What Do Perch Eat – Favorite Foods in Their Diet & Best Baits

Yellow Perch are very common all across North America and they are a favorite target for a lot of anglers. Understanding what perch eat in their natural habitat such as lakes, ponds, and rivers is key to being a successful perch angler.

So, what do perch eat?

What a perch eats depends on its size and where it lives. Overall though, perch are not fussy eaters but they aren’t big predators either so their diet consists mainly of nymphs, insects, worms, leeches, and small bait fish.

However, there is a lot more to understanding what perch eat and when so you can catch them all year round.

Let’s take a deeper look at the details!

What do Perch Eat – a List of Favorite Foods that Perch Like to Eat

Before we get more into detail of what perch eat and their feeding habits, let’s first take a look at the list below of all the things yellow perch like to eat in their natural habitat.

  • Zooplankton
  • Nymphs
  • Flying Insects
  • Insect Larvae
  • Worms
  • Leeches
  • Newts
  • Tadpoles
  • Shrimps
  • Fish Eggs
  • Shiners
  • Suckers
  • Minnows
  • Crayfish
  • Maggots
  • Snails
  • Shads
  • Suckers
  • Fathead
  • Small Bass
  • Small Walleye
  • Small Bluegill
  • Small Crappie

You may have guessed from the long list of food perch like to eat that they are very opportunistic feeders. They will pretty much eat anything that comes along, so long as they can fit it in their mouths.

You will notice that there are a lot of fish species on a perch’s menu, however, size is important. Perch only eat small fish between 3 and 6 inches in length, as they don’t get large enough to consume any fish larger than this.

large perch caught on a soft bait on angler hands

What Perch Eat by Season

What perch eat changes depending on the season and understanding this is key to being able to catch them all year round.

Let’s take a look at what perch like to eat in each season and the factors that affect their behavior.

What do Perch Eat in the Summer

In the early summer around June, perch have just spawned and are aggressively looking for as much food as possible. This is also when lots of fish fry have been born and are at the perfect size for perch gorge on.

This means in early summer they are looking to snap up a lot of small fish as well as anything else they can find like shrimp, snails, tadpoles, and more.

Later on in summer, when the water heats up, perch will move to deeper waters and forage for crayfish on the bottom along with nymphs, and other fish species in the area like shad.

What do Perch Eat in the Fall

In the fall, the water temperature cools and the perch move into the shallows again. The perch will notice the temperature change as a sign that winter is on the way. This makes them feed aggressively and hunt for bigger prey to put on some weight before winter.

During fall, the perch are focussing on high levels of protein and will want to eat as many small fish as they can get their hands on.

This is also the time of year when small minnows of every species are in abundance so the perch have a lot of different species to choose from.

What do Perch Eat in the Winter

In the winter, perch slow down their metabolism to conserve energy and move to deep water to find the warmest water possible.

This means that perch do not feed as actively and they don’t have as much energy to chase food either.

They will focus their efforts on whatever is easiest to eat such as blood worms, midge larvae, and any small fish that get close enough to be eaten without much energy.

trophy perch caught

What do Perch Eat in the Spring

Perch tend to spawn between mid-April and mid-May, which means in early spring they are double hungry to get ready for spawning and to put on weight after winter.

Since perch only eat smaller fish, not many of these are available in early spring and they will instead seek out all the nymphs that come to life and begin hatching. This includes any nymphs from mayfly to blood worms, midge larvae and more.

Once they are spawning, they congregate in a large school in deeper water and spawn throughout the night and into the early morning. They will feed heavily on nymphs and other insects just before and after the spawn, plus any small fish, worms, and crayfish that swim past them.

How do the Seasons Affect Perch Feeding Habits?

As you can see, perch change their feeding behaviors in the different seasons and this is caused by three things: water temperature, food abundance, and spawning.

When the water temperature is either too hot or too cold for perch, their metabolism slows down, they feed less, and they move to deeper water.

When the water temperature changes to their optimum temperature, the perch take advantage and feed incredibly hard on anything they can get their hands on. This happens in spring and fall as I mentioned above.

Spawning requires a lot of energy and perch need to eat a lot during pre-spawn and post-spawn. This is in order to have enough energy to spawn successfully and recover after they have used a lot of energy.

What do Perch Like to Eat the Most?

I wouldn’t say that perch have one particular food they like to eat the most. They eat more nymphs, blood worms, scuds, and other aquatic insects more than anything else over their lifetime.

What they prefer as the seasons change is however a different question. You will find perch love small fish when they are the most abundant prey available.

Generally speaking, whatever prey is most abundant is what the perch will prefer to eat at any given time.

yellow perch is caught spinning

What are the Best Baits for Perch?

Perch are suckers for a live bait and fishing them on a bobber, natural drift, or weighted is a very effective way of catching a lot of fish. The best live baits for perch include:

  • Worms
  • Nightcrawlers
  • Maggots
  • Small crayfish
  • Leeches
  • Small bait fish (3 – 6 inches)

I would always choose maggots and worms before turning to the others since these are much smaller baits and you can get your hands on them much more easily.

What are the Best Lures for Perch Fishing?

There are quite a few different types of lures that perch love to go after, even when you are ice fishing for them. The key to buying the right perch lure is size.

They need to be small to medium in size, around 3 – 5 inches in length as perch have small mouths and are small fish too. Here are the lures you need in your perch tackle box:

Soft Plastics

Soft plastics are deadly for catching perch with. Being soft they have an excellent action in the water that looks very natural, also when a perch bites them, it feels natural too.

Soft plastics can also be fished on different weighted jig hooks allowing you to access different depths. The weighted hook also gives an amazing swimming action when retrieved with a pause and go retrieve.

Small Jigs

Small jigs are like soft plastics but instead of having a soft plastic attached to the jig head, there is a skirt around the bottom. The skirt pulsates as you retrieve the lure and the weighted head lets you fish different depths with the deadly pause and go action.

Inline Spinners

Inline spinners come with a spinning blade on a metal shank with hooks at the end. The blade spins reflecting light and causes vibrations in the water. Perch love these and they are so easy to fish, just cast and wind.


Spoons are another great perch lure that are incredibly easy to use. Literally a piece of shiny shaped metal with a hook at the pack they look like a small fish fleeing. Perch love this and being made of metal, you can fish them at different depths too.

Small Crankbaits

Small crankbaits are another excellent perch lure, and by small I mean 2 – 4 inches in length. These lures have a front lip that causes them to dive and wiggle when you retrieve them.

The action is quite incredible and it is hard for any predatory fish not to eat. You can also buy crankbaits that dive to different depths so you can fish both shallow and deep.

Lure Colors

Perch tend to like brightly colored lures but you should ensure you have a range of natural, dark, and brightly colored lures.

Natural colored lures are excellent when fishing in crystal clear water as they won’t raise any suspicion in the perch. When the days are dark, dark lures stand out the most, so turn to them.

If you are fishing in dirty water, be sure to use dark or bright lures so that the perch can see them as easily as possible.

winter perch fishing on softbaits


What do baby perch eat?

Baby perch start their journey by eating the yolk sack of their egg. Once that is finished, they feed on zooplankton exclusively until they are big enough for heavier food like nymphs, small larvae, and small worms.

Do perch eat minnows?

Yes, perch love to eat minnows. Small fish around 2 to 6 inches in length make up a large part of a perch’s diet.

They tend to gorge on minnows the most in the fall when they are most abundant and the perch are getting fat before winter comes.

Do perch eat other smaller perch?

Absolutely! Perch will not differentiate one small fish from another. This means if a baby perch swims in front of a bigger perch, chances are it is going to get eaten.

But, perch only tend to actively feed on their own kind when they are stuck for a meal. So it happens more by chance until the going gets tough!

How much do perch eat?

Perch don’t need to eat that much considering how small they are. In general, around 25% of their body weight a day is enough, but they will take every meal they can get in the wild when they are feeding.

How often do perch eat?

Oddly enough, perch go through feeding cycles and will eat for maybe an hour or two and then stop for an hour or two, before eating again.

When fishing for perch, you might find a school that is biting hard and then turns off, and this is why. At this point, you will need to find some more perch that are feeding.

How big of a fish can perch eat?

Generally speaking, a perch can eat a fish about ¼ of its size and since they don’t get very big, they tend to target much smaller bait fish than other predators.

What time of days is best for catching perch?

Perch use low-light conditions to outsmart their prey and therefore feed most actively in the hours between sunrise and mid-morning, and later afternoon to sunset.

These are the best times to go fishing for perch. In bright conditions, they will go deep or hide in weeds or reeds, so you can try and fish them out of there in the middle of the day.

How do perch hunt?

Perch are ambush predators meaning they will lie in wait for their prey to swim past and then snap them up. They like to hang out in cover like sunken trees, weeds, rock piles, overhangs, and more.

The issue is, their predators such as walleye, bass, and pike also like to hangout in these areas too, so the life of a little perch is quite a nervous one.

Are perch bottom feeders?

Yes! Even though perch are schooling fish in some cases, they will always do their feeding close to the bottom of the river or lake they live in.

Winding Up

Now that you know what perch eat across the seasons and why, put this knowledge to the test next time you are out on the water targeting them. Remember to account for water temperature, depth, and what prey is most abundant and you should get excellent results.

Want to ask any questions? Or let us know how your perch tactics have changed. Please leave a comment in the section below!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Recent Content