Seeing Stars in Stripey Heaven!
By Andrew Kennedy
Spurred on by my recent capture of 3 perch over 2lbs, and confident there were more fish to be caught, I returned to the same area for a few evening sessions lure fishing. Being so late in the year I could only arrive on the bank with about an hour of daylight remaining, so I had to make the most of what little time I had. I armed myself with a selection of my most successful perch lures of the past few years, along with a couple of wildcards, just in case. When lure fishing, you’re bound to have your favourite lures, but there are always going to be days when your favourites don’t work. So it’s always worth carrying a few patterns which have never caught you a fish before. All lures have their day, and you never know for sure when that’s going to be!
One lure I was glad I had taken along was a Storm Naturistic Perch, which is a soft-bodied swim bait. This style of lure has a soft rubber outer body, with a heavy internal weight. They sink quite quickly and all the action comes from the tail, which is shaped to move from side to side when retrieved. As a rule, I prefer a fairly slow retrieve when lure fishing (though there are times when a fast retrieve is more successful). The weight of this lure makes it sink so fast that only a fast retrieve will keep it off the bottom. For this reason, I have rarely given this lure a swim, and hence, never caught a fish on it. There was a fast-water peg I wanted to try this lure out on though. The pace of the water alone kept the lure mid-water, so I found it to be working quite well. The first action I got on this lure came in the form of this chunky 2lb 7oz perch.
The number of large lure-caught perch I have now taken on patterns which imitate small perch, leaves me with no doubt that these fish are heavily cannibalistic. I remember one morning on a fen drain, I watched in amazement as 3 perch of around a pound each, besieged a small perch in the margins, forcing it to leap out of the water to escape! The small fish landed on the bank, and its three pursuers waited near the surface, dorsal fins erect; until the prey flopped itself back into the water, to meet its inevitable end. Remarkable behaviour to witness - so cunning and instinctively predatory - and this behaviour was toward their own species! So never be afraid of fishing for perch, with perch! I find it can prove a hugely productive tactic when selectively targeting the larger specimens in a swim.
A few casts after returning my two-pounder, my lure was once again stopped in its tracks by a stripey dragon. I always fish with the clutch set quite tight whilst lure fishing, so the fish couldn’t run too far, but boy did it try! As I caught a glimpse of the fish when it turned, I realised I was into a real cracker. But alas, I also spotted a sinister, slender profile, stalking my tethered quarry. My heart was in my mouth. A pike sat between my landing net and one of the largest perch I’d ever hooked! I knew I had to act fast, but I also knew that a pike’s reactions are far quicker than my own. If the perch would just give up, I could pull it quickly to the relative safety of the net, but it refused to give up the fight. Finally I turned the perch’s head, and sped it across the surface toward my waiting net. The water erupted in front of me. I knew the pike had made a strike, but by some small miracle, it had completely missed my fish! Am I glad it did, because the perch which came so close to a being bitten in half, turned out to be a new personal best of 3lb 9 1/2oz! After studying photographs of my previous personal best (caught from exactly the same pool), I identified it as the very same specimen!
A new Personal Best! This fish turned out to be the same individual I caught last year at half an ounce lighter!
Before I headed home, I clipped on a small jerkbait and landed the pike which so nearly deprived me of my prize. In the end it was a 6lb fish which was either very desperate or greedy, when it decided to tackle a perch of half its own body weight!
Despite catching the PB, I was still sure there were more large perch in the swim, which I had yet to catch. I managed one last session before my luck finally ran out, as the river’s character changed completely, with the receding water levels. The soonest I could manage was a couple of weeks later. I knew the fish may have moved on, or may not be quite so voracious as I’d previously found them, but my luck was to hold. I managed 3 more fish over 2lb in around ten casts, which is all I got time for before darkness fell! This took my tally to 8 perch over 2lb in three sessions, and after carefully checking each photograph, I found there to be no recaptures! They were all different fish, which I think is quite remarkable. These specimens were obviously exploiting a feeding opportunity, and I’ve no doubt that at certain times of the year the swim will be largely devoid of big perch. So my advice would be, that if you’re lucky enough to find a good perch or two, keep on trying, as there may be more feeding nearby. If you’re fishing a full day session, move to another swim once the bites start to dry up. Leave the swim to rest for a couple of hours and then return. Big perch spook easily, and if you’re lure fishing, they will start to wise up to lures regularly passing in front of their eyes. Giving them a few hours to forget may just result in you catching further specimens from the same peg. After Christmas I tend to find Perch to be more reluctant to chase lures around, so get out there while you still can!
The last 3 big perch I landed from the swim, before my luck finally ran out: