Dead Baiting for Perch

IT IS BECOMING widely recognised that most predatory species will pick up quite static deadbaits from the bottom sufficiently often to make it worthwhile perfecting angling techniques. And as far as perch are concerned static deadbaiting may well be a method for future development: at present it is little used, but I hope the following account will give some idea of the potential.

A necessary preamble to this post is a mention of the fact that artificial baits, spinners and flies, are also taken while quite stationary on the bottom. This strange behaviour is so far without proper explanation, but it must have something to do with the general tendency for predators to pick up food from the bottom of the lake or river. I have taken two pike on Veltic barspoons in this manner: one was baited with a sprat, but the other, which took an 8 lb fish, was quite unadorned by anything except the rotating blade and a treble hook. The take in each case was like a fast run on deadbait, and both fish were fairly hooked in the mouth.

Several years ago I read an article on big perch by, if I remember correctly, the well known southern angler Trevor Housby. He had several big perch follow his spinners to the bankside vegetation without taking, but when one of the artificials was allowed to sink and lay stationary on the bottom, (while he was untangling a bird’s nest) it was picked up by one of the perch. Further experiments proved that it wasn’t a freak occurrence.

Trout are now known with certainty to pick up static flies lying on the bottom mud or gravel, and a few anglers have been seen with their rods in the rod rests, tips pointing to the sky, waiting for a good take on the static fly! Whether or not this makes the trouting purists shudder does not worry me at all, but it is a further interesting observation, added to those on pike and perch, which shows that there is yet much to learn about the feeding habits of predators.

The only other relevant matter on this particular subject concerns some scientific experiments done on trout, and described by that assiduous reporter John Piper writing in Anglers’ Mail in 1973. Briefly, the scientists found that when the barometric pressure was low then the trout fed on the bottom exclusively, and ignored midwater or surface layer food. The scientists were clearly puzzled, and offered no explanation for this behaviour, since it is odd that changes in air pressure should affect fish living several feet down in a supposedly incompressible medium such as water. Indeed since fish often swim rapidly upwards and downwards through several feet of water it does at first sight seem reasonable that changes in water pressure would far outweigh relatively tiny changes in air pressure.

But the observed fact is there, and it fits in perfectly with my own observations on pike behaviour which I described in Fishing for Big Pike in 1971: when the barometer is low for several days the pike have a marked preference for feeding on stationary dead- baits upon the bottom. And as a starting point for perch deadbaiting I would pick times when the barometer was low.

One further point related to this question of barometric pressure is that for many years it has been known that a rising barometer, and the often accompanying pleasant weather generally means good fishing for most species, perch included: but in the early days few people would dream of deadbaiting with stationary baits, and thus a whole new sphere of angling is opened up to the present day angler.

What sort of deadbaits should be used? A great many perch have been caught on small dead fish (roach, rudd, minnows) and on portions of fish including sprats, so it is perhaps surprising that the techniques are not used more often. One possible explanation is that in summer and autumn, at least until late November most years, any fish offering on the bottom tends to be savaged by eels.

Eels can find dead fish as fast as blue- bottles find meat so that stationary deadbaiting with fish baits becomes an essentially winter pursuit; unless a swim has been located with numbers of good perch in it and where they might be expected to find the bait before the eels. River fishing, even in summer, also offers at least some prospects of beating the eels, for a fair number of rivers do not seem to be excessively populated by eels. Also, I find it easier to find perchy swims in rivers.

But deadbaits for perch do not necessarily have to be fish baits. I have little experience of dead crayfish as baits but I know of several waters where they have accounted for good perch, and dead lobworms and garden worms will also produce spectacular results on occasions.

The first time I experienced the effectiveness of dead worms as bait was many years ago on Carlton Towers in the West Riding. I had arrived at dawn intending to fish a lily pad swim for a good shoal of sizeable perch that I had observed previously from an overhanging tree.

I got well settled into the swim, the tackle was assembled correctly and my ‘camp’ arranged around me. But when reaching for my lobworm tin I got a horrible whiff of dead worms. On opening the tin I found that all of my 50 worms, except one, were quite dead and almost crawling again. With great sadness I put the one live worm on a number eight eyed hook and cast out Ihe 15 yards into the swim.

The next half hour was extremely frustrating, the float dithering and bobbing, or giving a short run of perhaps six inches, but never anything to strike at. Eventually, and just when I had given up all hope of a good bite, the float slid away in a very steady perch-like manner, and a few minutes later I had a perch of 14 oz on the bank. The worm had been blown up the line and I noticed that it was quite dead and tremendously mangled. I was certain that the half-hour nibbling at the lobworm had not been caused by small roach, for when they decide to eat a lobworm on this water they simply swallow it down: I was fairly convinced that the perch had been nibbling at the bait until it was dead, before swallowing it.

I immediately retrieved my dead lobworms from the water’s edge where I had thrown them, washed them carefully and somewhat tentatively put one on the hook: a less attractive looking bait I have yet to see. But within seconds of settling in the laying-on position the float slid away quite confidently and I had another perch, of 12 oz this time. That morning I got through almost all the dead lobworms and had a big bag of perch (and some roach) between 8 oz and 1 ½ lbs.

On a second occasion a season or two later I experienced a similar thing with somewhat bigger perch. My companion and I had cast out long range legered lobworms into one of the famous perch gravel pits at Brandesburton near Hull, in East Yorkshire. The first cast on the right hand rod resulted in nibble after nibble that went on for no less than H hours. We were certain that small perch, roach or eels were not responsible, for they would have taken the bait properly.

Anyway, after 1 ½ hours the line suddenly streamed off the spool, and the strike connected with an excellent perch which weighed in at 2 lbs. Once again the worm had been blown up the line and inspection of it revealed a string of greyish pulp rather than a worm. We had no dead worms and were quite incapable of thinking how to kill some, so we fished on and eventually got some more big perch after they had had time to kill the bait.

That particular water was interesting in two other respects. Firstly we found that putting lobworms in a cold bucket of water overnight just about did for them, but that the ordinary dark-headed garden worm (upon which we caught many perch) seem able to go on for days. Secondly, I saw for the first time just how easily a big perch could slip the hook during playing9.

The older, established Brandesburton gravel pits were extremely clear, and not long after the capture of the 2 lb fish, my companion hit a second one and played it slowly to the bank from a range of 50 yards or so. I stood poised over the water with the landing net already held in the water’s edge, when I saw the fish rolling and plunging towards the net. It was about four feet down and I could see clearly that the hook shank was visible near the front of the upper jaw. The fish looked around the 3 lb mark to me, and I was mentally rejoicing, when it made a last plunge towards a single, isolated common reed stem: it touched it with its nose, swam on, and the hook was left neatly embedded in the reed stem!

My interpretation is simply that the fish runs the eye of the hook into the reed, continues swimming forward, and thus unhooks itself just as effectively as an angier can do the job armed with a pair of artery forceps. Small and large perch alike seem to be able to achieve this with remarkable facility, and are much better at it than other species.

Dead maggots, as well as dead worms, will also produce perch when live maggots have failed. I have had several instances of this over the years, but have as yet been unable to relate either the dead worm results, or dead maggot results, to a weather pattern. All except the Carlton Towers catches were taken in winter, and some if not all were taken under low pressure conditions. Clearly, therefore, deadbaiting for perch, whether with fish, artificials (I particularly fancy certain flies), or drowned worms and maggots , is a method to be thoroughly tried in the future. And to begin with, taking the present evidence, the angler might just as well begin in the low pressure spells of weather.

Fly Fishing for Perch

Fly fishing for perch is not a possible for the future, but a certainty. Indeed, it is amazing that fly fishing for perch has not already caught on as a standard technique. Let me briefly relate some of the experiences of that famous perch angler Richard Walker, as recounted recently in the newspaper Angling Times (no. 1067). He describes catching 23 perch averaging over 2 lbs each in one hour, using a Hanning-field Lure0A on a Hi-D line in 20 feet of water and while fishing from an anchored boat. Many other excellent, even fantastic, perch catches have been made by reservoir trout anglers using standard fly fishing techniques for trout.

Well, I am not the greatest wielder of the fly rod, whether I am using a shooting head system or more traditional wet or dry fly outfits, but I certainly intend doing a lot more in the future simply because it’s going to stand me in good stead for perch fishing.

This is not to say that I have not had perch on fly: I’ve had a great many in fact. But my technique was a three to four lb monofil line, and either a swan shot two feet up the line or a streamlined wooden float or bubble float in the same position, Fig 21. In place of a wooden float, which I used because it was rather heavy and would cast well, you can also use a slow sinking wooden leger weight. Obviously by such methods the tackle could also be tried so that the fly was static, but because this is such a silly idea I never tried it myself! It only goes to show that the angler must keep a quite open mind.

My most successful lure was about 2 in long, Fig 20E, and was tied on a long shanked eel hook in the first place. I built up the body rather like that of a polystickle, Fig 20D, but using wool. This I covered with adhesive tape and then gave several coats of varnish: nowadays one might just as well build up the body with strips of polythene or raffia depending on the effect required. Tiny strips of lead can be incorporated if a sinking lure is required, and this can be so tied in that the hook can lie, bend and point upwards for retrieving close to or on the bottom.

After building up the body to the required shape I tied two small jay feathers down the sides. The effect in the water was like a little striped fish, perhaps rather dull, not a flashy lure, but it succeeded extremely well. The first one I made lasted me nearly 15 years and caught a good number of perch, often when spinners failed completely. But I finally lost it in the summer of 1973 on

Twentypence Pits near Cambridge. I had three nice perch in successive casts from under an overhanging tree, and the fourth cast put the lure into an underwater snag.

I’m determined to get that jay lure back again as soon as I can find time to put my boat on the water.

That was a relatively crude fly or lure by modern standards, but Walker’s Hanning-field Lure is a splendid weapon which he found actually to be much more effective than other lures for perch. It is tied on two number 8 long-shank, round bend hooks joined by plaited nylon. The shank of each hook is bound in white wool ribbed with silver thread. At the rear of the lure is a hot orange cock hackle, and the throat hackle is the same but with a cobalt blue hackle in front of it. The underwing is white goat or polar bear hair and he has an upper wing of speckled turkey feather fibres. Two jungle cock eyes, or substitutes, are tied in at the head.

Anybody who fly fishes for perch is going to have pike trouble, but my own experience has been that I’ve had relatively little trouble and I would never dream of putting on a wire trace as I would when spinning for perch. Wire traces spoil the action of very small lures. Perch are usually fairly close to the bottom and the lure should be fished at this depth: I prefer as slow and steady a retrieve as I can manage, as in spinning in fact, but can accept that on some occasions a jerky retrieve, like a stickleback swimming for example, might be effective.

Fast retrieves are only necessary to get over the top of weed beds or when the perch are near the surface layer. In Ireland I found that perch spent a great deal of their time in the surface layers, at least on the big loughs, and I am certain they spend a lot of time feeding on flies. In these circumstances they could be caught on dry fly, whether the water had a chop on it or not, and the most successful fly I came across, Fig 20C, was an all-red beast originally tied for me by Ted Kershaw the London-based Irish angling expert. The same lure is also extremely good for rudd, and even takes tench on the same loughs.

I have also used various wet flies and nymphs beneath a small float, either adorned with a small maggot, small redworm, or completely unadorned. On some small railway pits I found this a most delicate way of taking perch beneath overhanging bushes, Fig 22. Occasionally I got the impression that the maggot was doing more fish catching than the fly, but at other times the opposite was the case.

Finally, perhaps mention should be made of long-range legering using a heavy, say 1 oz lead with a fly in the position that the worm usually occupies, Fig 23. Tackle fished this way could be twitched back carefully, and would have the advantage that the lure could be fished at greater distances and depths than conventional spinners and plugs. The main disadvantage would be that the lead would find the snags.