What Food Should You Feed Perch in Ponds? (Perch Food Guide)

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What Food Should You Feed Perch in Ponds? (Perch Food Guide)

Perca fluviatilis
In the wild, perch can be found in clear waters with weed-like vegetation and soft benthic features. Christa Rohrbach, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Perch are well-loved due to their tasty flavor and desirability as sport fish. Many species under the Percidae family may be confusingly referred to as perch. Strictly speaking, this common name refers to either European perch (Perca fluviatilis), yellow perch (Perca flavescens), or Balkhash perch (Perca schrenkii). These freshwater fish are native to Europe, Asia, and North America.

In the wild, perch favor relatively small and calm freshwater systems. They occur in high densities in clear water with weed-like vegetation and soft benthic features. The planted areas of rivers, streams, small lakes, and ponds are prime spots for perch fishing as they tend to spawn and feed there. They are known for being quite feisty, creating a flurry of activity whenever their shoals are disturbed. Versatile, energetic, and greedy with food, they are best caught in summer to late fall.

Increasingly stocked in manmade ponds, perch are now considered an economically important aquaculture fish. Their nutritious meat is rich in proteins, vitamin B, and healthy fats. In communities around the Great Lakes, perch are in-demand as they have become a home and restaurant dinner staple. Their pond cultivation aids in limiting their exploitation as a food fish from the wild.

Natural & Manmade Perch Habitats

Perch eggs
Mature perch like to stay close to foliage, as they can expel their eggs & fertilize them there. USFWS Mountain-Prairie, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Perch favor congregating in areas with rich structural diversity as these provide them with ample shade and cover from their own predators. These areas also serve as habitats for their prey items. Mature fish prefer to stay close to submerged foliage as the surfaces become spots onto which they can expel their eggs and fertilize them.

In the Great Lakes, perch can be fished all year long. Unfortunately, as their habitats are becoming more polluted due to the introduction of manmade contaminants, wild perch populations are not as productive as they used to be. Moreover, the meat of wild fish may be a source of potentially harmful substances or particles. This is another reason why their cultivation in enclosed systems may be more advantageous.

Wild perch have a semi to fully anadromous life cycle and may occasionally migrate between natural ponds and brackish waters. They can persist without migrating to saltier waters, however, and can thus be cultivated in garden ponds as ornamental fish. Pond owners that intend to grow them with other types of fish (such as in a polyculture system or wildlife pond) need to consider their eating habits. You may be surprised to find that their introduction leads to the disappearance of all juvenile fish.

Eating Habits of Perch

Group of European perch
Perch are bottom feeders and readily adjust their diet depending on what food is available. Shaun Lee / CC BY 4.0

Perch are predators with an intermediate position on the food chain of ecologically-balanced bodies of water. This is partly due to their size and habitat preferences. Instead of staying in open water, they feed along the lower reaches of the water column, along the pond bottom, or close to vegetation. Here they favor the following types of natural prey items, on which they may feed all throughout their lives:

  • Aquatic insects
  • Minnows
  • Golden shiners
  • Shads
  • Juvenile bass
  • Juvenile crappie
  • Other small, plankton-eating fish species
  • Bloodworms
  • Midge larvae
  • Leeches
  • Mysid shrimp
  • Crayfish
  • Other slow-moving invertebrates
  • Zooplankton (larval perch)

As bottom feeders, they adjust their diets and eating habits depending on what food items are readily available. In natural ponds, the availability of these items continuously changes due to a number of factors. These include seasonal fluctuations in ambient conditions, competition with other predators, and the introduction of potentially invasive species. They benefit from consuming protein-rich prey items whenever available.

In some instances, perch may also be cannibalistic. Apart from the commonplace consumption of eggs and newly-hatched fry, perch may consume conspecifics. Cannibalism occurs at a higher rate in the absence of other prey types or when a large number of juvenile perch are present. Due to their preference for live fish, perch are often successfully caught using live baits or with lures that imitate these.

Feed-Training Perch in Ponds

Brine shrimp
You can feed perch with natural treats that are high in protein, such as brine shrimp. Justin Paulin / CC BY 4.0

Food items for your perch would depend on the pond’s features, your intentions for rearing perch, and your budget for feeding them. In productive wildlife ponds, perch will seldom need to be fed with supplementary feeds as many of their natural prey items should be available. In ornamental ponds, which may also have prey types like insects and tadpoles, the food may not be sufficient enough to support normal growth.

Perch can be fed with natural treats, particularly those used to meet the high protein demands of koi, bass, sturgeon, etc. These include brine shrimp, insects, bloodworms, and soybean meal (sometimes in frozen form). As these are quite tedious to produce and may have an insufficient nutritional profile for desirable fish growth, it may be necessary to meet their dietary needs with fish feeds.

Feed-training is usually done for perch in mid to large-scale cultivation setups. Perch fry and juveniles usually start off consuming live food, even in hatcheries, as these are naturally more palatable and are easy for them to digest. As they age, they will have to be “trained” to receive artificial feeds. High-quality and high-protein feeds are a great alternative to natural food sources, which may be too costly to acquire or produce in large quantities. Formulations for rainbow trout are commonly used for perch.

Perch fry may initially be weaned off live food with the use of krill powder and the smallest-sized fish feeds. These will need to be provided in a progressive manner (gradually decreasing the ratio of natural food). Fry can then be fully shifted to a formulated diet with a 50% protein content and 20% fat content. Increase the feed size as the mouth gape of the juvenile fish becomes enlarged. Perch fingerlings bought from hatcheries will have likely been feed-trained, but consult your provider just to be sure.

Best Time to Feed Perch

Perch swimming
Perch require ample light to spot live food or artificial feeds, as they are sight-based predators. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region / No copyright

Perch feeding habits are influenced by ambient temperatures, so the best time to feed them may vary per season. Generally, perch are most active early in the morning or later in the day, when water temperatures and sunlight levels are moderate. They are sight-based predators, so they’ll need ample light to spot live food or artificial feeds.

In summer, avoid feeding fish in the middle of the day as they are sensitive to intense high-light levels. Perch lack eyelids and can thus be stunned by direct light. At noon, they will usually be resting in the shade. In winter, the late afternoon may be a more desirable time to feed your perch as this is when water temperatures will likely be warmest. Of course, at this time of year, perch will consume considerably less food and may not require daily feeding.  

Is It Possible to Overfeed Perch?

Group of European perch
Trial and error is always required at the start to figure out appropriate feeding amounts & frequencies for your perch community. konstantinseliverstov / CC BY 4.0

Virtually any type of fish raised in an enclosed system is vulnerable to overfeeding. While excess feeds are dangerous because they can lead to obesity, they can also compromise the water chemistry of the pond. Perch in ornamental ponds can be fed just as you would feed your other types of fish. Providing the occasional live treat would also be desirable.

If they are cultivated in a more intensive setup, feeding loads and frequencies must constantly be adjusted to fit the demands of rapidly growing fish. The use of floating pellets would help you gauge how much food is consumed and how many fish are able to feed at a given time. Uneaten feeds should be removed before they can sink to the pond/tank bottom.

At the start, multiple trials are always necessary to determine feeding amounts and frequencies that are adequate for your perch community. Make sure to closely monitor your water’s chemistry and respond with amendments in a timely manner.

2 thoughts on “What Food Should You Feed Perch in Ponds? (Perch Food Guide)”

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