Fierce, greedy and impetuous, perch combine the qualities that make fishing rewarding and fun. Their boldness is startling; their good looks enough to thrill the most blasé angler.
Few fish catch the imagination quite so much as the colourful perch, Perca fluviatilis, which is interesting because the perch is not one of our bigger species, growing to 4lb only rarc’y. It is a relatively small and crafty predator, unlike all our others. With no other species is the diffeience between young and old fish so marked. Baby perch are gulli-ble to an astonishing degree, engulfing with enthusiasm lobworms as big as themselves and seemingly ig-noring or unaware of bankside disturbance. On the other hand, large perch may well be about the most difficult fish in freshwater to catch, certainly with any degree of predictability or regularity.
The perch does not grow into a heavyweight so rods present no problems. For short-range fishing a 10-1 lft Avon rod, carrying a line of 3-5lb line is about right, while in some circumstances it is good, but not essential, to use a long, hollow- glass matchman’s rod for swinging out a lobworm on float tackle into water lilies, for example. For long-range ledgering a Mark IV carp rod is about right while a fly rod, too, can be most useful. Choice of reel is easy; any good quality fixed-spool reel, or centrepin for short-range fishing or trotting.
A worm suspended under a float is one of the traditional ways of cat-ching perch and it is as good today as ever it was. Usually the float was a porcupine or crow quill and the angler searched likely perch lies against camp sheeting—not so common now. Man-made features, though, such as jetties, the stone-work of bridges, parts of weirs or culverts seem to attract perch shoals. They also congregate near natural features such as sidestream junctions, sharp changes in slope on gravel pits, sunken trees and logs —anywhere other than stretches of flat, uniform water.
The roving perch angler
One of the great pleasures of perch fishing is to take a bag of worms and the bare essentials of tackle, and walk from spot to spot dropping the worm into each likely hole. If the water is relatively shallow, up to 5ft deep, it is wise to have either a self-cocking float or at least the shot well above the hook so that the worm sinks slowly. When it has reached the bottom, or the end of its travel if you are fishing off the bottom, wait a few minutes and then give it a twitch of a few inches. The worm rises enticingly and then slowly sinks again. You can use exactly the same method in deep water, although here one should use a sliding float, for contact and feeling with the bait is dulled. The results can be the same, however, if you are sensitive to the delicate signals that your tackle gives.
But which of the many different worms should you use?
The lobworm beats all other baits, but at times a small red worm or, alternatively, a brandling, will work quite well. With a big lob you need a larger hook, anything from a No 12 to 4, but with tiny red worms, or even bloodworms, go as small as 16 or 18 as necessary. Sometimes perch will take a very small offering on a very small hook, and then perhaps you should be thinking about staying at the swim and working it up with maggots. Unless a longish cast is required the worm should be hooked once, so that you get a lively wriggle rather than a bunched-up offering. It is difficult to advise about striking. Usually the float makes a preliminary sudden dive. Wait for it to come up and then slide away. If it doesn’t come up, strike! If you miss the fish it may be a very small one but in any event give the next bite a little longer before striking. If you continue to miss bites use a piece of lobworm or a small hook and small species of worm.
Sometimes it is necessary to get the bait right among the rush and reed stems. A self-cocking float is ideal, very smoothly rubbered at both ends, or attached at one end only. A bait sinking very close to the stems may be taken, while one only a foot away is ignored, probably because the perch are lurking in the weeds. On some small rivers, a long rod is an advantage for dropping baits into these positions, as it is for stret-pegging, which is also effective at times. Strangely, perch some-times prefer dead worms. The author has experienced this more than once, but it is probably more common than generally supposed.
Now for other livebaits—small fish. Maggots will not be introduced here for the methods are the same as for any other species. One thing to remember is that when using a single maggot the arrival of perch in the swim is often signalled by a lightning dip of the float, which you promptly miss. But of small live baits, the soft-bodied fishes (minnow, gudgeon, and loach) are far better than harder or spiny baits (sticklebacks, perch, roach, rudd and so on). A big minnow or small gudgeon is ideal—one can even use roach or rudd. In fact, perch weighing anything above 3oz take small gudgeon and minnows.
Small trebles, no wire
A wire trace is not needed and for hooks you want a large single or very small trebles. Baits and tackle will on occasion be lost to pike but not to perch. It is a mistake to think that small perch will avoid live fish. They do not. When float fishing for perch you need a slightly larger cork-bodied float than for worming, but not above J inch in diameter for a circular body. For paternostering with or without the float, use the tiniest of lead weights (perhaps a swan shot) rather than the Joz Arlesey bombs that you would use for piking. The reel line need only be around 5lb b.s. And the paternoster link (which is tied to a swivel about lft above the bait) should be about 3lb b.s. And 3ft in length.
Spinning for perch is an effective method. A wire trace is not needed. Sometimes one may need a celluloid or plastic anti-kink vane fixed on the line about 12-18in above the lure, even if the perch do sometimes attack this rather than the hookbait. Tiny plugs, up to 2in long, and bar-spoons, are the best lures for perch. Use light barspoons, or mackerel spinners, for water under 2ft. Here, Veltic and Ondex are superb.
For deeper water the Mepps or £ any similarly weighted forms are best. Even small perch will take big plugs and spoons readily but hooking—and unhooking—becomes a problem. A steady retrieve is best, but there are occasions when a bar-spoon worked sink-anddraw will attract the perch more effectively even if the attacking fish tend to miss it sometimes on the strike.
If you do get twisted line in spite of the anti-kink vane, take the line | out into a meadow and trail it behind you. It can usually be rewound without twisting.
All the usual spots can be searched with the spinner, but the best advice is to cast where you think the fish are. Only resort to the boring method of casting fanwise if you have run out of ideas.
Another useful trick is to remove the red wool tags from the treble hooks and replace them with a bit of brown chicken feather. One of the perch’s standard attacking methods is to pluck at the tail of its prey until it is worn down and can swim no more. Red wool tags are not quite as effective as the section of feather.
Another important way of fishing for perch, particularly the bigger specimens, is long-range ledgering. It is known that shoals of big perch stay well offshore, particularly in deep water in winter. One can reach them with a sliding float, but they are better sought by Richard Walker’s technique for which the Arlesey bomb was invented.
A streamlined, pear-shaped lead is set running free on the reel line. Its weight depends on the distance needed, but it can be anything up to 2oz. Stop the lead about 2-3ft from the hook. Many ‘stops’ have been used, but the author’s favourite is a small swivel set in the tackle. The two knots should be tied with great care so that their combined weakness is little more than that of one knot. Remember that you have three knots altogether, one attaching the eyed hook to the 5lb b.s. Line.
The best bait for this style is a big lobworm, but fish baits can be used equally well. Cast out to the required spot, tighten up to the lead, place the rod in two rod rests with the rod tip dipping to the water. Take off the pickup, or balearm, let a little slack line out, and then add a bite indicator.
Most takes are fast runs, but quite often you get a twitch of only a few inches of line. Sometimes one can pull the bait slightly away from the fish to tempt them.
Fly fishing for perch
Finally, a few words about fly fishing. There is no doubt that this is the most underrated perch-fishing method, as reservoir trout anglers have shown. Flies can be fished on bubble floats, buoyant ledgers, or retrieved with one swan shot on the line, but fly tackle proper is really a very efficient way of putting the fly in front of the fish when fry are on the surface.
Big streamer flies work well, par-ticularly those with a lot of red, although the author at one time caught numbers of perch on a fly with jay feathers tied down the flanks. Richard Walker’s Hanning-field Lure is reputedly one of the most killing fly lures for perch, but many others also work well.