The European Perch is an impressive looking species, their powerful looking heads having large black eyes and a bony jaw without teeth, which can expand considerably enabling it to swallow prey over half its own width. They have a deep, slightly compressed body, and its foremost dorsal fin having 15-strong and very sharp spines. Their olive green flanks are boldly marked with 5-9 black vertical bars that narrow as they approach the white belly. Their pelvic, anal and caudal fins are red, their pectoral fins are clear and the front dorsal has a black spot at the end (just above the 3rd body stripe) and the second dorsal has a black horizontal stripe.
Perch scales are thick, strong and finely toothed at their edges (believed to reduce hydrodynamic drag), and cause them to feel rough when handled, whilst the strong gill covers are also spiked at the rear edge: a well armoured, highly camouflaged ambush predator, that double up to provide good defence against larger predators such as cannibalistic Perch and of course Pike.
Perch inhabit rivers, lakes and canals throughout the UK and Continental Europe and there are many species across the world, whilst they may be found in cold, fast flowing rivers they tend not to breed in such an environments. They like to lay in wait in and around sub-surface features such as tree roots, overhanging branches, reed beds, aquatic weed beds, undercut banks and man made structures such as bridge stanchions.
Perch are gregarious, and as temperatures drop in the autumn and winter months, fish of different sizes shoal and move into deeper water, with colder temperatures bring about little activity and they feed very little. As a result, fish close to any features in the shallower areas during the warmer months with deeper areas more likely to hold the fish in the autumn and winter.
Perch spawn in water temperature between 8º and 15º C, generally around April and May, with females able to produce between 45,000 to 135,000 eggs/kg of bodyweight, The eggs are sticky and white and are deposited in white ribbons up to 1m long over weeds, submerged branches and roots.
They prefer to spawn in sheltered margins where calm waters produce warmer surface areas where the fry congregate in large shoals. The spawn is not eaten by other fish and is therefore protected.
Depending upon water temperature, the eggs hatch normally within 8 – 16 days, with the emergent fry being about 0.5cm in length and living off their yolk sac for the first week. As their fins develop the fry tend to move toward the margins whilst still living close to the surface and initially feed upon zooplankton before moving onto bloodworm, insect larvae, insects and other invertebrates, but not usually water snails as they develop. They will also eat small fish and hunt on packs when doing so. Very large shoals of young Perch will gather and such shoals are regularly seen at Frensham Great Pond in the summer months, sometimes chasing the shoals of Roach & Rudd fry, leading to explosions of fry jumping clear of the water as the Perch shoals attack.
Water temperatures play a large part in the survival of the juvenile Perch with a cold summer seriously lowering the numbers of young fish that survive, whilst a warm summer can produce a very strong year class. As a result, stunted populations can occur because of a lack of available food and little natural predation. The very large shoals young Perch eventually disperse and smaller shoals of fish that stick to their year class evolve, although in colder months these year class shoals can become larger shoals as they inhabit the areas of deeper water over the winter.
There is evidence that within 6-months a small proportion of Perch in each year class become piscivorous and quickly begin feeding upon small fish, often turning cannibal. The Perch that turn to a fish diet grow very quickly and soon grow larger than their siblings, taking increasingly larger fish in their diet. Within 4-years, such fish can reach 2lb in weight. Perch are able to swallow prey up to 60% of the width of their mouth, even attempting to take prey larger than they may swallow.
Male Perch mature sexually at around 3-years of age when they are normally around 12-18cm (4-6 inches), whilst the females mature the following year when slightly larger. Perch can live to about 12-years of age in the wild, but have been known to live to 25-years + in captivity.
Perch are affected by a mystery disease which drastically affects populations, a 98% loss was recorded in Lake Windermere in 1976, but fortunately they have made a comeback over the last 10-years in Britain as a whole.
Since Perch are so aggressive, survival amongst large shoals means that they are obliging and bold feeders, resulting in small fish often being the first species that many young anglers catch. Combine this with its defiant looks and a dorsal fin proudly displayed, its memory often stays with them for life.
Whilst small Perch are very common, good Perch over 1lb in weight are not so and any fish over 2lb is a specimen. In order to find the better specimens, it is a good idea to find a fishery with a healthy population and then hope that you can locate the better fish within the environment the fishery offers. The use of brandlings will always attract the attention of a small Perch if they can see it ! The use of small worms as bait will invariably result in Perch being caught if presenting the swim. In order to catch larger specimens, the following methods may well attract their attention.
When fishing with live or dead fish or artificial lures, since most waters contain Pike in varying numbers and sizes, it is essential to use tackle that is stronger than a Perch would naturally be able to break. This should be coupled with the use of a wire trace, without which any Pike that take your baits would be almost certain to bite through your hooklength. The loss of your terminal tackle or lure would be expensive on two counts as it is highly likely to cost the Pike its life as well as being costly in terms of lost lures.
Remember Byelaw 4.s.ii l. – Requiring that when Perch fishing with live or dead baits or lure fishing, a wire trace must be used.
Remember Byelaw 4.b.1 applies – requiring all hooks on lures and spinners to be barbless and a wire trace must be used !
Try using a fairly small blade spinner, 5cm – 10cm, with red attractors on the treble hook as these are known to work well, there are many patterns and makes to choose from, one of the most widely used being Ondex in various casting weights by Mepps. All manner of jigs and jelly lures (shads and worms), some with the anti-snagging systems enabling casting to snags with ease, are now largely available and ones with an attractive tail action often produce takes. Solid or wobbling diving plugs will also take Perch and they will also respond to wet flies.
Spinning can be fun and very productive, especially in clear water on gravel pits, with many swims being able to be covered to locate the Perch.
The use of titanium wire, which is memory free, is a worthwhile investment for those pursuing this method of fishing regularly.
Perch will chase their prey and snap at their tails until they slow down and they are able to make their final attack and grab their victim before swallowing it. The use of materials such as ribbon or feathers, in red or dark orange (to reflect the fins of their prey fish such as Roach and Rudd), that have a similar texture to that of a fishes tail can be used close to the rear hooks. The chase of the lure, where Perch nip the ‘fins’ may produce a strike that will result in a hooked fish, so try and retrieve the lures quite slowly with occasional small jerks of the wrist to produce a ‘dash’ in the lure to replicate a small fish bidding to escape its pursuer.
Using small livebait, such as a 3-inch (7.5cm) Roach or Rudd on stillwaters or Bleak, dace or Gudgeon on rivers, hook them once through the top lip, using a Size 6-8 hook with a wide gape. Allow the fish to swim freely under a small sliding pike float, set so the bait is about 1ft (30cm) above bottom. Feed maggots around the float to attract other small silver fish that should in turn attract the Perch.
Perch find these very difficult to ignore and they account for large numbers of good fish, usually fished on a size 6 – 8 hook, with a BB shot 2-inces (5cm) a couple of inches from the hook, injecting* the worm with a small amount of air will lift the worm off the bottom: providing an enticing meal that cannot dig itself into the weed or debris on the bottom.
If injecting a worm with air, ALWAYS use a clean syringe and ONLY ever do this when the worm is on a solid surface, never when it is in your hand.
Freelined lobworms also proving highly successful when cast around snags and twitched slowly along the bottom.
Using one or two large dendrobaenas or a lobworm on the hook, whether it be fished with a small swimfeeder or under a buoyant float such as a chubber or small pike float, ensure that a constant stream of maggots or pinkies are maintained to attract small fish, leaving the worm for the larger Perch when they investigate the activity of the small fish.
Since Perch use their eyesight when hunting, the poorer sighted prey fish are at their most vulnerable in poorer light conditions, if possible target your fishing time to dawn, dusk and overcast days.
On FAS waters, all waters will hold small fish, but many will also hold much a few larger fish that largely remain uncaught, and so may produce unexpected results. Fisheries that hold no Pike and large stocks of food fish allow Perch to become the main predator, so should be considered if seeking a specimen.
Whilst there are a few venues that have occasionally produced large Perch over 2lb, such as Badshot Lea Big Pond & Carters Hill on the River Loddon, Frensham Great & Little Ponds, Mill Lane, the possibilities of specimens at Stockbridge Pond, Tarn Pond, the section of the River Wey, Stillwater Lakes and even Wyke Pond remain unknown.
|A Stillwater in Crowborough, Sussex