Fishing for Perch
Perch are wonderful fish. Often the first fish a novice angler catches, they will happily gobble a bait in all but the worst of conditions. Malcolm Parnell explores his love, and a few stories about this familiar stripey little fellow.
“A big perch is the biggest fish of all”. This was said way back in the mists of time by the late Richard Walker during one of his many fishing exploits on Arlesey lake. Dick Walker was arguably one of this country’s greatest all round anglers and certainly one of angling’s supreme innovators. Now, Mr Walker’s statement is obviously not to be taken literally, as we all know there are a number of species which physically grow much bigger than perch.
However, it has to be said that few fish demonstrate the arrogance and defiance as that of a big stripey as it grudgingly comes to the net and when you get the first glimpse of that sail like dorsal fin and those tiger stripes, it is easy to see exactly what Dick Walker meant.
Indeed, the collective noun for a group of perch is a swagger and I reckon that just about sums them up. With an average lifespan of ten years plus they are the bully boys of our waterways harassing and chasing anything that takes their fancy. In short, they are an aggressive no nonsense fish who will often greedily take a bait when all else is on hunger strike and I love them.
Disease and the Perch
Back in the 1960’s and 70’s perch were disastrously hit by a mysterious disease that all but wiped out the species in the UK. Fortunately some survived and over time as is true to their nature the perch fought back and now stocks are roughly back to where they were before the disease struck, with recent years seeing a greater number of big perch being caught than ever previously recorded.
Description – Easy to identify
The perch (latin name Perca fluviatilis) is a handsome fish with a deep set compact body ideally suited for quick and speedy attacks on prey fish. It is a visual hunter and has large eyes enabling it to seek prey in low light conditions. The average length of a perch is around six to twelve inches, (15 to 30cms) but really big specimens can be as long as two feet (60cms). They are generally dark green in colouration fading to a rich olive colour and a light underbelly.
The dorsal and pectoral fins are very dark in colour, whereas all the remaining fins are a brilliant red, with the tail fin often a blend of dark and red. I suppose it’s most prominent feature is the half a dozen or so vertical black stripes running from top to bottom across it’s body giving it a tigerish appearance. It is these stripes that give it it’s colloquial name of ‘sergeant’ and to some ‘Billy the Burglar’. But, whatever name is used, the perch is a firm favourite for many anglers including yours truly.
Running along the top of it’s back is a sharp spikey dorsal fin which requires careful handling if a cut palm is to be avoided as many a small boy (including me as a youngster) can testify. The gill covers too are rather sharp and so for your sake as well as the fish’s, handle with care.
It seems that people often have differing ideas as to what constitutes a big perch. For me a hefty stripey is anything around a pound and a half and a really big fish is anything of two pounds plus. A perch over three pounds is huge and is the fish of a lifetime for many anglers.
At the time of writing I believe the current official UK record is a magnificent 6lb 3oz jointly held by two anglers, the first fish caught in 2011 in Steam Valley Lakes in Sussex. The second one coming a year later from Wilstone Reservoir in Hertfordshire. Two truly awesome fish.
Similar to roach, perch are omnipresent and can be found in just about every lake, pond, canal and river, although they are not so fond of fast moving water. Small perch are gregarious and like to move around in large shoals. The shoals become smaller as the perch get bigger, often consisting of only half a dozen fish or so and very big perch are more solitary in nature.
Location – where to find perch
Perch like quiet deep waters preferably containing structures of some kind where they can hang out and lie in wait to ambush their prey. They also have a real liking for cover as they love to lurk in the shadows from where they can pounce onto some unsuspecting minnow or gudgeon. With this in mind I reckon the best places to fish would be near features such as brickworks or any wooden or metal structures that line the bank, bridges, pontoons and quays are also worth exploring, as are rocky outcrops and sunken tree roots.
Perch in rivers
Not for them the fast moving rivers favoured by barbel and chub. Perch like to live in the slow lane and tend to shy away from strong currents, so slow deep stretches of water away from the main flow are the most likely places to find them. Deep holes are always worth a try especially if near the bank with plenty of bank side vegetation, especially bull rushes, or overhanging trees or roots as these provide excellent locations for perch to gather. Also try fishing alongside or between beds of water lilies.
Perch in canals
Being generally uniform in depth and still or very slow moving, canals can offer some of the very best perch fishing. Again, check out bridges, man made structures such as walls or metal works. Fishing near to locks and the ever present boats can also prove effective especially if the boat looks as though it’s been moored up for a while. If there are no obvious features in front of you dropping a bait mid channel in the canal where the water is deeper can often throw up a bonus fish.
Perch in small lakes and ponds
As with all fish, the quality of the fishing is largely determined by the amount of food available. In rivers and canals for example, perch can move around searching out food sources, so if one area is short of food there is plenty of opportunity to move to another area where prey is more abundant. This gives the fish greater potential to put on weight so the chances of catching a ‘bigun’ is increased. In large lakes this is also true.
In small ponds and lakes however, the opposite is often true. Where food is less than adequate, a small pond does not give the fish the opportunity to roam and perch can reach maturity whilst still weighing only a few ounces. This means that with continuous breeding the result over time is a pool full of tiny Perch of stunted growth.
It is probably this factor that for many anglers perch are considered a nuisance fish not to be bothered with and I suppose to be fair, spending a day catching mature fish weighing no more than two or three ounces can be frustrating to say the least.
Perch in large lakes
Not really such a problem on larger waters where food is more plentiful. The main issue with large bodies of water is fish location. It can be daunting to be faced with a vast expanse of grey featureless water as there may be areas where there are simply no fish present. Again watercraft is the name of the game. As already mentioned, generally speaking avoid open water and fish against walls, boat houses tree roots etc. Speak to other anglers as the majority of them will be only to happy to help less experienced anglers. If you can, spend time studying the water and if see a shoal of fry suddenly break surface and scatter as it could mean there’s a big stripey lurking nearby.
Diet – what Perch like to eat
Perch are predatory and carnivorous by nature and have a wide and varied diet. Small perch fry will begin life by feeding on tiny plankton organisms before graduating onto invertebrates such as caddis larvae, beetles, dragonfly larvae and all forms of aquatic nymphs. As they grow bigger the diet will increase to include crayfish and small fish such as minnows, roach fry and gudgeon. Perch are also cannibalistic and big ones will happily feed on their smaller brethren.
There are many and varied techniques employed in catching perch, the main ones being, spinning using a lure, float fishing and legering with a lead or swimfeeder. Early morning or late afternoon are often the best times for perch fishing as the low light makes it easier for them to stalk their prey. Night time is not so good as perch hunt by sight and need a certain amount of light for this to be effective.
Great baits for Perch
When thinking of baits, probably the best perch catcher of them all is a worm, particularly the tail end of a lob worm. Provided you have a spade and an area in which to dig, worms are easy enough to obtain. Failing this they can be bought from any tackle shop.
A good way of collecting worms, particularly lob worms is to rise from your bed before dawn, grab a torch and with a ballerina like tread scour your lawn. It’s amazing just how many worms can be found up on the surface. This is especially effective after overnight rain. Half a lob worm mounted on a size 10 or 12 hook can a deadly bait and have accounted for many a big sergeant.
Maggots are always a safe bet and many a perch will happily devour a couple on a size 16 hook. The downside is they are also a firm favourite of just about every fish that swims, so by all means give them a try, but if bothered by other ‘nuisance’ fish it may be time to switch. The same can be said for casters, although I have had some very nice perch on double caster.
Another good bait that is always worth a try is a prawn. I prefer to buy uncooked from the supermarket and depending on size mount a single prawn on a size 10 hook.
Tactics to catch Perch
I do most of my perch fishing on canals as I feel that these dark sinuous waterways hold great potential for offering up a monster perch. There is a stretch of the Ashby canal near my home where my mate Mark and I have taken perch to just under two pounds and I have a very strong feeling that bigger fish lie therein.
When fishing this canal I find a standard waggler set up works a treat, although a pole can work equally as well.
Beat the boats
One favoured method I use which helps me contend with the boat traffic is to use a shortish quivertip rod armed with a couple SSG shot pinched on about a foot from the hook and a worm as bait. This is dropped at the bottom of the nearside marginal shelf. I recently had a perch of 1lb 5oz (not a monster I know, but a good fish nevertheless) using this set up and my mate Mark had a bigger one of 1lb 14oz using the same style rig later in the day.
Spinning for Perch
Spinning using small lures is a great fun way to catch perch. It has the advantages of movement, you can cover a lot of ground in a short space of time. Adopting a roving approach means you need less gear and are free to move along the bank at will, (taking into account the presence of other anglers of course).
This has the added bonus that come the winter when the need to keep warm is paramount, being constantly on the move will surely help with blood flow. It also allows for shorter fishing sessions, so if you have a busy schedule and cannot commit to hours on the water, half an hour to an hour spent flicking out a spinner may be the answer.
A good starter set up would be a short spinning rod of 7/8 feet with a small fixed spool reel loaded with 5 or 6lb line, (maybe go heavier if the swim has snags). It’s also a good idea to fix the spinner to a wire trace just in case you snag a pike. Carry a selection of lures and small spinners, some bits and bobs like forceps, small unhooking mat and a landing net. It’s also worth bearing in mind that when lure fishing you are more visible, so dark clothing would be the order of the day.
Initially when spinning, using the ‘round the clock’ method is a good start. Directly facing the opposite bank imagine you are the centre of a clock face with 12 o’clock being straight in front of you. Aim the first cast at where 9 o’clock would be, then retrieve the spinner from the bush you’ve just snagged on the far bank and start again. Don’t worry we’ve all done it.
Once safely in the water let the spinner sink and using a slow retrieve bring it back towards you. If no takers, then cast to where 10 o’clock would be and do the same (without hitting a bush). Before moving on repeat the sequence until either you get a take or you’ve cast towards 3 o’clock.
I prefer to use single hook spinners as it is kinder to the fish that trebles. Using a single hook also reduces the risk of snags.
Dead Baits for Perch
Not a method that I particularly favour, dead baiting has mixed reviews amongst the angling fraternity. There is also some debate regarding which is the best fish to use, with small 1oz roach being most angler’s first choice, with gudgeon and minnows also very popular. Some anglers use sprats and whitebait, whilst others are adamant that sea fish are not as effective as freshwater fish. When using dead baits, hook the fish either through the lip or through the upper back and fish suspended beneath a float or legered hard on the bottom.
Again, not a method I’m overly familiar with, drop shotting is a relatively new innovation used on canals particularly when fishing in tight areas, between weed beds for example where casting a spinner would be a problem.
Drop shotting can be effective with either artificial lures or small dead baits. Simply put, the method involves using a small lead, usually a ball of around 1oz fixed to the end of the line, with a hook tied at right angles to the line about a foot or so above it. With the bait attached the rig is cast out and the angler then imparts movement to the bait via gentle jigging movements.
Perch are wonderful fish. Often the first fish a novice angler catches they will happily gobble a bait in all but the worst of conditions. They can be caught using a multitude of methods and when they hit the bite is fierce and sudden and they always give a good account of themselves in the ensuing tussle. Their tiger like stripes, red fins and humped back make them a glorious sight, because as the great Dick Walker once said, ‘a big perch is the biggest fish of all’.
What is the best bait for Perch?
My first bait of choice will always be an earthworm of some kind. They account for more big perch than any other bait.
When is the best time to fish for perch?
Early morning or evenings are generally best. In lower light conditions perch will hunt more confidently than at other times. Bright sunshine is usually less productive as is night fishing.
Are wire traces used when fishing for perch?
Wire traces are not necessary when perch fishing. The only reason to use them is when fishing waters which may hold pike, as they will sometimes take baits intended for perch.
Where is best to catch big perch?
Here are some of my favourite venues, where I know you can catch Perch.
- Wilstone Reservoir, Hertfordshire.
- Ashby Canal, Nuneaton Warwickshire
- River Ouse, Stoney Stratfoed, Buckinghamshire.
- River Nene, Peterborough
- Norfolk Broads