What is it about big perch that makes them so very impressive? Perhaps it’s the fact that you just don’t see many of them. Take carp for example, spread all over the interweb, sprawled across the covers of magazines, big carp are everywhere. Apart from a few exceptions, the old good lookers, big carp don’t really float my boat, or cause me to say “Wow” very often. Big roach are very beautiful, and when over 2lbs, a dream fish and a target I’m yet to achieve, they are a much sought after specimen indeed, but even big roach don’t have that same impressiveness as a big perch. Big rudd, with their ruby red fins and 24 carat flanks, do come very close, but for me still don’t have the same wow factor a big perch has.
Perhaps it’s because as youngsters we caught so many finger sized perchlings, etching the fact that ‘no perch is bigger than your hand’ in your mind forever. Believe in something long enough and nobody will tell you different, but then one day you see a fish of a pound lying in the bottom of your net, how can this be? All reasoning is blown away, the things you always thought you knew to be true are shattered instantly, just like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy!
I think it’s a male thing too; we all wanted to be that tough boy at school, the one everyone respected and wanted to be around. Nothing scared him, nothing fazed him, he had his crew around him, and even if he didn’t, he could take care of himself anyhow. I think perch have the same characteristic, frightened of nothing, bold, respected with a do anything I want go anywhere I like attitude, and nobody can stop me. If we really think about it, if we could be a fish, we’d all want to be a big perch.
So when this time of year comes around, when the ground is littered with leaves and when damp chilly days become ever increasingly frequent, it’s time to think about digging out my favourite perch bobber. My attention is drawn towards the compost bin, worms being one of my favourite perch baits, yet the supermarket supplies one of the most successful baits I’ve tried for perch. The banks will be muddy, the sky will be grey, but everything brightens up when a perch comes to visit.
Baits will have a varying effect on different waters; some waters I’ve fished only tend to respond to live-bait tactics, on others the perch will readily scoff a big prawn. On one of my local waters, for example, the perch went largely uncaught for the most part with a multitude of classic baits being ignored, and only with a recent lift of a live-bait ban meant these tremendous fish started being brought to shore. I guess it depends on their larder, if they have a good supply of natural food they can afford to be a touch choosy.
My own perch fishing really kicks off about now, but the venues local to me can be very much hit and miss so in the past I’ve travelled for good sport. This means I don’t go as often as I’d like to so when I do I need to make the most of it. To enjoy the day is always the main target, but the boy’s dream of a pound perch is always the benchmark, that something to strive towards. A 2lb perch is a big fish in anyone’s book, something that makes a great session an unbelievable one. So my most recent session must go down as the most memorable day’s perch fishing I’ve ever had.
My alarm clock woke me at 6am; I rolled over for a 5 minute snooze and woke again at 7:45, not the best possible start. You know those rushed mornings when you get dressed still half asleep with a toothbrush in your gob, but with fishing on my mind I was ready in double quick time leaving the house a little after 8. A quick stop on the way to collect my tackle and I was soon heading for the venue. Upon arrival it was a result to find no other cars parked there, although I did have to sit in the car a while whilst a heavy shower passed overhead.
Just as soon as the raindrops stopped hammering against the windscreen I was out, unloading the boot and set off to my chosen pitch. The ground was damp, large puddles had formed and the grassy banks were sodden. I arrived in the swim and put up the brolly, just in case. More showers came whilst I set the rod up; the Chapman 500 deluxe was my weapon of choice, teamed with a Millward Rapidex copy. Soon it was time to sprinkle a few broken prawns into the swim and make the first cast of the day.
It didn’t take long for the float to slide away, a fabulous looking perch of just under a pound being the first in queue to come and say hello. All spiny and with tonnes of attitude I unhooked it carefully and held it in the margin for a few seconds until it flicked its tail and darted off to join its friends. A while passed, and so did the showers, but it looked as though the overcast sky and generally dark conditions were having the desired effect.
The float sailed away sideward, I struck and immediately the rod tip arched pleasingly. At first I wondered if I might be attached to a small carp, it was pulling really hard, but then I saw it, a greenish grey flank with those unmistakable dark bars, it was a perch, and a mighty fine one at that. Gingerly I teased the fish towards me; it thrashed and splashed as its quite obvious disgust at being hooked became apparent. Reluctantly it slid into the mesh and I smiled as I lifted the net, the remarkable fish was mine.
On the mat I admired my prize, tried to guess the weight and decided it was somewhere between 2 and 3 pounds. I do tend to struggle somewhat with estimating perch weights. It was a truly marvellous fish, and although it was early I could have happily packed up there and then. Although Stillwater perch, when from coloured water, don’t have the same colouration that perch from rivers or clear water tend to have, but they are no less spectacular, and look no less impressive. I weighed the fish at 2lb 9oz and attempted a self-take photograph, something I struggle with when it comes to perch, but I don’t think it came out too badly; soon after the great fish swam off strongly.
After a biteless half hour I switched to the right hand side of the swim, upon plumbing I found it to be slightly deeper and had a quick bite from a perch of just over a pound almost straight away. This was followed by another of similar size and then bam, I hooked into something that felt a whole lot heavier. Again I was left wondering if it was a carp charging around, and believe me when I tell you my bottom jaw plummeted like it was made of lead when I saw a massive perch roll and shake its head fiercely in an effort to shed the hook.
I played the fish slowly, giving the word delicate a whole new meaning, keeping constant pressure but trying to balance between too much and too little. The rod was arching beautifully and each time I saw the fish it just got bigger and bigger, I knew it was a very special fish, which is never a good thing when it’s still a way off being beaten. But luck was on my side and into the net it went. I left it there a while whilst I sorted the camera, the scales and stopped shaking. Upon lifting the fish out of the water I felt that it could possibly beat my previous best, although it never had a belly, but was very long and thickset. Grab a Rapidex if you have one and you can judge just how big this perch is.
On the mat it looked so impressive, the biggest fish of all for sure and I hoisted it up on the scales with trembling hands. When the needle spun round to 4lbs I thought for a second I’d done it, but when I stopped shaking it settled on 3lb 15oz, a mere 2oz short of my PB and certainly no less of a fish. I savoured the moment, it’s not every day you catch a perch that spins the needle round to almost 4lbs. Once more I set up the self-take, it would have been nice to have someone help with the photos, but at the same time it was nice to have the place to myself.
It was quite a sad moment, releasing the fish of your dreams always is. Elation is the first thing you feel, followed by a wondering if you’ll ever catch anything so special again, and then the sense of achievement, when it finally sinks in just how extraordinary that capture was. It might be a long while until another perch pulls my scales down to that sort of weight, so I wanted this memory to stay as vivid as possible.
As if things couldn’t get any better, I switched to the left hand side of the swim and within no more than ten minutes the float slid away and yet another big perch was tugging and pulling in a bid for freedom. The battles from these big perch were electric, and the Chapman 500 was the perfect rod for them. More violent head shakes ensued as I tried to coax the fish towards me, then as if waving the white flag the fish stopped its struggle and slid gracefully into the awaiting net. Yet another massive perch was mine. This one weighed 2lb 14oz, and was very similar in appearance and colouration to the others, although ever so slightly more rotund.
Red Letter Days like these are few and far between, and I was under no illusion that any amount of skill from my part was the making of such a day, it was certainly a case of right place, right time and right bait, but it felt so good and I didn’t want it to end. Luckily there was still one more spikey miracle to come but not before another brace of pound fish from the right hand spot. The showers continued, some were light drizzle, some bouncing off the ground, but not once were spirits dampened.
It was a little after 3pm, I knew it would be time for packing away shortly, but anyone who knows anything about catching big fish will tell you that the final hour before dark can be the best of them all. Out went the float and as I sat back down I watched the tip willing it to slide off one last time. A few minutes of nothing then a twitch appeared, the float bobbed, bobbed again and then slowly headed sideways and under. The strike connected and going by the lunges from the first three big perch I felt sure this was another
The jigging and jagging and reluctance to surface made me wonder if this might be other extremely big perch, and although it was actually the smallest of the four big ones, it was perhaps the prettiest one, with those river type characteristics, the dark green flanks and blood red fins. As I watched it glide into the net I shook my head in disbelief and raised my eyebrows whilst giving a little chuckle. A super fish to end the day upon, it weighed 2lb 7oz and was so so beautiful.
After releasing yet another dream fish I never recast, but broke down the rod, put the camera kit away, shook the rain from the brolly and left the pitch. Another day like that I’m sure won’t come along anytime soon, if ever again. It was one of those days where you just can’t seem to put a foot wrong. Writing about the session the day after means I can capture a lot of the fine detail, but no words can truly describe how it feels to experience such a bumper day.