Saturday 20 December 2014

Black clouds and perch

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With so much "homework" involved in getting the latest book finished, it recently dawned on me that I hadn't been perch fishing for ages. Another sustained effort at catching some good ones on the fly had been in the back of my mind for months- and with a rare day off I decided to ignore the horrible weather and make a Wednesday trip.

Actually I would hesitate to call such weather "horrible" when it comes to perch fishing."Ideal" comes closer. The perch definitely hunt more actively on days of low light on these clear waters. It's only the angler that minds the drizzle.

My initial plan was to hit the drains, but with rain hitting the Levels this week my chosen destination looked more like a sewer. So I headed to the more sheltered waters of the canal, where the bridges and snags can usually be relied upon to hold a few greedy perch.
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I used jig flies, the very sort Turrall now make for me. These sink well and are really attractive, tweaked around cover. Expecting jack pike as well as perch, I tried an eight weight outfit with floating line and a tough, 20lb fluorocarbon leader about eight feet in length.
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The initial problem was the sheer greediness of the local jacks. A couple had grabbed the fly before I even saw a perch, also hungry in these dank conditions. I could easily have switched to a much bigger fly and wire trace, with every chance of a better pike showing up. But I was even keener to see a big perch.

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Actually the fluorocarbon stood up well. Not ideal, you might think? But the small, barbless flies are usually only of interest to the little jacks. And I wanted that perch.

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The first couple were not exactly two pounders, but very welcome. I'd spotted several in the near edge, along with the hordes of tiny silver that loiter in the canal. Clouds of "motherless minnows", or sun bleak, are a curious feature of Westcountry waters. You can easily imitate these prey with a small streamer fly- patterns like the Minkie, Appetiser or my own Perch Special are readily snapped up. That said, you can also scale up a bit bigger for perch- even a two ouncer finds a size 4 fly easy to suck up.
The problem was that these mouthy buggers kept charging in:
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For the first few seconds you sometimes kid yourself that it's a big perch or even a chub, before the line tears off. Another jack!
But you do start to suss out where the perch are hiding eventually. It's different to pike fishing too. For one thing, I think you have to search cover and the hot areas more thoroughly. Like zander fishing, you also find that it's worth returning to spots at key times, even if they didn't produce earlier in the day for you.
One such spot earmarked for a return was where I had caught a couple of nice little perch and saw a much better one, which followed twice but stayed deep and just wouldn't take the fly. It's better to be proactive and move if you're not catching though.

This can and often will involve a walk of several miles, so my other essentials like a net and mat must be portable. Like faithful servants these.

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The net is actually a Norwegian made salmon net. I've stood on it innumerable times and it still works fifteen years on. A sling type unhooking mat contains the net and sits on the shoulder easily. A decent mat is also useful for fly fishing because you can use it as a clear space to drop your fly line while casting and retrieving.

Anyway, I digress but I kept fishing hard for those perch. Resisting the temptation to put on a big ugly pike fly and trying to keep things methodical. The stamp of perch seemed to get steadily better in the last hour of fishing too, some nice hand-sized fish going really well on the fly rod. And even as the light was properly starting to go at about half past three, I fancied one last crack where I'd seen the big fish earlier.
Time, and the light, were running out quickly though and it was one of those winter afternoons where it looks like midnight by 5pm. On the third or fourth cast in that spot, I got a good knock on the fly line, struck and was connected to something decent. No jack either, I could feel something less flighty and more solid on the line. It was a perch and a good one too. Really thick around the middle:

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At an ounce over two pounds, it was a great way to end a damp afternoon I'd say. But of course, nothing out of the ordinary in what has been a brilliant year for those fly fishing for perch. The joke is, even if I could enter the competition at the beastie above would not even make the top three perch in 2014. Do take a look at the site for the best of 2014 and if you had a special catch on the fly this year, do let us know! There's still time yet.

Meanwhile, one competition I have been able to enter in 2014 was for the Angling Times "Fishing book of the Year" award. Unsurprisingly, AT's main columnist Martin Bowler got the top spot, but I received the silver for "Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide". A good finish anyway- and my thanks to everyone who voted for me and bought the book.

In the meantime, it's a very Merry Christmas to you. Have a great one, and see if you can sneak some fishing in.

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