It’s safe to say that over the last few years, perch are definitely a species that are now on many anglers most wanted list.
This humble little stripy predator inhabits virtually every venue and has more often than not provided many anglers with their first ever fish caught on either bait or lure, helping to get the majority totally hooked on the lure fishing side of the sport.
Perch are an aggressive species and will hang out in the shadows, just biding their time waiting to make their move on any unsuspecting prey fish. As juveniles they spend lots of their time in large shoals, but as they grow larger however, they tend to hang around in smaller gangs or totally solitary where the truly huge specimens are concerned.
What they lack in overall size, they certainly do not lack in hunting abilities and this is one species that is more than capable of making a meal out of small roach, crayfish, frogs, or anything else they can fit down their oversized cavernous mouth.
Above: A big perch that couldn't resit a big lure
Watching a perch hunt is a truly awe inspiring spectacle to behold and is something I have been lucky to witness on a number of occasions. Whether it is a large solitary fish smashing into shoal fish like a pike or a gang of fish herding and hitting into their prey, it is hard not to watch on with the utmost respect for the species. Perch have exceptional eyesight and it is this that makes them an extremely efficient predator. This is the main reason they become so active in low light conditions, as they can take advantage of their prey, which do not see them until it’s too late.
Above: The best time of the day for a big perch
I have witnessed many times big perch of over 3lb working together on dusk, circling the bait fish until they are herded into a large bait ball. They then systematically hit the prey shoals over and over again whilst keeping their formations - it's not unlike watching a pack of lions going on the hunt in Africa!
So how do you catch these big perch? Well it's not always by using little lures, that's not what they are feeding on and even though you may think that these smaller predators require smaller lures, this really isn’t always the case! Perch have huge mouths for their size and they are also very aggressive and have eyes bigger than their belly.
This means big 3" and 4" deep bodied lures with a good solid profile can be great big perch catchers, this after all is what they are feeding on, you don't see many lions in Africa chasing mice as it's just not worth the energy for the reward and the same applies with big perch.
Above: Salmo Hornet 9cm - not exactly ultralight!
Now this is where you have to beef up the wasping gear as it simply will not cope chucking big lures. The braid needs to be 20lb/40lb depending on the snags and rules, the rods have to be firm enough to set the hooks on big lures, yet forgiving enough to allow for all the erratic head shaking from a hooked big perch.
Above: A good fixed spool reel loaded with heavier braid is the order of the day
When I am wasping or fishing for smaller perch with small lures, where I know there are none or very few pike present, I will use a flurocarbon leader as these fish I am targeting tend to be small fish with excellent eyesight so no need for a trace.
However using bigger lures you must use a trace, as you will also catch pike. Not only this, but big perch are different, when they see that big lure which is matching the hatch their eyes are locked on, the dorsal is erect and they couldn't care less about the trace they just want to smash the lure hard and fast!
Above: One reason to always use a trace
The correct unhooking gear is extremely important when using larger lures and long nosed forceps and a good set of side cutters are a must for all predator fishing. It goes without saying, that when I’m fishing anywhere with rough banks I’ll always carry a lightweight unhooking mat as well.
There are so many lures on the market that it can be very tough choosing the right one at the right time. I will always carry soft plastic lures, crank baits and spinners of all different weights and colours, there is nothing worse than watching someone hauling fish on a lure you can't match. Not only this, many venues have different contours and depths so you need lures to cover the depths until you find where the fish are holding.
Crank baits are a little bit more complicated to work than soft baits, but it’s fair to say that when mastered, they give you the best option for working all different depths. I’ve caught a number of big perch recently on some lures many would consider ‘pike size’ baits, with the Salmo Hornet in 9cm being one them.
Above: Salmo Hornet 9cm
I am not a fan of casting out the lure and straight retrieving. Although this will catch fish, I just think I get too many follows or half hearted takes. I want the lure moving slow, then fast with a sudden pause, then a quick swipe on the rod tip - a trigger point to turn the follow in to a full blown attack.
As with all lure fishing as soon as the lure hits the water keep it on a tight line as it sinks. Predators, and especially perch, love to hit lures as they drop through the water column. If you are on a slack line you will know nothing about it, as with no resistance on the lure to set the hooks they will quite often just shake the lure out and you will be none the wiser.
If you are lucky enough to find a shoal of big perch feeding on dusk, they are usually easy enough to spot, as the fry will explode from the water as they attack and sometimes you can see the dorsal fins of the perch breaking the surface. Don't get too excited and clip on a big lure and start casting at where they are striking as you may catch one but you will break the perch shoal up.
I have found its best to copy what the perch are doing to the bait fish and start to pick the perch off by casting back from the bait fish. The perch will think it's a baitfish making a break for it from the bait ball in to open water and give chase. With an erratic retrieve the perch won’t be able to resist – well that’s the idea anyway!
Above: Ben releasing a big perch