Stewart Allum of the Perchfishers takes a look at spinning – a neglected but deadly method of taking good numbers of big perch from lakes, reservoirs and gravel pits.
Anyone who spins for pike on a regular basis has probably caught the odd big perch. But all too often these catches are dismissed as freak captures, and spinning for perch is still largely ignored as a viable technique by most anglers.
This is unfortunate, since by making a few simple adjustments to your normal pike spinning procedures and observing a few basic ground rules, you can make some tremendous catches of big perch from all sorts of still waters.
Where and when
Perch hunt mainly by sight, so water clarity is obviously very important. If your lake is very clear then there’s no reason why spinning shouldn’t succeed. But if the water is cloudy, then static baits such as legered worm or deadbait – that perch can find by-scent, are generally far more effective.
The early part of the season finds perch well spread along the margins of a typical still water. During the summer months, the margins are home to millions of fry (generally juvenile roach and perch), which form the staple diet of large adult perch.
Big perch, along with many other species, are at their most active during dawn and dusk in the summer. There is still enough light to hunt by, but the main force of the sun isn’t beating down on the water.
You can often see perch chasing fry right up to the shore, and small fish leaping repeatedly across the surface in an attempt to escape a hungry perch. Armed with a light spinning rod, you can enjoy some tremendous sport by working a small spinner through these areas.
However, the best chance of taking a specimen comes in autumn. As temperatures fall, the large adults shoal and gradually head for deeper water. During this period they are hungry, active and extremely aggressive, with many large fish often packed into surprisingly small areas.
With the onset of winter, they become less active and move slowly into the deepest water they can find for the coldest months. At this time, they aren’t often prepared to chase a spinner.
In early October they may, for example, be happily feeding at depths of around 4-6m (13-20ft), whereas by late November they may well be down as deep as 10m (33ft) or more, depending on the severity of the weather and the depth of the water.
Spinning for perch calls for a fairly light and sensitive rod, so that the tip actually bends slightly as you retrieve. Too stiff a rod gives you completely the wrong action, preventing the spinner from working properly.
Remember, you are trying to imitate a small crippled fish with your spinner, not merely dragging a chunk of metal through the water. A through-actioned Avon-type rod, 10-1 lft (3-3.4m) long, with a test curve of around V/iBo (0.6kg) is ideal.
Almost any fixed-spool reel which balances the rod will do. Load it with line tough enough to withstand the rigours of repeated casting and the odd underwater obstacle. It must, however, remain fine and supple enough to cut cleanly through the water without creating too much drag – 5-7lb (2.3-3.2kg) b.s. line fits the bill nicely.
Avoid pre-stretched lines as these aren’t generally tough enough. A tough, abrasion-resistant, but moderately supple line, such as Maxima or Sylcast is fine.
Don’t blindly follow conventional thinking when picking spinners — small ones don’t work any better than bigger ones. A 3lb (1.4kg) perch is perfectly capable of swallowing prey fish of all sizes up to 6oz (170g), so large spinners and spoons are quite attractive to them.
Also, a %oz (18g) spinner casts farther and bites the water better than a smaller one, sending out a stronger vibration and showing up more clearly to the perch. There are many thousands of patterns, but a few basic designs account for large numbers of quality perch year in, year out. Barspoons are the ideal choice for bank fishing. The best patterns have a red body and a silver or gold blade. The blade is highly visible and red is noted for being a colour which seems to attract perch. The ABU Reflex is perhaps the most successful barspoon, with its well weighted body and feathered treble hook.
If you choose another make (Mepps are also excellent), put some feathers or red wool on the treble. It encourages a chasing perch to snap at it, much as it would the tail of a small fish in order to cripple it. The %oz (18g) size is ideal: it casts a long way, sinks quickly and the 4cm (lMdn) blade bites the water well on the retrieve. Spoons are generally heavier than bar-spoons and because of that they come into their own for boat fishing over very deep water. A dead slow retrieve keeps them working just clear of the bottom and they have an undulating action which is highly attractive to both perch and pike.
Two proven fish-killers are Toby-type lures and the ABU Atom in gold, silver, copper and perch-painted patterns of %oz (18g) and above. The Atom, in particular, has a very violent action, even at slow speed. It has the added advantage that it can sometimes account for fish on the drop since its body form allows it to flutter down attractively through the water. Big perch often strike at the lure as it sinks, and the takes can be quite savage.
Wire traces are strongly advisable to prevent bite-offs from the inevitable pike takes. Perch aren’t deterred by the wire, especially since they usually attack a spinner from behind.
A boat isn’t essential for perch fishing, but if one is available, use it. It’s much easier to cover a lot of deep water in a boat, including much that is inaccessible to the bank angler, with a wide variety of methods.
The great advantage of a boat for spinning is that the lure is fishing deep water for the maximum time possible. From the bank, the lure spends only a few seconds in the productive deep water before being wound back into the shallows. (This is clearly not a consideration when fishing for early season perch in the margins.)
It’s well known that perch like moored boats, and a shoal which has been tempted into chasing spinners often stays near your boat once the fish have spotted it. Often you can take them from right under the boat as the day progresses.
If the boat also has a fish finder or echo sounder this can be an invaluable help in finding the deepest water. Remember, though, to wear a life jacket at all times, no matter how calm it seems. Dressed in heavy winter clothing, an angler falling into ice-cold water can easily drown, no matter how strong a swimmer he is.