It may seem strange to choose perch as a species for targeting in December, but there is a very good reason for this. Perch continue to feed through the winter and they have a habit that helps us to locate the bigger fish much more easily than we can during the warmer months Ė they gather in deep water, where the water exceeds about 18ft that is. Which means that many reservoirs will be eminently suitable.
In summer they are much more wide-spread through a stillwater, chasing the prey fish wherever they may be, and it can be quite a job tracking them down from one day to the next. In winter they usually find the deepest hole and shoal up there for the duration. Once found they stay found until the water temperature in the shallows rises sufficiently to persuade them it is time to move out.
What happens is that the temperature of water in winter, in a depth exceeding about 18ft, stabilises at about 39 degrees Fahrenheit. No matter what happens at the surface that deep hole will always be a steady temperature, and that is what attracts the perch to such spots.
Legering techniques are the only way to fish these deep holes, for they are too deep even for sliding float methods, specially when that deep hole may lie 40yds or more from the margins. A conventional link-leger is fine, but my favourite rig for these deep holes is the running paternoster (see figure 1). It is easy to cast, doesnít tangle, and is suitable for presenting both worm and small deadbaits. An Avon type rod, or light carp rod, a 6lb main line to a 5lb hooklength is ideal. A hook size of about number 6 is good for large lobworms and small deadbaits, such as gudgeon, minnow and small roach, which should be lip-hooked.
The rod, or rods, should be set on a rod-pod or rod rests with the line pointing as much as possible at the bait. A swinger or hanger type indicator is preferable, and this should be as light as possible. Perch are sensitive to resistance so it is not advisable to use the free-spool (Baitrunner) option on the reel. Fish with an open bale-arm and allow the perch to run two or three yards before setting the hook. That applies to both worm and deadbait.
Most of the takes youíll get will come at mid-day on some waters, while on others the usual dawn and dusk periods will score best. And donít forget, once you start catching big perch you can return to that swim all through winter and catch them from that same spot. It doesnít matter how cold the conditions become the perch will stay there until the onset of the following spring.
Dace These little fish are amongst my favourite species and Iíve been lucky enough to catch two over the magic 1lb mark, both from my local river Dane where it runs through Cheshire. I love fishing for them on cold, crisp December days when the air is clear and your breath billows out like a London smog! Theyíre beautiful fish, and if youíre not stuck on the big-fish-or-bust bandwagon theyíre a sheer joy to catch.
Look for them at the tail-end of smooth glides where, at the end of the glide the water breaks up as the river bed rises. That is the ideal swim, but any smooth glide with 3ft or more of depth could be good.
Match tackle is best, and also gives me the most pleasure. I use a 14ft Drennan IM9 rod, a centre-pin or closed-face reel, 2lb main line to a 1.5lb hooklength to an 18 hook. The method is stickfloat, unless I have to cast over to the far bank, but even then, on the narrowest stretches, Iíll use the stick. When using the stickfloat I prefer a strung-out shotting pattern, sometimes known as shirt-button style, where the shot is spread evenly down the line.
Obviously it depends on the swim, but more often than not Iíll use an 8 No. 4 wire-stemmed stick and begin the shotting about 9ins from the hook, and then at regular intervals right up to the float. The float is fixed to the line with three silicon rubbers to ensure it doesnít slip when I strike. I run the float through the swim several times without a bait to get the depth exactly right. I aim to set the float about a foot overdepth, which will allow me to hold back and control the progress of the tackle down the run.
I wonít bore you with details of a list of baits that will catch dace. Maggot and/or caster is all you need and I donít know anything that is better. Where there are bigger dace present caster will tend to sort them out better than maggot. Use two of either on an 18 hook, or one on a 20 if theyíre playing hard to get.
I will have been feeding the swim all time Iíve been tackling up and setting the depth, trickling in about 10 maggot or caster every two or three minutes. Sometimes I will continue to do this after tackling up and before I put a bait through the swim, depending on how patient I am on the day! If I can bear to wait Iíll feed the swim for up to 10 minutes before actually fishing. This gives the dace plenty of chance to find the loose feed and get busy feeding on it before I begin to reduce their numbers!
The most important thing you can do is keep feeding the swim. Donít stop trickling that bait in, even when you stop fishing for a cup of tea. Feed a few maggot or caster every trot through the swim, throwing in a few just before each cast. If you really get them crawling up the rod then feed twice each cast. Donít increase the amount you throw in each time, increase the frequency at which you throw in.
Be prepared for those odd bigger chub that will muscle in on the action too. An important reason for using balanced tackle to give you the best chance of landing them.
Next month: January Ė Chub and Grayling