Back to my roots… On the hunt for perch

The alarm woke me at 2.00am, an hour before I had intended to get up. This due to the fact that the alarm was my eight week old son rousing from sleep to inform mother, by my side, that food was required – and it was required immediately! It was still pretty dark outside so I decided to get up at the next feed, which it transpired was at 4am – time to go fishing.

I have to admit that I was quite excited, not just because it was June 16th, and not just because I was about to fish a new water for the first time, but because I was going back to my roots.

I’ve been targeting specimen carp for many years now, and whilst the hold the species has over me has not waned one iota since I hooked my fist common some thirty-odd years ago, changes brought about by Izaak’s arrival mean my session carping days are no longer, at least not for a while anyway.

As such, I decided to root out some waters close to home that would allow me to make the most of any odd hour I might have available, preferring to maximise my time fishing rather than wasting half of it driving, as would have been the case with my previous haunts.

Ever up for a challenge, I decided this year I would concentrate on short-sessions targeting specimen tench, perch, bream, roach and of course some big carp whenever time allowed. This morning however, I was to do my first bit of canal fishing in over twenty years, and I could barely contain my excitement during the short drive down to my chosen spot, for having walked the stretch several times over the past few weeks, I knew just how stunning it would look at first light.

I pulled into the narrow lane leading down to the canal and shortly afterwards went over the old stone bridge which spans the water. The ten minute walk along the canal to my chosen spot was enchanting; the mist rolling up off the water in great wafts as the odd duck went about its early morning business in the margins.

The canal sits in a deep wooded valley and the light was only just starting to penetrate through the huge canopy of trees above, giving a spectacular view for any up early enough to witness it. As I rounded the third long bend the deep-pink blooms of the flowering rhododendrons pierced through the rising mist and I knew I was almost at my destination.

I halted and set down my bag two thirds round a large sweeping bay, completely lined on the far bank by overhanging rhododendrons, trees and shrubs. My intended target was the far bank shaded areas under the huge branches where I hoped some nice perch might be loitering. I’ve been lucky enough to have had bream and tench to just shy of double figures in recent years, and whilst I shall again this year be trying to nudge my best over the ten pound mark for both species, top of my wish list is a big perch.

We did a small trial net on the club water I run a few weeks back in order to obtain samples for EA consent to move fish, and whilst we only dipped our toe with regard to stocks, I was amazed to see two stunning perch turn up, one in each net. The first must have been 1lb 12oz, and the other nearer 2lb. There and then I decided I must have a go at catching one (or both!) of these fish.

I’d spent a pleasurable amount of time talking to Steve Burke a few days prior to the 16th in order to glean as much information as possible about my new Blackwood adversaries, and was lifted further still when Steve implied there was a high possibility of there being much larger perch present than those we had turned up in the netting. As such, my canal session ahead was to try and refine a few rigs, dust of some old tackle, and reacquaint myself with an old friend before setting out to do battle with the larger Blackwood inhabitants. I had already raided my wormery in order to pull out the juiciest of lobworms for the morning’s session, which I hoped would prove irresistible to any self respecting perch!

I was soon rigged up with my Spectre waggler fished slightly over depth, and a nice juicy lob was cast over to the far margin. No sooner had I adjusted my little chair and poured a brew from the flask, the float was away - just a couple of knocks then a slow draw away to the right. I lifted into the rod, connected, and immediately a grin spread across my face as the strong jabbing sensation pulsing through the rod signalled my first perch of the morning.

Although not massive, it was more than enough for me, and so it continued. I went on to bank perch after perch; all of similar size and each just as determined as the last to make the sanctuary of the far bank root systems. None did however; my 1.1lb line held fast and a succession of stripy aggressors were banked from various shaded and secluded areas along the far side bank.

The morning passed uninterrupted, bar a few pleasant early morning dog walkers who stopped off for a chat, and I became so immersed in my quarry that before I knew it, the sun had risen, the bites had slowed, and with my watch showing 8.30am, it was time to be away.

I was soon packed up and off back down the footpath, and as I returned under the first stone bridge, and traversed the raised walkway over the long canal run off, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a very small fish no more than an inch long, repeatedly breaking the surface just down to my right, in a vain and somewhat erratic attempt to flee a menacing, fast moving, shadowy figure, which could be seen skulking just beneath the surface. With the light right above me and my polarised glasses firmly in place I was able to see the whole spectacle from start to finish – the shadowy figure was a pristine perch of perhaps half a pound, but it moved so quick and with such purpose that my eyes could only just keep track of it. The prey fish broke the surface perhaps four or five times in a matter of seconds as the perch pushed it up the marginal shelf into shallower and shallower water, soon it was only an inch deep and there was nowhere left to run – the perch with its upper body now fully out of the water penned the prey against the bank and made its kill. In all honesty it was that fast I did not actually see it take the fish, but once done it flipped itself back into deeper water and was away as quickly as it had arrived.

The scene wa
s reminiscent of a wildlife programme I watched once where scores of killer whales chased seals or penguins (I can’t remember which) up onto the shore before manoeuvring their huge hulks back into the sea, although in this particular case the whole spectacle was probably over in under four seconds!

I climbed over the stile and dropped down into the lane, smiling to myself as I mussed upon the scene I’d just witnessed, you just can’t fail to admire such magnificent creatures. I also made a note of the location, with luck I’ll be back down in a couple of days and after the floorshow I’d just had, I had a fair idea where my first cast might be made!

Julian Grattidge
June 16th 2006