Spinning for Perch

SPINNING FOR perch is one of the finest aspects of the whofe sport, and in my early years I spent day after day, week after week, searching out the perch in the East and West Ridings of Yorkshire. These were not large perch – between one and two pounds in fact – but with the light tackle used and in the difficult, snaggy waters I fished, they gave sport I have been pushed to find since, what- ever the branch of angling I have pursued. Today the skills acquired stand me in good stead, for I have found the techniques very successful on southern waters and fen-land drains: indeed, if I need a few small perch for pike baits I often spin for them with three pound breaking strain monofil line and a mackerel spinner!

The first problem facing the would-be perch spinner is pike! Pike often take tiny spinners with gay abandon, particularly if you have no wire trace, and particularly when you don’t want pike. I remember one of my early spinning trips at Eastrington, near Howden. Two weeks’ pocket money had gone into the purchase of one specimen of the famous Plucky Bait, a jointed, soft rubber plug of reputed great deadliness. I had been using mackerel spinners, but decided that a Plucky Bait would raise me to the ranks of great perch fishermen.

I was so keen to get there I nearly killed myself staggering down the railway embankment (I stepped off a bridge buttress into thin air), but eventually pushed my way through thick reedmace beds to a precarious position on a log that I had made my favourite perch. The first cast, out towards a drifting mat of reedmace, some 25 yds. away, was retrieved for about 20 yds. so that I could see the Plucky Bait wobbling attractively.

A split second later it was hit with a hefty thump, not the usual pluck-pluck that perch

Mackerel spinner with link swivel (safety pin design), wire trace, swivel, and reel line attached by half blood knot; position of fold-over anti-kink vane shown in dashed line. gave my mackerel spinners before taking hold. But it was a perch, and as I played it to the landing net I could see several others swimming with it. That fish weighed 14 oz., and the next cast produced another superbly coloured fighter of 12 oz. All set for the day of my life, for the water contained many perch over 1 lb. weight, I flicked the bait out again with great confidence. About four or five yards out I saw a pike about 1j lbs. appear like a ghost. The Plucky Bait disappeared from sight I struck, and two seconds later the line parted without so much as a crack. I saw the pike swim off slowly, in a bemused sort of way, puffing and blowing his gill covers to rid himself of my two weeks’ pocket money. The bum!

There is no doubt at all that a wire trace between spinner and reel line, impairs the action of small spinners. The wire is just that little bit stiffer than nylon monofil of 3 to 6 lb breaking strain, which is what I usually use for perch spinning. But a wire trace does mean that if you hook a pike you’ve a fair chance of getting him out, and your spinner back. I hate losing spinners to pike, and although I once caught 25 successive pike without one of them biting through the line, there comes a day when the pike swallow the spinner completely rather than leave a little bit sticking out.

That’s when the trouble starts. And I don’t like pike swimming around with ironmongery in their mouths either, so nowadays I use a fine black wire trace with small swivels and a small link swivel. Most firms supply wire traces down to about seven pounds breaking strain, and this is fine, usually dark-coloured, and relatively supple. With wire of about four pounds breaking strain I should be really confident of not impairing the action of the spinner.

For spinning I do not like any other encumbrance on the line besides the spinner itself and the trace and swivels. Many anglers use anti-kink vanes, although I prefer to do without them and cannot say that I have suffered unduly through line twist. Again, many anglers add extra casting weight in the form of swan shots, but it seems preferable to me to increase the weight of the lure rather than add weight up the line which impedes casting distance and accuracy.

The way in which a perch takes the spinner is usually quite different from the strike of a pike, and it is useful for the perch angler to understand the way his prey attacks. We all know that pike often follow a spinner without taking. Well a perch does the same, but to a far greater degree. I have watched perch follow a spinner for as much as 30 yds., occasionally plucking at the back of it, or seeming to attack and then falling short. Sometimes I have seen as many as six or eight perch following the same small spinner, and yet all seemingly reluctant to have a go at it.

Between this one cautious extreme and the hefty thump that occasionally signifies a take, is the most usual form of bite, namely a rapid pluck or two at the tail of the bait followed by the perch taking a firm hold. Ignore the plucks and keep retrieving as steadily as possible until the main take occurs: I do not think it a good policy either to speed up or slow down the retrieve after feeling the first pluck, for the perch is not as powerful a swimmer as the pike and has carefully adjusted his speed of attack to the speed of the lure. Then he plucks at what he thinks is the tail of his prey, attempting to injure or slow him down. If the angler slows down his lure after the first pluck the action of the lure changes and I have seen this change frighten off the perch on a number of occasions.

An understanding of the perch’s mode of attack surely means that the perch angler should pay particular attention to the tail end of his lure. I think it was Richard Walker who, in discussions with Maurice Ingham in ‘Drop Me A Line’, suggested the use of a brownish-red chicken feather on the tail treble of the spinner0A, to resemble the tail of a roach. The idea is that the perch will snap more readily at this than at a flying treble which really resembles nothing more than a treble hook. I tried this ruse myself with great success, and it agrees with the observations of many perch spinners that a tassel of red wool on the treble hook is a great boon. For pike spinning I usually remove the woollen tassels from any commercial lures, but for perch fishing I leave them on0B.

The Commando rig for pike fishing0D, much debated in recent years and considered by some to be unsporting, was actually used for perch with great success by my friend from Littleport, Rian Tingay of eel and pike fame. The principle is similar to that of the chicken feather tail trick, in that it gives something trailing to tempt the perch into plucking at it. If the perch has a go at the spinner proper then there is a fair chance that the flying treble will foulhook the perch outside the mouth, and this is the point where we catch up with the piking controversy surrounding Commando hook rigs. I have used such tackle myself, but feel that the chicken feather and red wool is just as successful, and certainly is not open to the unsporting charge.

While on the subject of the perch’s method of attack, it is worth noting that they will occasionally attack objects along the line, such as swivels, in preference for the bait you intended them to take. This is particularly true if the object up the line is a shiny anti-kink vane. However, the reverse is much more common, and one method of approach taking advantage of the fact is to use a flashy, hookless, revolving blade at the head of the trace0C. The flash attracts the perch, but it reacts by snapping up the more inconspicuous spinner following along behind.

What about the nature of the retrieve? I find that as slow a retrieve as possible is best on most occasions, probably because perch are not fast or powerful swimmers. They also have good eyes, and when they are older, good heads, which probably explains why very big perch often follow a spinner, inspect it, and reject it. For the active spinning enthusiast I would guess that small wobbled or sink-and-draw deadbaits would be better for such big perch than artificials, but fishing for perch I have never had much success with natural baits wobbled and it would take the sure knowledge of the presence of big perch that had refused all other offers to bring me back to wobbled deadbaiting again. In shallow waters, say up to three or four feet deep, a slow retrieve at the right depth (usually near the bottom) is easily achieved by using one of the light spinners such as mackerel spinners, Voblex, Ondex, Vibro, Mepps and Veltics. But in deeper waters, such as the London reservoirs, the cast itself and the retrieve are more difficult. In order to retrieve slowly near the bottom the upwards bow in the line along c-a must be taken out by slowly tightening, otherwise a retrieve along the route of the upper big arrow is taken by the lure. On the other hand, if the spinner is allowed to sink on a tight line then the distance the lure travels along the bottom is less than the length of the cast (a-d, when viewed in plan). But a slow retrieve, close to the bottom, is essential in most waters most of the time.

In his chapter on perch spinning in Angling for the Experts Maurice Ingham also advocates a slow, deep retrieve, but every few yards introduces a sink-and-draw technique, and on other occasions rapidly speeds up the lure. The danger is that the attacking perch is outmanoeuvred, and my own experience on my waters is that this method does outmanoeuvre them, almost all my takes coming while the bait is travelling slowly and steadily. I am sure that most of the time perch are as fully aware of the presence of the lure as it travels slowly through the swim as they are if it is diving and flashing.

The strike when spinning should be more of a firm pull, because the perch will have already taken a pretty firm hold; the hooks should be needle sharp, and it takes little force for the point of a hook to go home immediately behind the bony lip. Behind the lip of the perch is a fairly thin membrane (except in the plorsal part of the mouth, or the roof of the mouth) and just as the hook goes home easily, it also pulls out easily if the fish is bullied during playing. Many perch give a splashy fight when close to the net, and I must say this is about the only part of perch fishing I do not really enjoy. Not only is there a great tendency for the hooks to pull free at this time, but the splashing must put off the rest of the perch in the shoal. Occasionally it doesn’t matter, and on a small Colorado spoon with a red tassel I once had eleven perch between 12 oz. and ½ lbs. on successive casts at the very short range of about eight yards. 1 use a landing net for perch, and unlike the piking counterpart it does not have to be large and cumbersome and can, therefore, be carried all day without fatigue. Although the small treble hooks can often be removed easily with the fingers, it is probably advisable to get into the habit of using forceps, not because one is likely to get bitten during perch fishing but because the perch’s relatively small mouth often gets tightly jammed on all three hooks of the treble.

Hooked in this way – and small perch seem to make a habit of it on large plugs – a fair degree of leverage is needed to get the hook out, and this should be concentrated carefully with forceps rather than dissipated with clumsy fingers. The perch should be handled carefully, even gingerly, for their opercular and dorsal fin spines are very sharp. I usually put my left hand over the nose of the fish and then slide the hand slowly backwards, pressing back the gill covers and dorsal fin as I do so. Then I grip the fish, holding the dorsal fin down, as well as the gill covers if possible.

With larger perch the fish can be laid on its side and held down gently with the left hand to stop it flapping; while the right removes the hooks with forceps. Perch caught on spinning tackle rarely come to any harm, and it is unusual for them to receive more than a puncture or two to the mouth membrane.

Spinning with natural baits is really a scaled-down version of the same technique as used in piking, and, as I say, I haven’t found it all that successful on my perch waters. But what of the vast variety of artificial lures available? Perhaps plugs are the easiest to consider first. Big plugs do not sort out the bigger perch as you might expect, and a thick, five inch-long lure such as the floating Gudebrod Sniper will take perch down to five inches, and commonly takes them around 8 oz. or so in weight. Therefore one might just as well use small plugs, around two to three inches long, and get a surer take, surer hooking, and, because of the smaller trebles, less damage to the perch.

I have found almost all the small jointed and single-bodied plugs, floaters and sinkers, to be good at times, but yellow ones or perchy-striped ones do seem to me to be rather more effective than, say, blue or red plugs. Since blue light penetrates deepest in water there should be a case, as Richard Walker said many years ago, for the use of blue plugs at depth, but I must admit I found them singularly unsuccessful with perch (though not so with pike).

I would never be without mackerel spinners in my perch lure bag, for I have had hundreds of perch on them in circumstances where no other lure would work. A mackerel spinner, will retrieve within one inch of the surface of the lake, at an effective speed, and is invaluable for retrieving in very shallow, weedy lakes. Its aerodynamics make it a fairly good lure to cast unless you are unfortunate enough to come across the very lightweight mackerel spinners which turn up in the shops from time to time.

I have used simple spoons for perch, but with far less success than barspoons of all kinds. My favourite barspoon is the Veltic, striped in red or black. Running it close are l to 1/2n. Vibros, 1/2n. Colorados0B, Ondex, Voblex, and Mepps in that order. All are good, but I find that the 1/2n. Colorados though relatively poor for pike are good for perch. Some of the best bags, if not my most consistent success, have been on this lure. Like the mackerel spinner it can be retrieved shallowly in weedy water.

Very large, say 5 to 6 in., spoons also catch perch just as do large plugs. Similarly they do not seem to me to discriminate between the size of perch caught, and do not catch perch often enough for me to consider them in my repertoire. If I catch perch nowadays on large spoons it is while piking, but I certainly would try a large plug in a swim in which I knew there were big perch, particularly if smaller lures had failed.

Several times in this post I have mentioned distinctions between pike and perch spinning, and this simply because one does come across too many pike while perching.