How to Catch Big Perch in the UK: Tackle, Tactics and Tips
Big Perch Time
Come the autumn and the first fall of leaves my thoughts and fishing turn away from the summer species and I go into winter mode. Big perch are one of my targets at this time of year, along with chub and barbel on the rivers.
Perch fishing tends to be an overlooked branch of our sport. I know perch do not grow as big as carp or have the macho status of a big grinning pike with a mouthful of teeth but the truth of the matter is that the perch is probably more important than the pike in keeping small fish populations down. And big perch are now far more common than they used to be.
Predator Perch - Big and Bold!
One advantage of the ever-growing number of commercial carp fisheries is that they usually contain good numbers of small roach, rudd and bream – making them a good environment for perch to grow big and fast. And seeing as the majority of anglers have tunnel-vision and are obsessed with carp, the perch are often totally un-fished for.
Another advantage is that perch are shoal fish. So if you catch a perch there’s a very good chance there will be others about and multiple catches are very possible. On a cold or wet winter's day, a bag of half a dozen big perch can provide a welcome day's sport.
An added bonus at this time of year is that the banks are far less crowded because the carp anglers fishing them are predominantly summertime anglers. It’s often possible to have an entire fishery to yourself – especially if you fish midweek.
Baits for Big Perch
Despite the fact that perch will take most baits, I tend to fish with baits that are more selective, as the last thing I want is to spend the day catching ‘accidental’ carp or being plagued by small roach.
As perch are predatory, and the waters filled with small fish, that means fishing with their natural diet—small fish. That’s not to say that fishing with maggots will not work. I’ve had several 3lbs+ perch just fishing the margins with a short pole and keeping a steady trickle of maggots going in. But after the 150th or so small roach the attraction starts to wear off and it becomes a war of attrition, wading through the small fish until the perch finally moves in and takes the bait. Although, just to add to the fun there’s always the chance of a carp mooching along and taking the bait!
So I tend to fish with either live or dead fish, or alternatively with lobworms, adopting a specimen-fishing approach that allows me the luxury of sitting back, relaxing and watching the water and the wildlife.
I used to think that perch would not look at deadbaits, but recent experiences over the last couple of years have shown that in the waters I fish they are just as likely to pick up a freshly killed deadbait as a live fish and other anglers I have spoken to say the same. But I think this is something that may vary from water to water so it’s worth experimenting.
It’s a relatively minor point, but if the water temperature is very low and the fish reluctant to feed then I personally feel a deadbait offers more chance of a pick up from the perch as there’s less effort involved for the perch in chasing it.
But if the perch are active then I’ve no doubts at all that the actions of a small tethered livebait, swimming erratically in circles around the line, will arouse the attack instinct in any roving or prowling perch and induce a take.
Other baits that are worth trying are luncheon meat, cockles, prawns and shrimps. Perch are willing to try most baits at some time and will often snap at a bait that has been moved.
If the fishery rules allow for it, there is also the option of using spinners, plugs and artificial flies.
Perch Fishing Tackle
Let’s face it; perch are not the largest of fish – a 2lb fish being a good fish and anything 3lbs+ being a very good fish. Fortunately perch of these sizes are now becoming more common and are likely to come from almost any fishery that has perch in. Tackle for perch fishing has to match the quarry to get any sport out of fishing for them.
This is not a case for powerful rods and big pit reels. I use Avon type rods with a test curve of about 1lb, coupled with a pair of medium sized fixed spool reels filled with 6lb line. These are more than adequate for casting out a small roach thirty to forty yards or alternately just dropping it into the margins, alongside reed or lily beds.
Bite detection is via a pair of buzzers coupled up to small drop off indicators I made myself or alternately some bobbins mounted on lead core line. I prefer the drop off indicators as I fish the reels with the bale arm open and the line under light tension in the clip.
I could fish baitrunner type reels but I honestly feel that, even set at minimum tension, there’s too much tension on the line for perch.
Moving onto the end tackle, I use a straight running ledger rig for deadbaits and a sunken float paternoster rig for live baits. The ledger rig uses a large bore run ring and bead to minimise resistance on the take coupled with a backstop about three feet above the ledger stop to provide a bolt rig effect that will stop the perch taking the bait down too deeply.
The sunken float paternoster rig likewise uses a large bore run ring and bead. I find a ledger of about an ounce to one and a half ounces the best size – heavy enough to anchor the bait and sink the float. The sunken float acts as both an aid to keep the bait up off the bottom and active and also as a backstop to give the bolt effect and stop the perch gorging the bait.
The Sunken Float Paternoster Rig
For both float and ledger I use fine wire size 1 crab hooks which are lightweight and wide gape hooks. Using wide-gape hooks makes sure the point is not smothered by the bait and improves the hook up rate. I prefer the lighter gauge hooks as they do not tire the bait fish out so quickly.
Whether I’m using live or dead baits for perch, I hook the bait in the same position—in the back between the dorsal fin and the tail. I find putting the hook in this position reduces the chances of the perch taking the hook down too far. Plus in the case of live baits it means the bait will tend to swim away from the main line rather than tangle with it.
As far as bites go you can expect anything from fast runs to drop back bites. Because the perch tend to swallow the bait quickly it’s necessary to sit fairly tight to the rods and be ready to strike quickly to avoid deep hooking the perch. I’d rather miss the bite than hook the fish too deeply.
The other type of bite you can expect is the sneaky one. The run starts and then apparently stops. Often this is not the case. The perch has picked the bait up and instead of running away from you - or towards you giving a drop back bite – it is running parallel to the bank. The only way you’ll realise this is to watch the line and see if the angle of the line is changing. Hit this type of bite quickly as the perch has been on the bait longer than you think and you don’t want to deep hook the fish.
Hot Perch Tackle Tip
Speaking of sunken floats (or subfloats as they are also known) here’s a hot tip for you if you are having problems finding floats of the right size. Pop round to the pike section of your tackle shop and look for livebait lifters – in particular Greys Prowlas. They’re basically a float with a removable stem. The line goes through the middle of the float and is locked in place by the stem, which has an open eye at the base through which the line can be wound a couple of times, and a rubber sleeve which fits over the stem. What’s really handy is they come in a range of sizes. If you want to convert them to a sliding float then a piece of rigid rig tube can be substituted for the stem.
My first trial with these floats resulted in five perch – one small one of 1lb 8ozs, three 2lb+ fish and a whopping 3lb 15oz perch. For a moment I thought I’d caught my first four-pounder as the scales read 4lb 1oz for a second or two and then settled back onto 3lb 15oz!
Big Perch Location
A lot is written on perch location but I’ll keep it simple – if it’s wet you’re in with a chance. A lot depends on the time of the year as big perch do tend to move to deeper water during the colder part of the year. But even during this part of the year I’ve had them from as close as right under my feet in eighteen inches of water using the top three of my pole to right out in the middle -40 plus yards away in twelve feet of water. Even on the same day!
Obviously there are going to be hotspot areas to try. Anywhere there is bank-side cover, whether it is an overhanging tree or bush, reeds or lily beds. But don’t be afraid to try open water as perch can cover a lot of water on the prowl for food.
Big Perch Fishing Video
So when that cold weather comes around and the carp go off the feed why not get some lighter gear out and fish for ‘old stripey’ - the sergeant major - perch. It’s a nice light-hearted type of specimen fishing with no ‘arms race’ to see who can cast the furthest or afford the best bait boat or latest flavour boilie.
Who knows you might even get to like it!