By Peter Stone
I am often asked which is my favourite species. I haven't one, but if I was asked which I consider the most spectacular species I would not even have to stop and consider. For one stands head and shoulders above the others - Perch.
The first fish I can recall which pulled my line was a Perch. Not a monster, 8in in length at the most, but a fish that not only pulled but left me with a punctured finger when I went to remove the hook. Why didn't my father warn me of that formidable dorsal fin and the sharp gill cover?
In my youth all youngsters were brought up on Perch. An obliging fish which pulls the float right under or the rod tip right over it is a species which has put a smile on thousands of budding Walton's faces.
One day in the late 50's the late Dick Walker and the Taylor brothers promised they would put me into my first 21b Perch. At the first attempt on the Ouse at Buckingham my dream came true when a two and a quarter pounder took a liking to a lobworm fished under a float. By then, Dick had caught several three and four-pounders from Arlesey Lake in Bedfordshire. Because they were pulled up from 6Oft of water they unfortunately died. Later, during a memorable weekend spent at Dick's home in Hitchin, Dick showed me the big Perch which he had mounted (Where are they today I wonder?).
From that day a 31b Perch became a dream.
During the last three years three and four-pound Perch have been taken not only from the Ouse where I caught my first two-pounder but from other rivers including my local river the Upper Thames. My tally of three pounders has steadily grown, the biggest just two ounces under what has now become the magic four pounds. During my lifetime I have enjoyed some memorable fishing and the present 'big Perch boom' is high on my list.
Many of my big Perch have been taken on lobworm, fished in conjunction with a blockend feeder stuffed with maggots. My indicator is a quiver tip. Although both glass and carbon models are available, glass is the softest, lessening resistance of which big Perch are very suspicious. Unlike their smaller companions (which are bold biters), big Perch are different, giving bold bites only when they are not suspicious that something is not what it should be when they pick up the bait.
Big Perch will not tolerate resistance. The weight on my feeders is such that when the lobworm is picked up the feeder does NOT move. At all times I fish with the rod in two rests. At no time should the line be tight, or almost so, to the quiver. As the bait settles on the bottom I pull a yard of line off the spool giving a bow in the line, which 'cushions' the pull when the bait is picked up. With a bow in the line, (other factors being equal) I do not expect to miss many bites. That is not being boastful, simply confidence in what I am doing. And confidence is a very important factor.
Big Perch spook very easily: hook and lose one and most times that signals the end of further sport. When this occurs I get another bait back into the swim as quickly as possible hoping for another opportunity before they spook and disappear. Also, after landing a big Perch I do not weigh it immediately but place it in a keepnet and cast quickly before its companions take fright and disappear. Weighing comes later.
These days I rarely use a keepnet, the one exception being when I am Perch fishing. In my experience, returning big Perch to a swim usually signals the end to its companions making a similar mistake.
Ledgering lobworms behind a feeder is only one method of course. Where Pike are not present in numbers, live and dead baiting usually sorts out the bigger specimens. And, like when I was a schoolboy, I love watching a float. The last three~pounder I caught fell for a trotted lobworm. With the new season rapidly approaching I am confident others will be paying me a social call.
As in all forms of fishing, and whatever the species being sought, location is the first essential. Tree stumps, rafts and bulrushes are just three good places. Where such places are not visible, it's a good idea to spend a little time spinning.
I always carry a selection of spinners. The choice is vast, but bar spoons which set up vibration which in turn attract Perch (and unfortunately Pike - unfortunately, that is, if you do not like them) are my favourites. The 'Ondex' is a good model but there are others.
If uncertain where to begin, place your gear down and set up a spinner, then gradually work a stretch of river say, a hundred yards long. (Make sure you can keep an eye on your gear). In rivers where Perch are prolific, this generally results in a Perch taking hold. Then put the spinner away and fish with either maggots or lobworms. Perch are not solitary creatures; where there is one there will be others.
How long this tremendous Perch fishing will last is difficult to say. Over the years the dreaded 'Perch disease' has continually wiped out stocks and there is no guarantee it will not happen again. I do not intend taking chances. Much of my fishing this season will be in search of more big Perch, among them, hopefully, that magical four-pounder.
So....my advice is this; make full use of the opportunity while it lasts. Don't wait until the Perch have gone then sulk because you did not take advantage of what is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Remember: he who hesitates is lost.
Peter Stone. 1999