Perch fishing – the madness of King Prawns

Finally, a clear day with a bit of sunshine and mild temperatures made an appearance in south Wales at the tail-end of the Christmas break. Of course the Wye had burst its banks by this point and I doubt even the sacred Garlic Spam would have produced a bite for anyone mad enough to even go near the river.

Chepstow Bridge at high tide during the flood
The Wye at Chepstow Bridge during the flood

So it was off to the same commercial pool I’d fished a few weeks previously for an afternoon session in search of perch.

With it being a better day than anything we’d had over Christmas, there were inevitably quite a few other people on the lake when I arrived just after lunch. I decided to set up on one of the quieter pools and try a little maggot feeder in an attempt to work the silver fish up before swapping to a prawn to try and tempt a stripy. If it was quiet I planned to move to the busier pool and find a spot to sit it out with the bigger baits into dusk.

The wind was quite lively as I set up, which I why I’d decided to start with the feeder. Soon enough little roach and rudd were falling to the maggots and each cast would result in sharp plucks and pulls from the little fish.

I tied on a larger hook and impaled a king prawn – and then sat watching a motionless tip for an hour and a half.

It was during this quiet period that I began to reflect on the slightly bonkers scenario playing out before me. Here I was, chucking king prawns into a muddy pond nearly 6,000 miles from where they’d been produced – an equally muddy pond in Thailand – in order to feed a few picky perch. It’s certainly a very different state of affairs compared to even ten years ago, when the staple approach to perch fishing would revolve around using maggots bred locally or worms collected from the garden.

A Thai commercial (prawn) fishery
A Thai commercial (prawn) fishery
A Welsh commercial fishery
A Welsh commercial fishery

Okay, so intensive farming is hardly anything new. But some of the practices and the environmental impact involved in the mass production of prawns, and indeed the fishmeal used to feed the prawns and boost our pellets and boilies, are alarming. Food for thought at very least.

At around 2pm I decided to move to the bigger lake which holds a good head of nice perch. I moved to a quieter bay area just as the wind dropped and the sun came out. As I set up my float rod and settled into the swim, it actually felt quite pleasant in the warm late afternoon sun. The bay is an interesting area in that it doesn’t have any of the more obvious features found on other parts of the pool, but with a good depth close in and, perhaps most importantly, a distinct shelf in one area, it’s always looked like a good spot to ambush the perch.

I decided to scale down the hook from my usual size 8 to a size 12 and use smaller sections of king prawn float fished at the bottom of the shelf, feeding a small amount of red maggots every couple of minutes.

After maybe an hour, I knew the perch had moved in. When using prawn baits, I’ve found the perch tend to almost ‘play’ with them, before one of the fish eventually takes the bait. The float bobs, twitches and trembles as the fish play with the bait below. I’ve found it can often be a few minutes before the float eventually goes under properly and a fish is hooked.

On this occasion it was a good minute or so before the float dragged under and a fish was hooked. I knew immediately it was my target – heavy head shakes and firm resistance but without the explosive run of a carp.

It felt a decent fish and I played it carefully. But it all went to plan and I was soon looking at a short, solid fish that looked like it was over two pounds.

2lbs 3oz perch
2lbs 3oz perch

And indeed it was – 2lbs 3ozs of perch perfection. I took a few snaps and released him back into the cold water. Around 20 minutes later the same thing happened. The float started dithering impatiently and after a minute or so, finally disappeared.

Again, the culprit was clear – another good perch.  I soon had the fish in the net, weighing in at two pounds exactly this time. A brace of two pound perch is a very good day in my book.

And that, inevitably, was that.

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Good luck George

I thought I’d open with a few words on the closure of the one fishing shop I’ve visited more than any other in my life – Sudbury Angling Centre – or George’s as it’s become more commonly known.

Sudbury Angling Centre
Sudbury Angling Centre

George has run a fishing shop in the centre of Sudbury for well over 20 years. It was originally based just a couple of doors down from its current location on North Street. It then moved to Acton Square for many years, before moving to its current location back on North Street a few years ago.

Like so many of the old high street fishing shops, increased rates, fierce competition from online sales and a lack of anglers simply dropping in to buy bait has led to George deciding it was time to shut up shop.

George always was a top guy; kind, informative and mild mannered.  He always raised a smile when, as a lads, we used to pile into the shop only to buy a quarter of a pint of maggot between us.

In the early days of my fishing life there were actually three fishing shops in the centre of Sudbury – George’s, Robert Nunn’s and Stour Valley trophies/tackle – halcyon years indeed.

Good luck George. EADT piece

*****

I’ve got a bit of a bee in my bonnet fishing wise at the moment – a three pound perch. I rarely obsess over specific fish at specific weights, but at the moment all I can think about is where, when and how I’m going to catch a three pound stripy.

Perch have always been one of my favourite species. But until recently they were a bit of a bogey fish for me, certainly the bigger ones anyway.

However, since a spell spent fishing for them at the excellent Lake John in Essex which culminated in a fish of 2lbs 3ozs one cold March afternoon, I’ve notched up a handful over the 2lbs mark, up to a personal best of 2lbs 7ozs caught on a memorable first visit to the Great Ouse.

I’ve had some good fish from a local commercial fishery over the last year and with a few hours spare last week I made my first official ‘mission three’ trip.

I was confident – the pool had been fishing well in the milder, overcast weather and with a bag of Tesco’s finest king prawns in the bag and a bit of firsthand knowledge regarding the resident perch and their general behaviour – a three was surely in the bag!

Needless to say, as dusk began to descend and with only a couple of bream to show, my confidence was clearly misplaced. Upon talking to the bailiff he suggested worms had been tempting the perch recently and that the now ubiquitous use of king prawns on the pool had seen the perch wise up to them to an extent.

I impaled a wriggler and after another couple of bream, finally a perch arrived, but only a smaller fish of around 14ozs or so.

Camera phone snap of my sole perch
Camera phone snap of my sole perch

The final fish I hooked gave a couple of heavy head shakes, leaving me wondering if I’d finally tempted my target. But then it zoomed off and after a right old tussle I landed a nice mirror carp.

A nice mirror carp
A nice mirror carp

So perhaps it isn’t going to be as easy as I thought. It never is. I have a few ideas up my sleeve in terms of venues and I’m determined to try a light lure/drop-shotting approach as well as more traditional bait fishing tactics. I think it may be a slightly longer term plan, especially as we enter the long, cold winter.

Anyway, tight lines to all the good people who I’ve conversed with on and offline this year. I might even get a few hours fishing in over the holiday period. Merry Christmas.

Commercial perch – nomads

I went fishing at the beginning of the week with the hope of making contact with a big commercial fishery perch.

I find these ‘commercial’ perch a really interesting challenge. In many ways they almost seem like a separate species to their clear water cousins. And while locating them in their murky home is key, I’ve found they’re nomadic creatures that often appear in numbers quite suddenly, only to frustratingly disappear almost as quickly as you find them.

The excellent Lake John fishery near Waltham Abbey has some nice perch in the top pool and one cold March afternoon a few years back I fished hard for a few hours, with only a few skimmers and roach to show before, suddenly, I took four perch over a pound-and-a-half in super-quick succession before they vanished.

****

A local pool that I’ve been targeting over the last year or so has a few resident shoals of perch that, again, seemingly appear from nowhere before disappearing equally as quickly during the course of a session.

After a decent three hour trip, right at the end of 2012 when I tempted two good perch and lost another, I returned for a short session at the beginning of March in conditions I was convinced would see a few fish turn up. Four hours later I returned home with an embarrassing blank to my name.

Commercial perch lake

The perch on this lake have a distinct preference for the current commercial perch bait of choice, the king prawn. While I’ve taken the odd fish on maggot, I’ve only tempted roach on lobworms and the perch definitely favour a juicy, cooked crustacean.

After arriving at 3pm, I started on the wag and mag to see what was around. It was really tough and the wind was still bitter. Chatting to another chap who’d elected to fish the same pool, he revealed that he’d been on the lake all day with just one skimmer to show for his efforts. It wasn’t looking promising.

It took over an hour before a tiny roach made an appearance and by six o’clock I’d managed just a couple more little roach and a pair of skimmers.

I decided to go for broke and began feeding bits of broken prawn, keeping the maggot going in and resting the swim for 15 minutes or so.

By now the wind had at least dropped and most of the other anglers had gone home. I set up my float rig with a size 8 Drennan barbless specimen hook tied direct to the 3.2lbs line and impaled a prawn. It took me completely by surprise when almost immediately the float started rising dramatically before bobbing around restlessly. I resisted striking and soon the yellow tip vanished beneath the water.

I struck into the fish and the rod hooped round. The fight from the fish was strong and bold and it was a nerve-racking affair once that spiky dorsal appeared.

Luckily, it all went according to plan and I was soon staring at a two pound plus perch. I really thought this fish would trouble my personal best, but it came in an ounce short at 2lbs 6ozs – my second perch at this weight from the lake. It was a lovely big fish and I was delighted.

A cracking perch of 2lbs 6ozs
A cracking perch of 2lbs 6ozs

I soon had a bait back in the water and before long the float shot under and I hooked into a second, big perch.

This time the perch made a lunge for some near bank snags, I managed to steer it away and back into the open water when the hook pulled – damn!

And that was almost it. The perch had arrived abruptly and within 15 minutes disappeared again for the rest of the session.

But I fished on optimistically and when the float shot under again an hour later I thought the perch had reappeared. But this time it was obviously a carp that had found the prawn and two minutes into the tussle the hook pulled inexplicably, again.

At that point frustration was beginning to take over. I took a minute, checked the rig and cast out another prawn. Soon after, another sail away bite resulted in the rod taking on an alarming curve and the clutch on my little Drennan float reel being worked overtime as a good carp tore off. A lot of commercial perch anglers bemoan the carp that inevitably find their baits from time to time, but after a long cold winter in which any fish has been hard to come by, I was really enjoying the brutal tussle that ensued.

After well over five and probably nearer ten minutes I netted one of the most striking carp I’ve had in a while. It was an absolutely fin-perfect, golden common that weighed nine and a half pounds and  literally lit up the drab evening.

A perfect golden common carp that took a king prawn at dusk
A perfect golden common carp that took a king prawn at dusk

2012 reflections and perching in the rain

Blimey, it’s New Years Eve already and time to reflect on 2012. It’s been a good year. We relocated to Chepstow from London at the end of 2011 and our second son arrived at the beginning of 2012 – it’s certainly been a busy, exciting and rewarding 12 months.

Fishing-wise, it’s been great fun getting to know the river Wye. It’s a special place; powerful, wild and at times moody – far removed from the venue I grew up fishing, the sedate Suffolk Stour.

After a great couple of days fishing with my mate Rob at the end of July, when we managed over 20 barbel and a similar number of chub between us over the two days, results on the same stretch later in the summer and into autumn were far less spectacular. But I’ve enjoyed some great pike fishing and the Wye is a venue where I can realistically expect to beat my near decade-old personal best pike of 22lbs 14ozs.

A lovely Wye barbel from the summer
A lovely summer Wye barbel

I usually aim to break at least one personal best each season and on my first visit to a local club water I managed a new, best crucian of 2lbs 6ozs, a lovely fish. I also had my first conger eel of 7lbs from the Bristol Channel in the summer.

My first conger eel from the Bristol Channel. It wasn't easy trying to hold the eel on what was quite a 'lumpy' sea!
My first conger eel from the Bristol Channel. It wasn’t easy trying to hold the eel on what was quite a ‘lumpy’ sea!

This year I’d love to get a three pound perch, ideally from a river and perhaps a sustained pike campaign could yield a new best. I’d also like to finally tempt a 20 pound carp, but such fish usually take quite a bit of work in locating and catching and I’m not sure I can justify a sustained campaign, but you never know…

I do miss having a small river close to home and the opportunity to simply spend a summer evening stalking chub at close quarters. Next year I plan to explore some of the less celebrated venues in my local area. I’ve walked by an overgrown canal that is only 15 or so minutes from my home and heard tales of big bream, feral carp and some serious chub. I’ve also come across a secluded and forgotten lake which holds nothing but stunted roach and rudd – at least that’s what I’d heard until I saw a blurry camera phone picture of a very nice perch from the lake that had obviously been feeding on those little silver fish.

I’d also like to have a proper go on the river Taff and the docks around Cardiff. It was on a sea fishing trip with Rob when the skipper of our little charter mentioned he’d been catching some perch from the system and not just little ones…

*****

I actually managed a few hours’ perch fishing yesterday on a local commercial fishery. I’d planned to be on the water at dawn and to pick up some maggots and worms the day before and generally be super organised. Of course, I wasn’t. I didn’t start fishing until well after 11 and had to make do with a few king prawns that I’d dug out from the freezer as bait.

Perch and prawns. Until the mini-boom in commercial perch fishing, worms, maggots, lures or small fish were the baits for targeting Perca fluviatilis. Using what is essentially a sea deadbait would have been unthinkable, but on some waters the perch have really taken to eating these little crustaceans.

I’d only dabbled with using them once before on this water and on a warm and clear May morning I succeeded only in tempting a large eel before the inevitable carp moved in.

But today, with no alternative, I stuck it out with sections of king prawn fished on light running ledger rig finished with a size 8 Drennan specimen hook. It was too windy to float fish effectively and combined with the regular downpours, sitting under the brolly watching a ‘tip seemed the only sensible choice.

It took a while for the first bite to arrive but by steadily feeding tiny, walnut sized balls of sloppy groundbait into the swim the desired small, silver fish eventually arrived and just as I was tying a spare hooklength, the tip went round firmly. I struck late, but still found myself attached to what was obviously a nice perch. I didn’t get to see how nice though as I paid the price for the late strike and the barbless hook pulled.

Perch lair
Perch lair

Luckily it wasn’t too long until a second chance presented itself and this time, despite some nervous moments as the fish splashed about on the surface, after a short scrap I netted what was obviously a good perch.

As I lifted it from the water, I knew it was my target ‘two’. At 2lbs and 6ozs it was my second best ever perch and I was delighted. Commercial water perch aren’t nearly as attractive as their river cousins, but I still find them a fascinating, challenging and worthwhile target when the rivers are out of sorts.

2lbs 6ozs perch that took a liking to a king prawn
2lbs 6ozs perch that took a liking to a king prawn

I added a second good fish of 1.14 before a heavy and prolonged spell of rain killed things dead and I headed home well before darkness began to envelop the valley.

I’d only spent around three and a half hours fishing, but it had been an enjoyable end to my 2012 fishing year.

Tight lines in 2013 to all the great people I’ve conversed with both on and offline as a result of writing this blog!

Commercial fishery fun

Commercial fisheries aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. Featureless, joyless ponds overstocked with hungry, deformed carp. Or even worse, F1s. Has there ever been a more depressing way of describing a fish? I know it’s a scientific term from the genetics world – but couldn’t we at least call them something, anything more interesting than F1s. Crarp? Crommons?

A muddy puddle
A commercial fishery, yesterday

I’ve fished a few places not too far from this particular version of piscatorial hell. I remember one such place that the husband of a friend of my partners sister (!) recommended. Third-hand details were relayed of big fish in wild surroundings and that I should definitely get down there next time we visit.

Wild it was. In amongst the crowds were a group of burly blokes drinking lots of lager – their casting getting more and more ‘adventurous’ as the day wore on; a large group of yoooves who spent the day alternating between shouting into their mobile phones and taking it in turns to spod seemingly endless piles of pellets into their swim; and even an over-amorous couple in a budget bivvy – all this on a lake not much bigger than half an acre.

The most amazing part of the day was when the Environment Agency turned up to check rod licences. One of the lager swiggers, upon realising who the new visitors were, grabbed his rod and seatbox (still half full with Stella cans) and disappeared over the verge at the back of the pond.
His mates soon cottoned on and made an equally hurried dash for freedom.

Of course not all commercial fisheries are like this. After the close season was abolished (I can’t remember the year it was scrapped – anyone?) I started fishing a new day ticket lake at Foxearth in Suffolk during the spring.

Although the place was relatively new, it was surrounded by woods and the lake had a central island, established lily pads and rushes,
gravel bars and a healthy, mixed stock of fish. It was usually pretty quiet on weekdays and worms fished down the edge could normally be relied upon  to tempt the resident tench, bream and odd carp.

The place was sold on a few years ago and has since developed into a proper commercial ‘complex’ with all the trimmings. The lake I fished became a picturesque carp syndicate and I often wonder if the carp I had from there went on to become the 30 pound-plus monsters that inhabit the venue now.

My favourite commercial fishery at the moment is the wonderful Lake John in Essex. It’s a very well-run day ticket pool, set in the picturesque surroundings of the Epping Forest. Despite the fact it’s only minutes from the M25, it’s a peaceful and attractive place to fish. It does get quite busy at peak times and understandably so – but the pegs are nicely spread out and with bushes and trees running along the banks and rushes by the water,it’s certainly far from a claustrophobic experience.

Dawn on Lake John
Summer fishing encapsulated - dawn on Lake John

Perhaps the best thing about the pool is the great variety of fish that reside there. I visited Lake John again with an old mate, Meechy, last week. We always plan to meet up and go fishing more regularly than we ever actually do, but by the time we actually do arrange a time and date we’re raring to go.

We both float fished in the margins, using little waggler floats dotted right down. Baits included corn, maggots, little hookable expander pellets and some larger halibut pellets. We had plenty of super-strength tench – rewarding us with some epic tussles close in, countless skimmers and bream, some clonking roach, perch and rudd and a tubby crucian carp each. I managed to find a pair of carp later in the evening and tempted a long, lean common off the surface using floating crust. Great fun. Long live commercial fisheries.

Big lake John roach
A superb roach of 1lbs 8ozs from Lake John

A winter tinca

The venue has a habit of producing some very nice perch that have grown big on a plentiful diet of little roach and rudd, and with no pike in the water, the perch have thrived.

I had an enjoyable session recently on a local day ticket stillwater that falls under the ‘commercial fishery’ category. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but I must admit I do enjoy the odd session on such venues, particularly if there is a healthy, mixed stock of fish (not just starving carp) and they aren’t too busy.

The venue has a habit of producing some very nice perch that have grown big on a plentiful diet of little roach and rudd, and with no pike in the water, the perch have thrived. My first visit in January produced three good perch up to a pound and five ounces , while another angler next to me winkled out a beauty of two pounds and six ounces.

I returned just after the latest bout of snowy conditions to hit the UK had abated. The weather had improved steadily over the previous few days and I felt a few fish would be a real possibility.

Arriving to find a rather blustery wind blowing into the area I wanted to fish meant float fishing would prove tricky. I set up a small maggot feeder and started the process of flicking it out regularly to a deeper area 30 yards out, building up a bed of bait. Bites didn’t take long to arrive and before lunch I’d landed a succession of roach, skimmers, bream and a lovely three pound tench.

Setting up a straight lead rod on a bite alarm with a lob as bait meant I could concentrate on the quiver with the second rod on the alarm ‘fishing itself’. By mid afternoon I still hadn’t had any perch on my margin rod, and the bites were becoming less frequent on the maggot feeder. Then, a classic slow, steady pull on the bobbin accompanied by a series of bleeps on the bite alarm alerted me to the fact a fish had picked up my lobworm bait. The solid resistance, coupled with some heavy head shaking told me my target species had picked up the bait. Could it finally be an elusive two pound perch? I wasn’t to find out. Despite playing the fish cautiously for a good minute, the dreaded hook pull happened just as I was making some headway. I lost another fish on the feeder rod that didn’t feel quite so ‘perchy’ but did feel very heavy. Another chunky tench, then a bizarre brown goldfish fantail of over two pounds put in an appearance before I called it a day.

To quote Arnie, I’ll be back!

Slim tench
Lake perch
A chunky perch.