John Bailey: Forget turkey, get a helping of perch at Christmas

Perch are the perfect Christmas present for John Bailey and Robbie Northman Picture: John Bailey

Perch are the perfect Christmas present for John Bailey and Robbie Northman Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

I hope I am wrong, but I have a feeling that this year's Christmas run-up is more subdued than most.

Perhaps political events and financial forebodings have had a dampening effect. This is understandable but sad when so many Christmas periods give so much joy, especially if you are an angler. It's the amount of time off so many of us have that gives almost unparalleled opportunity to grab a few sessions waterside.

The days are short too, so just a few hours early or late can see the job done. You can catch a fish to fire you, but still be by the family hearth in time to play your part.

So many sights from my own angling past have been Christmas ones and this year follows in a grand tradition. On Tuesday last, I was walking the marshes and came upon a dyke bursting with roach to a pound, some perhaps more. Really, for a hundred yards the stream was a solid, wall-to-wall carpet of them. There were tens of thousands of them. The sight was as beautiful as it was unexpected.

Two days later, I was stalking a city stretch of running water when I saw a shape to make me gasp. In the dusk light I thought it must be a pike of staggering proportions but then, little by little, the coral coloured fins materialised and the fish morphed into a barbel. I simply cannot begin to guess its weight. I have simply never seen its like before.

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But above all species, perch are special at Christmas. They are THE festive fish, all bling and black stripes and red fins and crimson, flaring gills.

Bailey and perch at Christmas Time ts a saga that began long ago, over 40 years in fact, on the banks of Bayfield lake, that glorious north Norfolk lake. I was fishing with then Blakeney Point warden Joe Read when I hooked a perch, a Goliath perch, perhaps the biggest perch I have ever seen in this country. We played it for minutes, aeons it seemed, in the fast thickening dusk of Christmas Eve when, suddenly, heartbreakingly, it came off. Had I not been fishing with Joe, who was the best angling partner I have ever known, my misery would have been beyond despair. Even today I can look back on a whole Christmas that was blighted by one failed hook hold.

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Still, that was then, and back to December 2018, I have been living in a miniature perch paradise with new angling pal Robbie Northman. If there is a better young lure angler in Norfolk than Robbie then I would like to meet him, or her. Robbie is some kind of perch wizard, his skills, his intuition making you believe in the exotic arts of fish whispering. He catches perch where you wouldn't even believe they exist and of sizes you cannot begin to grasp.

What Robbie has done for me is make me realise that we live in a precious, perch-filled county. We have caught them in pits, ponds, commercials, streams, upper rivers, urban rivers, tidal rivers and the broads. I'm sure Robbie could winkle a two-pounder out of his mother's sink. He possesses that confidence that he will catch that is contagious. I go out with him almost sure of success and mostly success is what we experience. Robbie is a believer in lures that mimic the aquatic prey of a perch minutely. The way he can work a crayfish imitation in the upper reaches of the Wensum is gobsmacking. Or the delicacy with which he retrieves a sliver of rubber to look like a tiny roach is beyond my ken to describe. I have fished with enough great anglers to know genius is a hard thing to put into words.

I'd be overshadowed completely if I couldn't report that my age-old methods keep pace with his pretty much perch for perch. I'm a traditional old bait man through and through. Give me a few pints of maggots, some lobs, a bucket of minnows and a float rod and I like to think I'll catch you a perch or two. Of course, I'm not as pretty to watch as Robbie, who is all about athleticism and artistry, but I get the job done, even if I get my nails dirty doing it.

So my big Christmas gift to you is the advise to get out there whenever you can. There is almost bound to be a perch water near to you and whether you fish plastic or the real thing, a 2pm-5pm session might well see you land your fish of the festive season. Equally good is the dawn period, let's say 6am-9am in December. Only do remember that if you are out silly o'clock, watch what you drink the night before please.

Many of us will be breaking up shortly so now is the time to make your perching plans, but whatever you fish for, whether you manage to fish or not, let's confound the prophets of doom and have a Christmas to celebrate, every last one of us.

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