Perch Family

The true perch of New York State include some of the best tasting and most popular freshwater fishes. As a family, they are widely distributed, adaptable to a wide range of habitats, and fun to catch on rod and reel. In addition, the less known members of the perch family, the darters, are probably the most colorful freshwater fish in North America.

True perch are spiny-rayed fish which have one or more sharp spines on their fins. While they are quite variable in appearance, they all are slender in body shape, have two dorsal (back) fins, and one anal fin. True perch can be separated into two groups: larger perches and smaller perches.
The Larger Perches

Yellow perch, walleye, and sauger are larger perches that prefer the water of large streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes. Popular gamefish, they are prized by anglers not only for their scrappy nature, but for their delicious taste, as well. The largest members of New York State's perch family, walleye, can exceed ten pounds.

Yellow perch, walleye, and sauger reproduce (spawn) during early spring. Walleye are the first to spawn, followed by yellow perch, and then sauger. Adults migrate into tributary streams or the shallows of lakes and randomly release their eggs over the bottom. Unlike some other species of fish, such as bullheads or bass, larger perch build no nests and give no parental care to their eggs or young.
picture of bluepike
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A former member of this group, the extinct blue pike, was a subspecies of the walleye. Once abundant in Lake Erie, blue pike supported important commercial and recreational fisheries. Although similar to walleye, blue pike could be distinguished by the lack of yellow skin pigment and larger eyes. In addition, blue pike frequented deeper offshore areas and had different spawning habits than walleye.
The Smaller Perches

The smaller perches consist of 18 species of darters - small, colorful, short-lived fish especially adapted to life on the stream bottom. Their name comes from their habit of darting from place to place. Because of their small size and habitat preference, darters are not actively fished for and rarely seen by the public. Unlike their cousins the walleye, yellow perch, and sauger, darters do not have a well-developed swim bladder (used for floating) which is helpful to their life on the stream bottom. While this feature does allow darters to easily remain on bottom, it requires that they physically swim up from the bottom, rather than float.

Reproduction for darters differs from other perch. Spawning occurs from late March through June. Males become brilliantly colored and perform elaborate dances while courting females. Eggs are carefully placed in preselected locations and are often protected by the males until hatching.

In New York State, the true perch family numbers 21 members: yellow perch, walleye, sauger, and 18 species of darters. In this article, darters will be treated as a single group. For more detailed information on perch, refer to, "The Inland Fisheries of New York State," by C. Lavett Smith. Two additional sources of information on darters are "The Handbook of Darters," by L.M. Page, and "The American Darters," by R.A. Kuehne and R.W. Barbour.
Yellow Perch


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