Resurgent perch can fill angling void for another few weeks yet

A fine result for columnist John Bailey 3lb 7oz of of bristling perch.

A fine result for columnist John Bailey 3lb 7oz of of bristling perch. - Credit: Archant

It's a strange time of year this in the angler's calendar. The pike fishing has all but ground to a halt and it is really too early for tench and for the sort of fun carp fishing that so many of us enjoy.

Of course, the rivers are still closed for another agonising 10 or 11 weeks and so there is little respite there. From what I have seen, many stillwater rainbows aren't in great condition after a lean winter and there is still not much fly life around. There is a bit of wild brown trouting in the upper rivers, I suppose, but I prefer to leave those for the early summer when there are more insects to imitate. We won't be seeing mullet or bass for a while so I found myself scratching the old bonce for what to do.

Eureka. Late March, early April and stillwater perch can, if you are lucky, fill the void. Most of our stillwaters are still open and these are the places to investigate. I set myself a little quest the week just gone to explore as many as I possibly could in very limited time. I managed, in the end, to check out six and recorded results from four and very good results from two. A very fair return, I think.

There is a problem with perch. I call them a 'now you see them, now you don't' kind of species. In my long perching experience I have known waters decline seemingly overnight and yet others come from nowhere. I think an issue is that perch aren't hugely long-lived. When they get elderly, they look haggard, a bit rough round the edges and they are soon gone. Sometimes, the shortage of food is to blame. We all know cormorants hammer our stillwaters, mostly long before any of us are up and about, and if they denude the silver fish then the big perch have a hard time of it. Perch are also very susceptible to otter attack. They like to live in tree roots, amongst reed beds and even in little underwater caverns, exactly the places where otters love to investigate and find an easy meal. That's not all, perch are prone to disease and very fragile if there is any hint of bad handling, especially at this time of the year when many are approaching spawning time. So, if you are going to fish for them now, really, really treat them with kid gloves.

Club waters and perhaps commercials are the best places to start. On the commercials, the silver fish are guarded from the cormorant menu and that can mean big perch around. Moreover, most commercial bosses, like Bob Anderson at Cobbleacre, are supremely helpful and generous with their information. A golden rule of mine is that if there are small perch in any water then you stand a good chance of locating big ones. And by big, by the way, I mean two pounds plus.

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I'm really not going to insult you by talking about perch methods, but I will mention mine in order of preference. First up, by a long chalk, I love to float fish a lobworm on the bottom and sprinkle maggots around to draw in the prey fish. I will often let the lobworm fall under its own weight shotting the float up top. After that, I'm a massive fan of small dead baits, probably around three or four inches in size. Naturally, if there are pike in the water you have got to use wire trace with tiny trebles or even one big single. I will lure fish, jig and drop shot for perch and I've had success, more especially on waters with at least some visibility. In truth, though, at heart I am and always will be a bait man when it comes to perch fishing. In these days of the super slick lure fisherman, I apologise for not being more with it.

The great Richard Walker once called perch the 'biggest species'. He was right. If any fish has the wow factor then it is a 3lb, bristling, heavily-barred, vividly-coloured, sergeant major of a perch. They have got swagger and panache and when that dorsal fin flares it's like you've got a mini dinosaur in your net.

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