Many people consider perch to be the best eating fish in freshwater. I tend to agree with them. They have a taste all their own, are always firm and on top of that they fillet up easily and really can’t be prepared wrong for the table. All 11 of the Finger Lakes have perch. All the lakes I guide have good to excellent perch fishing.
In past years, Cayuga’s fish ran on the smaller side – usually averaging around 7″ to 8″. Since round gobies have invaded the lake, the perch seem to be getting bigger here. They are now similar to Skaneateles sized fish – plenty of 8″ers yet encouraging numbers of once rare 11″ to 13″ fish in the mix and surprising numbers of bigger ones. Keep an eye on this lake for perch! Owasco is similar to Cayuga Lake with great numbers but they run smaller on average. But fish are everywhere here!
Seneca Lake has the top reputation in the area, if not the State. Back in the 1960s up through the 1980s this lake routinely turned out 2 to 3lb perch! Some of these fish would be pushing 17″ to 18″ long. The lake had excessive nutrients going into it back then. It also had a large smelt population which may have helped to fatten up the perch. Over the past couple decades, fish here averaged around 10″ to 11″. There really aren’t nearly as many fish here per acre as the other lakes. DEC surveys/netting in 2020 showed decent numbers of fish here – but they are just netting the few major points/flats on the lake – like Valois, Severne and Watkins et. al. As of this writing in the winter of 2023/24, the perch fishing on Seneca Lake has been fair at best. There are some around but they aren’t easy to find. Very few anglers are even out targeting perch on this lake anymore. A friend of mine that has a dock on the lake used to catch them routinely from it during the summer. He hasn’t seen nor caught one going on two years now. The lake has a huge alewife population, and they tend to eat a lot of perch fry thus keeping perch numbers suppressed.
Skaneateles is a very good perch lake and there are plenty of 8″ to 11″ fish here. 14″ers are around but it isn’t like Seneca in that respect. I think that perch fishing is starting to decline here as the walleye population reduces their numbers, but it is still quite good.
Another lake to keep an eye on is Keuka Lake. The alewives have collapsed here and that bodes well for the perch. This lake produces numbers as well as trophies. Unfortunately, walleyes are now established here and they are a major predator of perch, so future perch fishing prospects may be uncertain.
I don’t perch fish Canandaigua Lake, but it’s a popular option especially with Rochester area anglers. It also produces some hefty fish.
For my guiding I consider perch a bonus fish. I don’t guide for them specifically, though we do catch plenty in Skaneateles Lake from October through June – and they can be taken throughout the summer.