Although perch are caught on a variety of baits including maggots and casters, I want to look at tactics specifically aimed at catching big perch. Remember perch are carnivores and great predators which really determines the baits used. Lob worms and small fish tend to be the most popular baits for big perch. The choice of which one of these baits to use depends largely on other fish in the venue. It would be pointless using a small fish or spinner in a water full of hungry little pike as they will get to your bait before the perch have any chance of intercepting it.

On my local sections of the River Thames, we tend to avoid using artificials or small fish baits in many swims as pike tend to be a real problem. Worm fishing tends to be more selective, particularly when large lob worms are used.

Roger Baker and I have tried small fish baits on the river but have found it very difficult to catch our bait. Not only was it difficult to catch the bait but pike were a major problem. One afternoon we had eight pike averaging about 91b whilst perch fishing. We did catch a few perch to 21b but became frustrated with those pike.

A few years ago, I located some perch by accident when trotting for dace on light tackle with maggots. I had had several fish to 2lb 4ozs but felt that there were bigger specimens in the swim. I decided to return to fish specifically for them. Unfortunately, then we had really heavy rain that flooded up the river making it impossible to fish the swim. I had to wait two weeks for the river to return to a fishable condition before returning. This time the tackle was not light dace tackle but a powerful Shakespeare float rod with a centre pin loaded with 41b b.s. line. The terminal tackle consisted of a swan necked balsa wood float holding 6BB shot. The bulk of the shot was placed 18 inches from the hook with a number 4 shot about 9 inches from the hook. The hook was a strong size 6 forged pattern that was baited with a lob worm. The float was set a few inches over depth in the 7ft deep swim.

Before fishing, I fed the swim with mashed bread in an attempt to attract small fish into the swim. These in turn would hopefully bring perch into the swim to feed on them. I then started to trot the swim holding back so that the lob worrn moved very slowly across the bottom. After about 15 minutes, I had my first bite that turned out to be a nicely marked perch of 1lb 4oz. This confirmed that I was using the right method. Additional proof came several minutes later when I had another perch of 2lb 8oz. The next perch of 1lb 8oz came about an hour later but I had to wait another hour before I reached my target with a 31b 3oz perch. Despite fishing on for another two hours I caught no more perch that day.

That swim produced good results for several months. However I was also searching out other swims for perch. The productive swims were few and far between. The good swims really produced the goods with perch to over 31b. There were also many swims that looked productive that could not be reached from the bank. I therefore started to use my inflatable boat to fish for these river perch. This certainly gave me a great advantage and increased results.

The float fished lob worm produced perch to 31b 9oz with little trouble with nuisance fish. These were mainly chub with the odd bream. However in January I was legering worm in a large eddy on the tidal Thames when I caught a sea trout of just over 51b. Certainly a nice bonus fish that I thought little of at the time. Later that season, I had a chance to compare notes with other anglers fishing the river. It appears that there was a sea trout run at the time that I caught mine. This has since been confirmed, as sea trout have turned up in catches at that time ever since. Roger Baker and I once had three of them in a perch fishing session. No doubt this is because the river is getting cleaner. These fish have made a note worthy diversion to our Thames perch fishing.

The major problem we experienced in winter was flooding. When the river was highly coloured with extra water, perch became difficult to locate and catch. They appeared to go completely off the feed. When this happened both Roger and I would change venues to local still waters for our perch fishing.

One of my favourite still waters was Thorpe Park. I was fortunate, as through an old friend, Adrian Ellis, I could fish the venue with him when it was closed to the general public. Adrian worked at Thorpe Park as Leisure Sports assistant angling manager.

Initially Adrian and I fished for its big pike, catching more than our fair share of twenties on half mackeral baits. These large baits were free lined, often at long range. However, one day, I looked down into the clear water under my rod top to see a monster perch that looked like a five pounder swim through. A few days later, Adrian saw a big perch lost at the net on one of the open days. This perch had taken a good sized trout that was intended for pike and was not properly hooked.

Now that we knew the waters potential, we started to fish it for perch. We started off by legering and float-fishing with lob worms but got pestered with small perch, with the odd better fish to 21b. The problem was that there were too many smaller perch attacking the bait, the bigger fish could not get a look in.

A change of tactics was called for and we started to spin. Again, if the artificial lure was too small we had problems with smaller perch with the odd jack pike. We then changed over to using lip hooked livebaits that we caught on the venue either with maggots or by lifting a landing net as a shoal swam past. This took time but as with all waters we had to do it, as it is illegal to transfer fish from another venue without Environmental Agency permission.

When we had caught enough bait we would then start fishing for perch. The tackle was a 12ft 1.75lb test curve rod with a fixed spool reel loaded with 5lb b.s. line. When float fishing the float was normally a Preston Innovations 4 or 5g Mante pole float. I know that some readers will think this an odd choice but once they have seen one will realise the reasons for this choice. They are very robust with good weight holding capability and have good visibility at range. Under-shotted, they can easily support any suitable livebait. I normally use a tungsten olivette placed 2ft from a size 6 or 8 single hook to weight the float. This also stops the bait swimming to the surface. I often fish the hook directly to the nylon but if there are any signs of a pike then I change over to a Kryston quick silver trace. This gives me some safety margin and in my opinion better than wire. It results in far fewer dropped runs as it is much softer than wire but not as pike proof.

When we first started using livebaits for perch at Thorpe Park, I had a run immediately after casting out. I saw the perch shoot out and dive down to take the bait. lt was a lovely marked fish of 21b 10oz - what a start! I then started to catch perch of all sizes ranging from 6oz to nearly 31b in quick succession. Terrific sport that at times appeared to die, then come back to life 30 to 45 minutes later. It certainly appeared that you were waiting for shoals of fish to travel round to where you were fishing.

Adrian and I had some terrific sport with perch that winter but never made contact with one of the monsters we saw earlier. However we were happy with the fish we had caught.

The following year, I started to fish further out using sunk paternostered rigs to catch some nice bags of good perch - but again, no sign of any of the really large fish that we had seen earlier. We also noticed that we were catching more pike the further out we fished, forcing us to use wire traces. This was a wise move as the pike started to get rather large on those smaller live baits intended for perch. Several of these fish were approaching 251b - specimens in their own right.

Conclusions: It is great that perch appear to be on the increase in both numbers and size. They certainly suffered badly from the perch disease and at times looked like becoming extinct on many fisheries.

The prospects on many of my local waters and the Thames look very good for the winter season. Provided that the Thames does not suffer too badly from flooding, I am expecting to see some very big fish caught and hope to beat both my personal best and best brace from this venue. The signs are looking good with some large perch feeding on the shoals of fry down the edge. At present there is plenty of food to feed them on, but in winter when food becomes shorter in supply, I hope to make a real killing.

AS far as baits are concerned, I will keep an open mind. If pike are too active on any venue I fish I will naturally change to large worms for bait. Worm is always worth a try and I will always carry them with me during winter perch sessions. No doubt you will have noticed that I did not mention dead bait in the whole article, there is a simple reason for that, mitten crabs! I live in an area where they are present in large numbers in both the Thames and many still waters. Any freshwater dead bait comes back ripped to pieces by these creatures. Often they are still on your bait when you retrieve it.