Three of Iowa’s popular game fish belong to the perch family. It also contains many other smaller members known as darters. Members of this family have rather slender, elongate bodies and a large bone on the gill cover that ends in a flat spine. The spiny and soft portions of the dorsal fin are completely separated. Larger family members feed mostly on fish, while smaller members eat small aquatic insects and crustaceans.
For more information about perch, visit the DNR website.
The yellow perch has a dark back with sides that are bright yellow to brassy green with seven dark, vertical bars. The lower fins are often tinged red-orange. It ranges from six to ten inches long and eats small aquatic insects, crustaceans, and fish. The perch is essentially a lake fish; it’s most abundant in the natural lakes. (It is common in some locations in the Mississippi.)
Perch move into shallows and deposit long, ribbon-like masses of eggs over sandbars, submerged vegetation, or brush in early spring. Young perch remain in schools near weed beds and are important food for other game fish and fish-eating birds. Larger perch move to deeper, cooler waters where they also form schools. Perch can be caught with a variety of natural baits with light tackle.
This is the largest member of the perch family, attaining weights over 20 pounds. (Most are much smaller.) It is a brassy olive buff above with a white belly. The tail fin has a white tip on the lower half. It has large, glossy whitish eyes and very sharp teeth.
Schools of walleye are found in natural lakes and larger rivers as well as larger constructed lakes. Shortly after ice-out, they move into shallow areas with gravel or rubble bottoms and some current to spawn. Adults return to deeper water after spawning where they feed mostly on fish near the bottom.
Walleye will take slowly trolled lures or rigged nightcrawlers. Casting minnows or small jigs with plastic tails also work effectively.
Sauger are very similar in appearance to walleye, but are smaller (most caught are less than 15 inches long). Three or four dark “saddles” mark their back and extend onto the sides. The bottom of the tail fin does not have a white tip.
Sauger distribution in Iowa is limited to the border rivers and the lower reaches of their tributaries. Although more likely to be found in turbid waters than walleye, their choice of habitat and their habits are similar.
Try these fun ideas to help your students learn more about identifying Iowa fish species.
- Identification Relay: Have small groups of students start in designated place in your classroom marked by a cone. In the middle of the room, place Iowa fish name cards and pictures. When told to start, one person from each group runs to the cards. They must select a picture and it’s matching name card and bring it back to the group at their designated place. The group decides if it is a match. If it is the next person goes to the middle to attempt to bring back another match. This continues until a group has correctly matched all name and picture cards.
- Fitness Fish: Appoint an activity to each Iowa fish picture (ex. Brown trout=10 pushups, rainbow trout=10 crunches, brook trout=10 lunges). List these on the whiteboard. The students will be in groups with a cone marking their starting line. On the start command, one person from the group runs to the middle where the pictures are located face down, picks one, and then returns to group with card. The group must then perform the activity associated with the species of fish.