The movement way from the more sporty fish and targeting panfish is likely the result of many popular television shows featuring some of the mid-west professional anglers that have made a living and had some fun doing it by using very modern techniques. They do a great job of show-and-tell that takes a lot of the guesswork out of this sport.
Although the popularity of crappie-ice fishing can partially be because of these TV fishing stars, crappie are not any where near as available in the East as other panfish, especially perch.
Ice fishing for perch isn't as easy as open water fishing for them can be, as in the winter and with the cold weather, both white and yellow perch can change their habits. And in the case of white perch, can be very difficult to catch.
In the warmer moths, white perch school near the surface of the lakes and ponds and in their spring spawning periods they will concentrate in slow moving rivers and around the river mouths. This changes dramatically in the winter months when the water is cold. Unlike yellow perch that are happy feeding on shiners or other small minnows as well as insects and nymphs, winter white perch target insects, nymphs and other bottom dwelling things and are most often found on muddy bottom that supports this kind of insect growth.
White perch are most often found oriented to the bottom and often in the deepest parts of lakes and ponds. They will often take a shiner or other minnow-type of bait but you're luck will probably be much better using meal worms, small pieces of garden or nightcrawler worms. Small tube baits and skirted jigs can also be productive. You'll want to keep you lines close to bottom and don't spend a lot of time in non-productive areas. If the white perch are there they usually will hit a bait or lure dropped down to them. Very early morning fishing often produces best white perch catches as well as later afternoon efforts.Yellow perch schools are on the move and some of the best yellow perch anglers cut new holes all day long in order to stay with a school of fish. Multiple small flies rigged with bait (check state rules on this) as well as small baited jigs or small hooks are productive for the perch. Small shiners work well as well as cut bait. Many anglers use perch eyes taken from their catch as hook bait. When doing this humanely it's best to take the eyes of your dead fish, not the ones still wiggling.
The yellow perch specialists will often cut two holes for each tip-up they are fishing, right next to each other. When a perch is hooked on a tip-up this system allows the angler to drop a line in right next to the hooked perch and take as many perch from that school of fish as they can until the school moves. They leave the first hooked fish in the water as a decoy for the rest of the perch.
It's hard to pin-point the depth of water that yellow perch will be found in but starting in the mid-teens and working your way out to deeper water is usually a good idea. With white perch, often these fish are found in the deepest part of lakes with depths in the 40 to 50 feet range. In very deep lakes they usually won't go much deeper than that. Fairly shallow coves with water depths in the 20 to 30 feet with muddy bottoms can also produce some good white perch action. Once you've located a spot that produces white perch, unlike with yellow perch fishing, you can usually go back to that spot and expect some white perch there. With the yellows, that can be possible but it's not a given.
We like to fish for anything that will fit into a frying pan and won't turn his nose down at some of the more unlikely victims, such as the bony pickerel and northern pike. With the smaller of those species we just fillet them, leave the skin intact and crisscross-cut the flesh down to the skin. Frying them skin-side up in hot oil makes most of the bones disappear and those that are not cooked up can just be easily removed with a flick of your fork.
There is another way to prepare the larger pike and pickerel for the table. Fillet the whole side of each fish. Leaving the skin intact fillet out the "loins" of the fish above the backbone. There shouldn't be any bones in these long and tender strips. Where the rib cage stops, fillet that section of pure meat all the way to the tail. Again-no bones. And it you are very fussy, the rest of the side of the fish with all the bones can be filleted, separating the bones from the meat and then skin your boneless piece of fish.
Nothing is fool-proof so when eating, always beware of a sneaky bone that evaded you.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DuckInn@aol.com.