I'd had a couple of days after them at the back end of last season, but this year intended to start earlier. Most of the winter will be dedicated to the somewhat haphazard pursuit of big roach (haphazard because the conditions never seem to be right at the times I can go!) but that doesn't get properly underway until after Christmas. I usually look for some other species to fill the time in between.
Prior to concentrating on the perch I'd had a couple of days trotting further up the river, where trotting either maggot, or hemp & caster, I'd caught some nice fish, chub to around 3lbs 8oz, perch to 1lb 4oz, good fish on the float, plus lots of smaller roach and dace. The biggest surprise though was the trout. On the first day I'd caught a 3 pounder, but on the second I had a huge brown trout of 6lbs 2oz. I mention it purely because I was so impressed by a fish of that size living in what is a primarily a coarse fish stretch. I realise that trout are generally quite easy to catch on bait so I don't claim any credit for it - but on to the perch fishing.
The general plan was to spend an afternoon fishing for the perch, then try for barbel after dark. Perch tackle was quite simple - a through action eleven-foot rod with a one-pound test curve, a centrepin reel loaded with 4lb mono and a quill stemmed balsa bodied float carrying around 4BB. The float was chosen for no other reason than it looked nice. It had no other job to do but support the lobworm bait, and indicate bites, which, I suppose, to oversimplify, is what most floats do. But the point I am trying to make is I don't think it matters what float you use in this situation so long as it is weighted correctly. The hook was a medium weight size 10. I would be fishing in either slack, or extremely slow moving water, which is where I've found the perch tend to be. It doesn't have to be particularly deep either.
I'd like to be able to tell you, as proper specimen hunters do, that I'd spent hundreds of hours up trees, observing the perch's behaviour and patrol routes etc. Even if I had the time for that, which I don't, there would not be much point in doing it - the water is very murky on this part of the river and you can hardly see anything at all. Location was mostly down to previous experience, guesswork and gut feelings, made easier with the knowledge that perch do like snags. I did find a few in open water, but mostly they were very close to, or even right in the snags, which they probably use as a point of ambush as well as a resting place.
The banker swims from last season were right at the end of the stretch, so the plan was to fish them first, then work back to the other end, trying various swims along the way. Things had changed here a little since last season, when many fine perch were caught in a swim that had a big tree in the water. Despite the fact that the tree was nowhere near the boat lane, the water authority removed it. With it, it seems, have gone many of the bigger perch. Last season I believe the swim produced several 3-pounders, but this year they seem to be scarce. There is another tree nearby, but it is obviously the wrong type - there don't seem to be any perch under it at all.
My first perch from the area weighed 1lb14oz, like all big perch, a lovely fish. I missed a few more bites, good bites too, the float diving down at least a foot, and the large lobworm being taken off the hook. I blamed small perch, but what I found odd was that when that happened you rarely got another bite. Later on, having landed a perch that was not much longer than the worm I was using and noting that almost all of the worm was inside the perch, I came to the conclusion that if a small perch ate a worm that size, then it wouldn't need to feed again for some time after. Maybe that was why you didn't get another bite! There didn't seem to be many perch around at all, not even small ones. I worked my way along the river trying various swims, but all seemed devoid of life.
I am of course assuming that no fish in its right mind could possibly resist a fresh lobworm. (I might be wrong there. In recent winters the use of lobworm as a roach bait has been rather an anti-climax. I haven't had a bite, the roach much preferring bread.) Eventually I returned to the original swim, and after losing half-a-dozen worms and a few hooks by hooking into the snags I connected with another good perch, just as two canoes went by. The canoeists were obviously anglers because as the fish rolled on the surface, just a few yards from them, they stopped and one said to the other, "it's a perch - a good one too". It was as well, a fraction under 2lbs 2ozs… You do have to count the drams when fishing for the smaller species!
Things were a little more difficult on the next trip. I fished quite hard, missed a few bites, lost a few more hooks and landed just one perch weighing 1lb 14oz. The early evening barbel fishing failed to produce any barbel, but I did get a couple of chub, one of 3lbs 12oz, and the other a very long fish weighing 4lbs 4oz.
An interruption to the perch fishing came about when my day to fish at Chew Valley dawned. For those who don't know, Chew Valley is a trout reservoir that allows limited pike fishing in the early winter. My friend had booked me a boat some months ago, and another friend, Matthew, was to share it with me. The pike fishing was over a 2 week period, and at the start of that there had been some staggering catches. We were on the last day but one, so didn't expect things to be easy. But if the fishing was to be slow, then we did at least hope for decent weather. Fishing from a boat can be a real trial in cold wet and windy conditions, and these had prevailed for most of the week. As it happened, we had a perfect day to be afloat, if not the perfect day for pike fishing. Neither Matthew or I are very experienced at boat fishing, and this showed immediately as we had a bit of trouble starting the outboard, and were the last boat out. We were supposed to be following, or at least fishing near to some friends of mine, but by the time we got out there everyone else was anchored up and fishing, and they all looked very much alike. Eventually we found them, but what with that, and the late start, it wasn't until almost 11 a.m. that we had 2 deadbaits out and were launching the first assault of spinners and plugs at the now presumably wary pike.
The first area produced nothing, so we lifted the anchor and drifted some thirty yards before dropping it again. We were surrounded by boats full of high-tech fish & depth finding equipment. Our method was rather more basic and involved poking my 11 foot spinning rod down to see if I could touch the bottom… Float fished smelts were cast down-wind, and the thrashing of the water with assorted lures resumed.
Matthew was concentrating on plugs, while I mostly used big spinners. We both had the odd pull, either from the bottom, which was surprisingly snag free, or perhaps bumps from trout or optimistic perch. Then around 1 p.m. my large red and silver spoon was taken by a bigger fish. As ever I completely underestimated the size, by both feel and sight, thinking at first it would be around 8 pounds, but on first sight conceding it was probably a double. The closer it got, the bigger it got, until it lay in the net looking to be around 22lbs. It was a very long and lean fish, not at all typical of a trout water pike. Maybe it hadn't eaten much lately. It weighed 20lbs 4oz. A good meal of trout would easily see it in the upper twenties.
We fished the area hard, but had no more takes, so started to move around, fishing here and there. All we caught though were a couple of small perch and a rainbow trout. Mid-afternoon we went over to the pontoons to try for the bigger perch known to live there. Matthew had a 2 pounder almost immediately, a new personal best. I had another trout, which wrapped itself around the wire trace and proved quite difficult to unhook - a bit embarrassing right in front of the fishing lodge! We moved back to our original position for the last hour, but caught only a couple of rainbows.
As dusk fell we up-anchored and made our way back to land. Looking out across the now dark reservoir we saw a couple of big flashes as someone photographed pike caught at the eleventh hour.
I don't do much lure fishing as in my part of the world it seems rather a thankless task, and only seems to produce jacks. This trip had given me the taste for it, certainly on waters of this type. The following week even saw me organising my lure box! If I get the chance I'll definitely be going back next year.
The next trip out was again on the Kennet. I'd taken the afternoon off and arrived on the water at around 1pm, armed with a good supply of lobworms. On both my previous trips I had virtually run out of bait. Not because I'd had so many bites, but because each time I hooked a sunken branch I lost the worm, sometimes the hook too. I seemed to be hooking a lot of sunken branches. I missed a couple of good bites, then in the late afternoon hooked firstly a chub of over 4lbs, which grabbed the worm on the drop, then shortly after, a big perch which put up a tremendous scrap. It was all I could do to keep him out of the snags and my rod was bent into its full hoop. Everything held, and I was able to ease him away from the sunken branches, and get him over the net. It was a cracking perch weighing 3lbs 4oz - my best river perch, beating the fish of 2lbs 14oz I'd taken, also from the Kennet, some years ago. I've had bigger perch from a gravel pit, but it's not quite the same, is it?!
Every now and again we have a day where everything falls into place. So it was on my next Kennet trip. I landed perch of 2lbs 12oz, 2lbs 12oz, 1lb 14oz, 2lbs 2oz and 2lbs 4oz, plus a couple of chub. Four 2-pounders in a day, and again all the fish taken on the float and centrepin. You won't be surprised that I wasn't at all disappointed that the after dark session only produced bream.
I had 3 more afternoon/evening sessions on the Kennet during the month. I landed several perch between 1lbs 10oz and 2lbs, plus a few more chub to over 4lbs.. The bigger perch landed during that time were as follows:
2lbs 13oz 8 drams
2lbs 2oz 8 drams
2lbs 0 oz 8 drams
I've been asked if some of these were repeat captures, to which I can only reply -"Well - they all had stripes…". Some probably were, though they were caught from 6 or 7 different swims, some of these swims quite some distance apart. Where last season's 3 pounders have all gone I'm not sure, though do have my suspicions! Maybe they will show up later - at least I've had one, and I'm certainly not disappointed.
What has been a trifle disappointing is the lack of barbel. I must admit I started off with a very casual attitude towards them, putting in neither much time, nor effort, catching just one fish of 7lbs 9oz before I started fishing for the perch. A friend caught another on one of my baits while sharing a swim with me. This hasn't been an easy stretch for barbel - I don't think it contains the numbers of fish that other areas do. So far as I know only 4 barbel (including the 2 mentioned) have been caught in the past 6 or 7 weeks, though the stretch is not exactly over-fished.
I haven't really had my barbel head on for a few years, not since catching quite a number of fish for two winter's running. This really got them out of my system, and I wasn't bothered whether I caught them or not. Sitting for a few hours in the dark with a barbel rod out was something to do in between catching perch and waiting for the rush hour traffic to die down. However, I thought I would have caught something, other than chub and bream. Now, however, the barbel are beginning to annoy me. I do have to be careful what I say here because I know my friends, who also fish the water, will be reading this, and will be ever keen to rib me mercilessly should this barbel drought continue, especially as my barbel baits have a reputation that precedes them! .
Well - I still don't intend to spend a lot of time after them, but I do have some ideas. So - we’ll see….