Fishing for Perch: Tackle and Baits
The perch (Perca fluviatilis) is not likely to be confused with any other fish, thanks to its striped pattern and its double dorsal fin.
The back is grey-green, blue-green, dark blue, or grey-brown, and the flanks are pale green with a silver lustre and several
darker transverse bars extending from the back down to the middle flanks. The bars narrow off towards the centre-flank, and the belly is silvery-white or silvery-green. The transverse barring varies in intensity from one fish to another, and from one water to another, and the number of bars varies between five and nine.
The first dorsal fin is greyish in colour, with a tint of violet, and bears a large dark spot near its rear. The second dorsal is yellowish with green or pink tints or streaks at the edges. The fins on the underside are pink, orange, or red, and the pectorals are brownish or buff. There is considerable variation in body and fin colour according to the water, the time of year, and the age of the fish.
The body shape is narrow and laterally compressed with a distinct hump at the back, leading up to the fore-edge of the first dorsal fin. The first fin is supported by spines which are very sharp, the second by one or two spines at the leading edge and branched rays along the remainder. The scales are comparatively small and extremely firmly attached to the body, so that they are difficult to remove. When handled, the fish has a rough raspy texture on account of the tough scales. The gill-covers are triangular towards the rear, with a spine at the apex of the triangle. Carelessly handled this will prick the angler’s hands, as also will the spines of the first dorsal fin.
The tail is small and clearly forked, being rather small for the size of the body.
Lake perch often grow to larger proportions than river perch but, unless conditions are fairly good, they are very prone to over-population, in which case the average size falls off, and growth rates become poor.
The normal fish is capable of fairly good growth and can attain 5-7.5 cm (2-3 ins) during the first year, reaching 15-17 cm (6-7 ins) by the end of the third year. This rate was far exceeded by the fabulous perch of Arlesey Lake, Bedfordshire, where the fish were at one time said to reach about 225 g (8 oz) during their first year. This is hardly surprising considering the number of large perch which have been caught in this lake. (Arlesey is an old clay pit. Recently, alas, the big perch seem to have disappeared.) In other waters where food is short and populations are vast, the very opposite often occurs. Three-year-old fish represent a near maximum for size, adding little to their stature over the following years.
Generally perch shoal in large numbers, especially when very young, the fish of a particular shoal being of the same size. As they grow older the shoals become smaller, until among the very large fish of specimen size there is a tendency towards solitary behaviour as the appetite becomes more rapacious.
The species is highly predatory, even when small. Its diet is very mixed, including minnows, loaches, gudgeon, and small fry of every kind, as well as freshwater shrimps, molluscs, caddis grubs, insects generally, and worms. Normally, perch do not eat vegetable food, but when feeding amongst silkweed they sometimes take the weed in their efforts to obtain the creatures living among it. They will also take the angler’s bread or cheese baits when these are kept moving, mistaking them for some small water creature.
Perch hunt by hiding and surprising their prey rather than by chasing it, although they may sometimes be seen in marginal waters swerving after some small fish. A surprise attack by perch often results in the small fry scattering or leaping at the surface, as the angler sometimes observes when he has baited his swim for roach, and attracted large numbers of small fish at the same time.
Spawning occurs among the weed or reed stems in shallow water near the margins. When the first few inches of gelatinous ribbon have been extruded from the fish, they swim among the weeds entangling the ribbons of eggs among them as if to draw the ribbons out of them. A great many of the eggs are eaten by creatures hunting amongst the foliage during spring. Spawning is usually during March or April, but is occasionally later, after a late spring or a severe winter.
Once hatched, the young fish, complete with yolk-sacs beneath their bodies, lie among the weeds until the sac is completely absorbed and they have proper control of their bodies. They keep to the shallows in large shoals, making for slightly deeper water each year as they grow older. The mature fish tend to feed in mid-winter, moving at intervals into deeper layers in search of prey and in order to see prey at the surface more easily. Once the fish get older and become solitary they tend to take up residence in some suitable hole, amongst tree roots, or by undercut banks, somewhat similar to the holes chosen by large CHUB, the difference being that perch prefer to be off the main stream and in the quiet water.
When winter approaches and the weeds die down, the fish move, with their quarry, into deeper water and become more active in patrolling large areas of water in the search after food. Shoals can sometimes be seen roving along the marginal waters between forages into the deeps.
In ponds and lakes the behaviour is similar, the larger fish taking up deep holes during the cold weather and conducting their search for food from this through a limited area of territory.
Perch will take worms, maggots, grubs, and insects of all kinds. Minnows, GUDGEON, and other small fry are also acceptable, and a hungry perch won’t turn up its nose at a recently dead small fish either. They will also take bread and cheese baits either because they are temporarily on short commons, or, as explained above, because they mistake them for some small creature. Molluscs and freshwater shrimps are also welcomed.
Perhaps the best way to sum up the appetite of the species is to suggest that it will take anything that moves — provided it can catch it, and provided the size is within the limits imposed by the mouth. This gives fair scope. I have heard of a 500 g (1-1/4 lb) perch being caught on a 100 g (4 oz) perch live-bait!
Brandlings, marsh worms, redworms, and lobworms all make exceptionally good perch baits, but the lobworm is probably the best of all. A large lobworm can be hooked on a No. 6 hook, or on a multi-hook tackle made up with size 8 or 10 hooks. Triangle hooks are not suitable for perch fishing except on spinners or dead baits, where some anglers prefer them.
Many anglers take their first perch on a maggot bait and never forget it, using the bait in later life as confidently and successfully as any other. The objection to the use of maggots for perch is that the bait so readily takes small fish of other species and is therefore likely to be grabbed before the big perch manage to find it.
Much the same objection applies to caddis and other grubs. All the same, these do take perch. Often good specimens are caught by the confident and delicate presentation of such baits. For the specialist seeking large perch, however, they tend to be too small to give much hope of consistent results.
Minnows, gudgeon, and small fry are probably the best all-round perch baits and tend to catch good-quality fish. Almost any small fish between 5-12 cm (2-5 ins) in length is suitable, and, used on a hook suited to its size (4-6), may be presented dead or alive. Float,, and tackles all permit the use of live-baits, which can be successfully presented at any depth according to water conditions.
Dead-baits are also valuable when mounted on suitable mounts or flights, or presented.
Frogs, slugs, elvers, lampreys, and crayfish are baits which must be included in the perch angler’s armoury. They are not often used, but on some waters and in the right conditions they can be very killing — especially when other baits fail.
For casual perch fishing the sort of rod generally used for ROACH will frequently suffice, but if good specimens are sought it is far wiser to use a rod with a little more power, both to help in casting large baits, and to give the angler a good chance of coping with the fish taken. An Avon-type rod is fine for river fishing, and a built-cane three-piece of similar dimensions, but with a slightly stiffer action, is suitable for still waters. For, a two-piece rod of the kind used for light TROUT spinning is first-class, but the use of a PIKE rod is to be deprecated.
Choice of reel depends largely on personal inclinations, centre-pin and fixed-spool reels being equally useful, except perhaps for spinning, where the fixed spool is better for casting light baits. The chief requirement of the reel is that it should be capable of carrying the necessary amount of line (90 m (100 yds) is ample for most kinds of perch fishing); also that it should be free-running and simple to operate. Many anglers use light multiplier reels with great success, but these do have the serious disadvantage that they tend to make line lie in coils on the surface. Multipliers are reels with a geared recovery mechanism. They are free-running for easy casting and are fitted with an adjustable drag for playing a powerful fish. They are fished on top of the reel. Seep 46.
Lines of 1.5-2 kg (3-4 lb)are suitable for all but the largest perch, and monofilament is probably the best choice of material. Where really large specimens are hoped for, or where the bottom is likely to produce snags, the line could be of 2.5-3 kg (5-6 lb) b.s., which would also be a suitable strength for spinning, being better able to withstand the wear and tear of continual casting and retrieving.
Hooks should be of sizes 10 to 4, according to the fish expected, the method used, and the size of bait employed. Maggots, shrimps and small worms should be presented on sizes 10-8, large lobworms and minnows on sizes 8-6, and larger live-baits on size 4. Obviously these hooks must be fastened to nylon suited to their size and task.
The ordinary Thames-type float is quite suitable for perch fishing, but it is not necessary to shottoo low in the water since perch often fiddle with the bait before making a definite run. The most favoured type of float is a 10-15 cm (46 ins) quill with a tubby cork centre, but anything larger is ridiculous.