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River expert Pete Reading is after river perch on big worms. However, locating them is not as simple as on stillwaters.

With the recent revival in perch numbers, both on stillwaters and rivers, I have been investigating river perch with more and more enthusiasm every year. Like grayling, they are avid feeders at times, and less affected by colder temperatures than barbel. There is a great deal of satisfaction in searching out and finding those tight little shoals of perch that are becoming increasingly common on all our rivers, and they often represent an untapped bit of fishing.

THE BEST LOCATIONS In the clear waters of the southern rivers, it is possible to locate the perch by spotting, and this year in particular I have noted congregations of perch in what are fairly predictable areas. They are very fond of cover and structure of any sort, especially the deep water close to some sort of vertical, steep-sided bank feature. Steep clay banks and rush and reed beds are favourites, as are the man- made structures associated with weir pools and bank revetments.

Mr Crabtree always advised finding pilings and wooden sheathing used to reinforce steep banks on the outsides of bends, and the perch are still following his advice today! I remember stalking perch as a youngster on the Grand Union Canal, and would always get good sport by dangling lobworms along the vertical brick walls that were to be found under the road bridges. It was often easy to spot the perch lying close to the brickwork, and a float-fished worm within an inch of the wall brought many more bites than those in the open water.

THE SALMON POOL My first port of call on this occasion was a nice steady slack under the bank on the Hampshire Avon, lined with some well established reed beds, and although noted in the past as a good salmon pool, the low water levels meant that it wasn’t pushing through with anything like the normal flow. The shady pool was perhaps four feet deep, and represented a drop-off after some heavy weed beds. Perfect cover for a shoal of perch, with a nice clean gravel bottom and scope to gently trot a worm through, as well as the chance of laying-on a bit overdepth.

Worms were to be the main bait today, and several lobs were chopped up and loose fed, along with a steady sprinkle of red maggots. The red maggot/worm combination is something I always employ when lobbing for perch, and I’m sure it not only excites the perch, it attracts small fish – the activity of which can get their attention too.

BIG MINNOWS Often the perch that takes a worm will be found to be crammed with red maggots as well, so it doesn’t put them off taking the bigger bait. Despite an hour of careful exploration of the swim with the worm, no bites were forthcoming other than the odd attack on the lob by the vast shoals of big minnows that are swarming on the Avon this year. Perhaps the perch were stuffed with minnows, but after a good deal of gently trundling the bait through the swim alternated with periods of laying on, there was no response.

River perching is really a roving game, and unless you are certain that fish are present and you want to stick it out with solid confidence, it pays to move regularly and try as many spots as you can. The response is fairly rapid if fish are in the swim and on the feed, and in this case an hour was enough time to establish that they were probably not.

CLASSIC WEIR-POOL SWIM Amove upstream to a classic weir- pool swim, with deep steady water close to plenty of vertical concrete and brickwork, was in order. Perch do love weirs, and whether it is the cover or the swirling water that attracts them, they are invariably good holding spots. Again, a lightly hooked lobworm was sent exploring the pool, drifting just off bottom along the brickwork, as well as out into the pool. The simplest and most effective way to hook a lob is in the middle and nicked about one third through, which I have found prevents the really wriggly ones from double- hooking themselves and masking the hook. It still gives a strong enough hook-hold to retain the worm on the hook.

Barbed hooks are really a necessity, and a single red maggot nicked on to the point will also give added security to the hook bait. Any strong round bend hook will do for worming, but the Kamasan Animal and Drennan Specimen are particular favourites. A size 8 is just right, but a bigger hook should be used if a double lob is to be employed.

Again, the choice of swim seemed ideal, but the perch weren’t playing. The river was coloured and rising after recent rains, and this could have put the perch off, I guessed. After another hour, again with a mix of trundling the worm through along the bottom and laying-on with the static bait, it was time for another move.

THE DEEP SLACK This time, to a rather more open swim, which comprised a deep slack behind some thick weed, where I had spotted a shoal of stripeys earlier in the year.

The current was a little more pacey than I expected, but it was still possible to fish a bit overdepth and allow the worm to bump along the bottom throughout the slack. No response again, so it was time to deepen the float, and lay-on as far out in the current as possible. A buoyant float, such as a Drennan Loafer is ideal for this sort of fishing, and a line of four AAA bulk shotted about a foot from the hook is as complicated as it gets. The bulk shotting allows you to lay-on firmly in a slight current; not all your river perch will come from dead slacks by any means. The float settled nicely on the crease, and lay slightly half- cocked as I held the rod and tried to keep it in place, despite the vagaries of the current of a rising river. Perhaps the water was becoming too coloured, perhaps the perch were stuffed with minnows. Then it gave a definite sharp bob, lifted and drifted downstream, then sailed away across the river and under.

TERRIFIC FIGHTERS The strike met with a solid resistance and a strong run under the weed that made me think that this was a chub, and not a perch. A perch it was, however, and after a fantastically dogged fight, a brightly coloured fish of a bit under 2lb was in the net. Perch are terrific fighters, and some of the fish I have thought were chub, or tench or small carp on stillwaters, have surprised me when they finally gave up and turned out to be a perch!

A good-sized, thick disgorger, or fine artery forceps are vital for unhooking perch, as they can take the bait well back on occasion. This fish was nicely hooked in the scissors of the jaw, however, and displayed the brilliant colours of a clear-water perch, with greeny-gold flanks and lovely blood-red fins. The swim was worth another hour, but no more bites were forthcoming. It was time to try another swim, in fact another river. The Avon was still rising and getting even more coloured, and a quick phone call confirmed that the nearby Stour was still reasonably clear.

VENUE SWITCH I blamed the slow Avon sport on the rising river, and headed for the Stour with at least one nice perch already in the bag. A two-pounder is a big fish for the river, and the occasional three- pounder is now showing up, so I was quite pleased with bagging at least one half decent fish in tricky conditions. The Stour was indeed in better condition, although there were signs that it was thinking about rising and colouring up some more, so a quick dash to a favoured weir-pool spot was called for. Again, the structure of the brickwork was chosen as a likely spot, and the float was teased along the retaining walls of the weir, within inches of the concrete and again just on the bottom. I find that a worm bait is not often taken by fish at half depth, and it’s strange that a worm on the bottom is favoured rather than one fished in mid-water or on the retrieve.

Maybe the perch like to inspect it a bit before they take it, but again on this occasion a worm on the bottom outfished a moving bait.

FLYING FISH There was no real response from along the brickwork, and so a bait was cast out to the middle of the pool, where perch were to be seen striking at the shoals of minnows. A fish of well above 2lb flew out of the water in its enthusiasm to attack the minnows, and I couldn’t help but recast and drop a big fat lobworm into the swirl. The bait settled on the bottom, and it was a couple of minutes before the float gave that characteristic sharp jab, then slid away confidently.

Another seriously determined fight, that again had me thinking of a bonus chub, and another chunky perch of just under 2lb was eventually landed. He was full of the red maggots that I had been spraying out regularly into the swim, and was obviously a hungry customer. He was probably not the perch that I had seen attacking the minnow shoal, but it showed that the fish were not totally preoccupied with fry feeding.

FRENZIED FEEDING It was clear that I had arrived at the witching hour, just as the weak winter light started to fade, as the number of striking fish increased, scattering small fish all over the pool. If was difficult to know where to cast at times. The water was rising here too and right under my feet I noticed the water from a storm drain. This seemed to be attracting the small fish, and in turn the perch, so I concentrated my casts where the slight flow mixed with the main. The result was another dozen or so perch between 8oz and 11/2lb before the light failed. All came to a lobworm laid on hard on the bottom.

Location is very important when fishing for perch. Just by moving to a different swim after each hour I managed a great day’s sport using very simple tackle and methods. I’d like to have caught a bigger fish, but I suspect they were the ones doing the striking. Maybe next time I’ll try a different bait for them!