There’s been a bit of a perch bonanza amongst fellow Essex Anglers bloggers lately, so I thought I’d show my appreciation for this magnificent fish too.
Like most anglers, my very first fish was a perch, in fact I think I caught about nine, at the age of nine, from Highams Park Lake in Woodford Green, Essex, an estate lake originally part of a landscape designed by Humphrey Repton in the eighteenth century. That first session had a profound effect on me, and I was utterly hooked from that moment. Part of the allure was the fish itself; they were tiny but they fought like tigers, flashing back and forth in the pellucid shallows, all spikes and stripes with great, gaping mouths and huge, predator eyes. They certainly put a bend in my six foot Woolworths fibre glass rod. I’ve still got the folding, red fishing stool I used on that day and the Golden Virginia tobacco tin my dad gave me for my hooks and bits.
Perch loomed large in subsequent trips to the lake, as I’d yet to hone my angling skills enough to tempt any of the more wiley tench, roach and carp that lived amongst those kamikaze stripeys. Eventually, after discovering the revered books of tench guru Fred J Taylor, I managed to bank a tench or two, plus a 1lb roach. But that was a couple of years away, and me and my best friend and angling pal Gary were content to hoik out “wasp” perch on line thick enough to hang your clothes on.
Gary was a street-wise kid who’s personality contrasted with my laid-back, mild manner but our mutual appreciation of wildlife and fishing forged a strong bond. We once witnessed an older group of boys catching perch after perch and dashing them to bits on nearby rocks, laughing as they did so. We were utterly appalled and shouted at them to stop, from a safe distance obviously. Thankfully they did stop, despite hurling threats and abuse, but the shocking sight of those poor, eviscerated perch is still emblazoned on my mind.
Later on, after I left college and moved back to London, I discovered what was at the time one of the best big-fish rivers in the south-east: Coppermill Stream, Walthamstow. A short, two mile tributary of the river Lea it is nowadays a shadow of its former self but when I fished it was renown for specimen fish of many species including barbel, roach, chub, and perch.
I enjoyed good sport from all the above, apart from (and despite my best efforts) the perch.
I knew they were there, I’d heard the fishy tales from fellow anglers of giant stripeys, either caught or spotted skulking amongst the streamer weed. My own personal experience of these gorgeous giants was to be bitter sweet; to be truthful more the former than the latter! But nonetheless I’m glad I had it. One evening in the late summer I was fishing for barbel with no success. A few swims up was another young angler fishing hard up against concrete bridge pilings. He was hoiking out perch after perch, whooping with delight as he did so, every cast produced another fish. And they were massive, the biggest perch I’d ever seen. He was carefully placing them in a keep net and after a while my curiosity got the better of me and I walked up to him to witness his remarkable catch. He was a humble, good natured bloke and appeared almost embarrassed by his success. He asked me to take some photos for him and I was happy to oblige, a bit jealous of course but very pleased for him and in awe of his catch: six specimen perch to 3.8lb; not fresh, clean-skinned, fin-perfect youngsters these but old, muscular warriors, with scarred flanks, blood-red fins and bristling spikes. If there had been smart phones at the time I’d have asked him to text me a photo or two, but this was the late eighties and mobile phones resembled house bricks. I’ve still got some vivid memories of those perch though. The fella packed up shortly after, a very happy angler. I asked if he’d mind me poaching his swim and he graciously obliged, but although I fished into darkness I had not a touch, despite replicating his tactics: legered lobworm against the concrete pilings, feeding maggot over the top.
Over a decade later, I would employ the same approach to catch my own big old stripey. Not a 3lb monster but a beautiful fish nonetheless. One autumn evening in 2004 at Dobbs Weir on the river Lea in Hertfordshire, I took the advice of a friendly bailiff I’d met at the weir the day before, and fished hard against the concrete bridge pilings adjacent to the weir. I had two perch, the biggest 2.12lb. Luckily, that same bailiff turned up again, and with a smile and an “I told you so” took a couple of photos for me.
Here’s one of them.
Nowadays, perch fishing is enjoying an amazing revolution. The opportunity to catch specimen fish from a wide variety of venues using a wide variety of tactics are legion. I have myself been bitten by the lure fishing bug, and in the space of a year have bought numerous multicoloured, jelly-like lures; some resembling fish, others the “Bugs” from Starship Trooper movies. But to be honest, although I’ve enjoyed fishing with them, I’ve not caught many perch! Plenty of jack pike though, which on light gear are a joy.
Saying that, I had two nice fish of around 1.5lb from the Great Ouse near Ely, on a jig resembling another perch! The little cannibals…
I had to resort to the time honoured perch catching marvel that are lobworms to get amongst something bigger. On a favourite stretch of the Suffolk Stour is an old railway bridge and a very deep pool with perch, (and chub), written all over it. One evening in December last year I decided to give the pool a crack. As dusk settled in numerous fry were making their presence known, their tiny bodies iridescent in the margins. In went a link-legered lobworm and within twenty minutes out came a beautiful perch that pulled hard and shook its head all the way to the net. She went 2.2lb, again not a monster but a fish that had me buzzing for days after.