Perch: Big ones and small ones

Macquarie_perch (Macquaria australasica)
Macquarie_perch (Macquaria australasica) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

MY FEELINGS ABOUT big perch are probably the same as yours: tremendous, almost awe-inspiring fish. And of course we do not see enough of them. It occurred to me that in this postI have not really emphasised the differences between small and large perch, the former being gullible to a laughable degree, and the latter being astonishingly canny. There must be some period in their relatively short lives (up to 15 years) when either they learn a lot of sense or their feeding habits make them less vulnerable. I suppose another possibility is that their faculties (sight, hearing, smell and so on) improve -although this hardly seems applicable to old perch.

Big perch will casually inspect a tackle rig and bait, whether it is a livebait or a spinner, and often ignore it. A couple of seconds later they will smash through a shoal of fry, and return for another laugh at your tackle. I know of no other species which shows quite the same disdain: a carp often ignores your flake or paste, but equally often gives you the impression that it didn’t see it anyway. In that case you don’t feel so bad. But big perch inspect your outfit.

The number of big perch I ‘just’ failed to catch when I used to fish for them up in Yorkshire, doesn’t bear thinking about. It seems to me that they become extremely perceptive about the hydrodynamics of objects, and if the object isn’t doing exactly what it should be doing, namely swimming more or less naturally, or wriggling in the same way, then they don’t want to know. In no other species is the contrast between young and old fish so marked.

As a generalisation, a problem arises when the angler wants perch over the pound mark. It is not just a question of throwing a minnow at them, for perch of two to three oz will take a minnow quite readily. If it is decided to use livebait to sort out the sizes then small roach or big gudgeon are more likely to succeed. And as a general rule one cannot assume that, because a pond is teeming with small perch, it has no big ones. The perch population, in still waters in particular, seems to go in cycles.

Suppose we start with a water holding a small population of big perch. As the perch get older and bigger they also get fewer in number, but eventually they have a really good breeding year which produces a crop of youngsters which they cannot reduce by preying. The tendency from that point on, unless there is heavy predation by pike, is for many perch to inhabit the water. They may or may not become stunted: once a perch reaches an ounce or two it will feed on small fish, and in subsequent breeding years may be heavily preyed upon by the bumper perch crop produced by the earlier big perch. As these, the fish of this bumper year, get older and bigger, they get fewer in number and eventually you finish up at stage one – the point at which the big ones are too few in number to keep down the offspring of an unusually good spawning year.