Yellow perch is Michigan’s favorite fish any time of year - Part 1

Learn how to tell the yellow perch apart from its closest relatives: Walleye and sauger.

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant have been actively engaged in education relating to the Great Lakes fishery for more than 35 years. This is the first of two articles focusing on the yellow perch, one of the most popular and important fish species in the Great Lakes.

The yellow perch (Perca flavescens) is a favorite sport fish of Michigan anglers, not surprising given the perch's delicious, flaky flesh and abundance. Perch average 4 to 10 inches long, but the Michigan state record, dating back to 1947, was 21 inches long and weighed 3.75 pounds.

Perch vary in color according to their size and habitat. A perch living in shallow weedy waters will tend to be a "yellow belly," while one in deeper waters will have a whiter belly. Typically the back is green, olive or golden, with yellow-green or yellow sides. The perch has about seven tapering bars extending down its sides, and these bars are the same color as its back.

The body of a perch is long and oval. The head is fairly deep and is rounded at the tip, ending with a medium-sized mouth. Like all members of the perch family (Percidae), perch have two separated dorsal (back) fins. The first dorsal fin has 13 to 15 sharp spines and the edge is often black. There is also black between the first two and last four or five spines. The second dorsal fin (toward the tail) has one or two spines but is mostly soft-rayed. The tail, or caudal fin, has rounded tips and is shallowly forked. The two pectoral fins arising from the fish's sides are rounded and broad. The two pelvic fins have one spine and five rays, and are located well forward on the body, just behind the pectoral fins. The single anal fin, on the fish's underside near the tail, also has both spines and rays. A fun online game created by PurposeGames will test your knowledge of perch anatomy.

The perch is easily distinguished from its closest relatives. The walleye has a light-colored spot on the lower tip of the tail and lacks the distinct vertical bars of the perch. The sauger has a dark spot at the base of each pectoral fin and has dark crescent-shaped spots on its front dorsal fin.

Part 2 of this series will look at the life history of the yellow perch and how to catch them.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

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