glow color), which he matches with a big live minnow. “I always hook the minnow near the tail because it never stops trying to swim away from the lure and that creates great action,” he said.

Sundin generally doesn’t jig his offering very hard, instead letting the minnow do the bulk of the-fish attracting work. However, he always experiments with presentations and he watches his flasher continually, allowing the fish to dictate his approach.

At Devils Lake, Sundin noticed that most strikes were occurring very soon after he dropped the bait down through the hole. After a while he begin reeling the spoon up several feet from time to time and dropping it back down to capitalize on the reaction bites that seemed to occur soon after the bait fell into the zone. The plan worked, and that became his default approach for the rest of the afternoon.

Sundin’s Frostee/minnow combo looks like it would be a mega mouthful for a yellow perch, but the perch have shown him again and again that it’s not too big for them.

He likewise sees the evidence of a big yellow perch’s hefty appetite when he uses chubs and sucker minnows to target big walleyes during the summer. It’s not at all uncommon for Sundin to catch a giant yellow perch on a bait that many anglers would consider too large to put down for walleyes.

Crappie Too

It might be worth noting that Sundin’s “big ideas” are not exclusive to yellow perch. He utilizes many of the exact same approaches for waters where crappie tend to grow shoulders. A crappie actually has a very large mouth when compared to other panfish, and even an average-sized crappie will nab a far larger offering than most anglers ever opt to offer when crappie are the target species.

For Sundin, the major deciding factor regarding the size of ice lure he’ll drop through a hole for crappie is the reputation of the lake. If he’s fishing waters that are known to yield slab-sized fish, he doesn’t mind drawing questioning looks from other fishermen. He likewise doesn’t mind waiting longer between bites as long as he believes that upsizing his offerings increases his chances of upsizing the crappie that he catches.

In addition to the larger sizes of Frostees and Slick Jigs, Sundin likes a 1/8-ounce Rattl’n Flyer Spoon for heavyweight crappie, and occasionally he’ll even dance a Lindy Darter with big crappie in mind

Time & Place for Everything

Despite an obvious willingness to buck norms in search of big crappie or perch, Jeff Sundin does not maintain a “go big or go home” mentality. He can jiggle a Lindy Ice Jig or twitch Micro Slick Jig with the best of them when a finesse presentation is needed to make fish bite.

As alluded to, Sundin doesn’t typically start big if he’s fishing in a lake that’s better known for fast action panfishing than for coughing out jumbos or slabs or if the big fish-bite hasn’t been happening. He matches his starting line-up with expectations. Likewise, he’s not too stubborn to change if everyone around him is catching fish, and everything coming through the ice is a little on the small end for the baits he’s been using.

It’s not all about big baits for big fish, though. There are times when the biggest perch or crappie in lake are much more inclined to eat something small and subtle. Usually that has to do with a hard cold front, recent heavy fishing pressure, or extra good visibility caused by very clear water and/or minimal snow cover on the ice.

For Sundin, though, the fish on the flasher are his biggest indicator. When fish keep showing up and giving his bait hard looks and then turning the other way, he begins making changes, and if conditions suggest that it might be a day for smaller offerings, he’ll scale back from his big stuff.  Often, that works. Other times, the bite is simply slow. In those cases, he’ll usually go back to a big Frostee, figuring that if he’s only going to catch a fish now and then, it might as well be a big one.

Devil’s Lake

Famous for its giant yellow perch, Devils Lake is serving up one of the best winters of ice fishing that guide Jason Feldner can remember. Perch of any length are incredibly fat in this highly fertile lake, and legitimate 2-pound perch don’t even turn heads in the bait shop.

Feldner normally begins and ends most ice-fishing days fishing for walleyes in fairly shallow water and spends the middle part of each day over deeper water, primarily targeting perch. Devils Lake also supports a big population of pike, which can provide furious action through the ice. That said, most fishermen who travel to this lake during the winter understandably have jumbo perch in mind. Devils Lake is located in northern North Dakota, so there’s normally good fishable ice at least through the end of March.

Making Plans?

Before you head anywhere to fish, be sure to check out Lindy’s Exclusive National Audio Fishing Reports. Jeff Sundin and Jason Feldner both contribute regular audio reports. Jeff Sundin also posts daily written reports about northern Minnesota on his website, jeffsundin.com. To learn more about fishing at Devils Lake, visit Perch-Eyes Guide Service.