This article is about big perch fishing River Lea. I have never been the kind of angler that hangs his rods up during the winter. It’s a fantastic time to be out on the bank. There is nothing more stunning than a really bright, crisp morning at dawn in winter. I do, however, vary my fishing at this time of year. It’s cold so generally speaking I like to do fairly short sessions where I am constantly on the move with a single rod and a small bag. I’ll be fishing for pike, perch, trout and chub all species that can give you half a chance no matter how cold it gets. If you’ve enjoyed this article then you may be interested to read about my perch fishing in 2017 and my article covering 2018 called Big Perch Fishing.
Last winter, in 2015, I was catching a lot of Pike from my boat in Huntingdon. As winter moved into spring of 2016 I started to target the perch. I’ve always wanted to catch a big perch but I kind of ran out of time as the carp started to wake up and I was keen to get amongst those over at Walthamstow. So when winter of 2016 arrived I ignored the pike and went straight on a mission to catch a decent perch. Big perch fishing River Lea 🙂
We all caught perch as a kid, for many of us it will probably have been our first fish. They were always plentiful as a kid, in the local canals where we float finished maggots and worms. But perch take on a different dimension as they get big. I once saw a 5 pound plus perch caught from the famous Savay Lake as a teenager. In terms of percentage of the British record this will probably be the best fish I’ll ever see. It weighed 5 lb 5 oz and was caught on a trout by a pike angler. As Dick Walker said – ‘the perch is the biggest fish of all’.
Above: The perch – the biggest fish of all.
In my mind, anything over 2lb is a decent sized perch but the magic number is 4lb, that is real specimen of a fish. A very optimistic target indeed but the goal had been set. The campaign started towards the end of October 2016. I brushed up some of my tackle, purchased new reels, and got a whole range of new small rubber lures. It was time to hit the river.
Above: All organised and ready to hit the bank!
My first couple of trips saw me fishing around the Lea in Ware. Mainly because I have an office on the river there and I can drop onto it quite frequently for very short sessions. I was using tiny little rubber lures on a drop shot rig and was catching plenty of small perch (often referred to as wasps).
Above: Warming up with a few wasps. Fun on small lures.
One day late afternoon I dashed out of work at 3pm. It was early November and it was getting dark by 4.30pm. This is typically how I was fishing – about an hour at dusk and sometimes at dawn too if possible. I only had an hour before it would be dark so I quickly wandered up towards Hardmead lock and back, nothing doing! Then around the old loop behind Tumbling Bay, nothing there either. I should mention that I had started to use a bigger lure (3″) which wasn’t attracting the attention of the smaller fish. I was losing the light and had to head back to office. I decided to take just a few last casts into the weirpool at Tumbling Bay and on my second cast something decent grabbed my lure! ‘Please be a perch, please be a perch …. YES!!!’ The striped flank broke the surface. Numerous times this has happened just for it to be a little jack pike on the end so I was properly buzzing when to saw those stripes – I went into a complete flap scrambling around for my net and it went in first time. I was over the moon – my first decent perch!
Above: Chuffed to bits! My first decent perch of 2lb 6oz from the River Lea.
After that success I had heard rumours of big perch in another location off the main river. We had a few sessions chucking rubber lures around without any luck. Myself and fishing buddy Andy decided to hatch a plan. It had suddenly become very cold, regularly dropping below zero at night. The fish had slowed down and it was clear they didn’t want to chase lures. It was time to get on the worms and prawns. We got onto Willy worms (www.willyworms.co.uk) and ordered a bulk load of Lob and Dendrobaena’s. Later that day, after we had received our delivery, we were back on the bank and this time armed with worms.
Above: They didn’t want our lures but we kinda knew they were there. Get on the worms!
The difference was unbelievable. Andy decided to jig his worms and he literally lowered them into the water twitched them a couple of times before they were hit by a big perch. It gave him quite a tussle before we got it in the net and it was clearly a decent fish. We were totally buzzing as we lifted the fish onto the scales and saw it go past the magic 3 pound mark, 3lb 2oz to be precise.
Above: Andy’s jigged lob worms had hardly hit the deck! 3lb 2oz, a stunning perch.
As always we were only fishing dusk for a very short period of time. By the time we had landed and photographed and his perch we were losing the light already. Amazingly straight after photographing Andy’s Fish I dropped in my drop shop lob worms and they were also grabbed almost immediately! Again it was I good fish. I could tell by the shake of the head that it was a Perch. Into the net it went and when we lifted it onto the mat, again it looked around the 3 pound mark. In fact it fell just short at 2 lb 12 oz but that really didn’t matter and this was still a very good fish. Once that had been photographed we really had started to lose the light and nothing else was caught, but what a session.
Above: Drop shot lob worms results in this awesome creature, a proper lump.
The next session wasn’t as successful and we drew a blank. Which surprised us given the instant success of the worms on the previous session. On that session we had more lines in the water which possibly affected things. Andy packed up early and came back the next day with a single rod and had another near 3 pounder.
We naturally believed that we had unlocked the code and truly believed that we were about to experience some amazing perch fishing over the coming weeks. Well, of course, fishing is not that straight forward and the fish had us scratching our heads over the next few weeks as they had clearly either disappeared or were now laughing at our worm rigs.
Our efforts with the pre baiting had mixed results to be honest. It seemed to bring in the smaller perch which we were catching regularly. The bream were extremely active too, you could see them topping out every morning at dawn. It didn’t take them long to get on our baited spots.
The lack of perch might have been explained by the fact that we did catch a few pike. These seemed particularly active at dawn and one morning Andy and I both caught a decent pike literally one after the other.
Above: A couple of pike gatecrash our perch session!
I had started to fish the spot completely static. They weren’t grabbing stuff that was moving. We’d been putting groundbait, prawns, maggots and chopped worm into the swim fairly regularly. I was catching fish regularly on the ledger rod whilst the jigs and drop shot rods weren’t producing (the opposite from a month ago). Through late November / early December the perch were being caught but not in numbers and they were smaller in size. It was time for a move.
Above: Time to say goodbye for now but will definitely be back!
Catching big perch isn’t actually that tricky – locating them is somewhat more testing. The River Lea is patchy at the best of times but in winter the fish shoal up making it even harder. On a positive note, that often means that if you do eventually catch up with them then there’s likely to be a few there! Having investigated Ware, Hertford, Broxbourne and Hoddesdon I finally found some, in decent numbers and of a very good average size. Over the next month I was to catch big perch on bait and lures during very short sessions at dusk.
My first session, on the new stretch, saw me drop-shotting worms up against some sunken trees on the far bank. I was there around lunchtime and had tried a few swims without much happening. As the sun disappeared behind the trees everything changed. The bait was grabbed and sure enough it was a nice, big, fat perch!
Above: Such a stunning fish, 2lb 4oz.
I was getting a bit of banter from friends on social – ‘they don’t count unless on lures!’, that kind of thing. They were only messing about but to prove a point I stopped fishing with worms and went all out on rubber lures.
Above: One of 2 perch had in a short session. Both around 2.5lb, both on lures.
Above: A short clip of a cracking River Lea perch
The above fish was caught on my first cast into the swim with a large rubber worm style lure. It barely hit the deck. The key was a slow retrieve. I had 2 speeds – slow and stop!
Above: The second of the brace taken on soft rubbers. OK, we’re off and rockin’ !
So I was having fun and it felt like I’d found an area that was going to hopefully produce and few fish for me. Meanwhile Andy had another urban spot rocking over in Ware and was also catching a few stunners!
In December the temperatures really started to drop but the perch kept coming. I was actually enjoying the convenience of lures and stopped fishing with worms. I no longer had to spend my evenings picking mud out from under my fingernails! Over the next week or so the conditions became very misty, which affected the quality of the photography but thankfully not the quality of the fishing!
Above: Picture quality not so great because of the poor conditions but this was a nice, big, dark perch.
Some of the bites were fierce but most of them were quite gentle. When drop-shotting obviously the lure is rising and dropping and nearly always the lure was taken as the lure was dropping, on a slack line. Only when you tightened up did you realise something was there. I personally think you can ‘over-jig’ your lure, especially when the water is really cold. Fish slow, almost static. They don’t want to chase it – let them grab it! Big perch fishing River Lea 🙂
Above: The misty evenings effecting the quality of the pics but another not far off 3.
By now I was regularly catching fish on every trip. I was blown away by the average size and had only had a couple of fish under 1lb – most were over 2.5lb. It felt like a 3 pounder was not far away. I didn’t have long to wait. On my very next trip I finally got my first ‘3’.
Above: At last my first over 3. A stunning 3lb 1oz Lea Valley perch!
Above: A very deep bodied perch. What a creature!
By now I had started to become quite obsessed (as I do). I really got into lures and relentlessly watched loads of videos on YouTube and got quite geeky with it all!
Andy joined me on the next trip and it was cool that he was there to witness another 3 pounder, this time from a slightly different spot. I’d seen him nail one exactly the same size from our previous location.
Above: Quality! After a couple more 2’s another 3 comes along, 3lb 2oz
Above: check out the proportions on this big girl!
Above: And they just kept coming. The average size was amazing.
Above: Lures continuing to do the business. This time a Fox Shad.
Above: Getting cold. Frosty ground in January 2017 on a day where it didn’t come above zero!
One day I was sitting at work and the inevitable happened. A message pinged up on my phone – Andy had caught our 4 pounder, fantastic! What a creature! Wish I’d been there.
Well that was amazing and proof that these fish are at their heaviest at this time of year. Temperatures had dropped and although it was tempting to stay at home in the warm now was the time to be out there! On my next trip I decided to fish with 2 rods for the first time. One was chucked down the margins, ledgering lob worms, the other was fished drop shot with an assortment of lures in the usual way. I was lucky enough to catch an amazing brace of 3 pounders!
As always, I only targeted dusk and within about 20minutes the ledger rod was away – and it felt big. After a bit of a tussle in the tight, snaggy swim of pulled a meaty perch over the net.
Above: A session to remember – a brace of 3 pounders. 3lb 4oz and 3lb 8oz.
After I return the fish and recast the rod I continued to drop shot. I had a knock and I knew it was a perch. I quickly got the lure rod back out and let it settle on the spot where the hit had occurred. I raised the lure up in the water, off the deck and it was grabbed! A powerful fish hit the surface and again it looked big, could it be my 4? It certainly looked big! The fish thumped around the swim making my rod bend double. I was relieved to see if glide over the net!
Above: Second part of the brace 3lb 8oz and new PB. Not the 4 but i couldn’t care less – an awesome brace of perch.
I’m a bit geeky and my brace went up onto the Perch Group on Facebook. It received a lot of attention and I was contacted by Angling Times asking if they could feature it as part of an article they were writing about fishing for big perch. Of course, I obliged and provided them a few pics.
Above: Approached by Angling Times after my brace was seen on social media.
Above: My little contribution to the Big Perch article in Angling Times, Jan 2017.
Above: A clip of just one of many nice perch taken over this winter.
On my final session, before the end of the season, I managed to catch two at once. I had two rods out on this occasion – I was lure fishing with one and other was fishing worms on the deck. I had a fish on the lure and whilst I was sorting out that fish the other rod went too! Great to end the season on a high!
Above: A great brace of big 2’s caught on my last session of the season.
Well, all good things have to come to an end. I might still have the odd trip back but my mind has wandered elsewhere for now. There’s a few other target species that I want to get under my belt- so watch this space.
Thanks for reading 🙂