John Bailey: Things are perch-ing up

John Bailey with a super Wensum perch.

John Bailey with a super Wensum perch. - Credit: Archant

We have just eight days left on the river before the season closes, historically in my life the saddest of times.

If you want to keep on fishing, and don't we all, then this is the leanest period of the year. We know that if the weather smiles, carp are a possibility but they're probably more likely to fall to long stay anglers than to those of us who are a little more casual and a little more hard pressed with our time.

Pike are an option but they're at a delicate stage, either having spawned or coming up to spawning and probably being at just about their most vulnerable. Tench are my usual spring target these days but, in truth, the last days of March are generally a bit early for them, too. They'll probably be moving and you might see the odd fish rolling but it takes great courage to get up at five o'clock on a March morning and start a tinca campaign.

The answer for me over the next few weeks will almost certainly be perch. Our beloved stripeys, so commonly called in the angling press now, our nation's Sergeant Majors.

Naturally, we all love perch. What isn't to love about them? They were very likely the first species we all caught as kids, on worms or maggots and the simplest of gear. We loved their prickly-finned defiance then and we love it now just as much in adulthood. The lure of the perch never diminishes. I began with perch and it's probably that in my dotage, I'll finish with perch!

We live in happy perching times. All of us, over a certain age, remember the dark perching days in East Anglia, back in the '70s and '80s when the so-called 'Perch Disease' had decimated waters nationwide.

In those days, any perch was a triumph. Nature, though, sorts herself out with bewildering energy and today, we have our perch back again.

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I've written before that I probably have at least a dozen, if not more, waters on my venue list which produce perch regularly over two pounds and could produce fish of four pounds or more. If that isn't a juicy target for this tricky period of the year then I don't know what is.

If I had to pick one method to catch decent perch it would be this. I'd settle myself down, perhaps mid to late afternoon to catch the last of the light, on a corner of a lake where there is plenty of cover.

I'm looking for bridges, islands and overhanging trees. I'm looking for variations in the bottom contours. I'm looking for areas where I know there are small prey fish, preferably in abundance. It's possible that hunting grebes will give me adequate pointers in this direction.

I'll almost certainly use a float because I like to! I'll take with me two or three pints of maggots and a pot of lusty lobworms. I'll feed my chosen area heavily with maggots sprinkling handfuls in every couple of minutes. My aim is to get the small fish really excited, flashing, twisting, attracting the big perch from their snaggy fortresses around.

I might not even use any weight on the line, trusting in the lobworms to waver their way through the water column until they settle lightly on the bed. I'll make sure, however, the float is set spot-on because what you never want to do is let a perch engulf a bait and swallow it deep because of bad indication.

In all probability, I might pick up one or two better roach and a few small perch before the really serious warriors come out to play. I don't mind this. It's all part of the fun and the anticipation, especially on a cold March afternoon when there might be flurries of sleet in the air still.

When a big perch comes along, you know about it. The float moves in a much more positive fashion. There's none of the flicking or jerking that indicates a small fish. This will be a bite of solid determination. Never underestimate how hard a perch of two or three pounds fights.

It's heart-stopping stuff and for this reason I'd never recommend a line of less than around five pounds breaking strain. A size 8 hook is about right and I like a through-action float rod and, surprise surprise, a centrepin on the butt! But I'm an old fuddy-duddy and a fixed spool does just as well.

If you keep your wits about you, which I rarely do, you can probably get two or even three big fish because these granddad perch tend to move in small groups. Photograph them quickly and get them back because big perch are surprisingly vulnerable.

There is a relatively new, hot method on the perching scene though and that's called drop shotting.

The idea is that you use small, vividly coloured, violently working lures above a lead that anchors them into a very tight area. I'm not a great lover of lure fishing for perch but drop shotting is entirely different.

With the drop shotting technique, you can keep a little lure dancing and vibrating exactly where you want it for minutes on end. You can anchor your lure under a bridge, just out from the willow branches, close in to the alder roots and by bouncing the rod tip make that lure work in the most enticing of fashions. It takes a bit of practice and it's often good to work the lure first of all in clear water so that you can see how it responds to your rod craft.

One of the advantages of drop shotting is that it is a relatively new method and the chances are your local perch won't have seen it before. Perch are as clever a fish as swims and it could well be that they regard bait as danger.

Drop shotting, though, could make suckers of them and it's immensely thrilling when they take. I'd recommend using braid rather than mono. Takes are not always the slam bang affairs that you might expect and with braid you can tighten up onto the most subtle of suck-ins.

I was at The Big One, a massive angling show, down in Farnborough a couple of weeks back. One of my ex-pupils from Sprowston High rolled up to talk about the old days. He reminded me of a day when I'd taken the fishing club out to a local water with the permission of the owner's wife. It seems that she hadn't informed the owner though and he rocketed up with steam coming out of his ears. He gave me both barrels verbally and said pupil snuck up behind me and whispered, 'Do you want me to chin him, sir? I'll deck him if you want!'

I was able to demonstrate that diplomacy is generally the better way of moving forwards in situations like this and, eventually, we were allowed to fish on. That's the funny thing about fishing. Experience teaches you that there's more to the sport than catching fish alone.

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