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Perch are a valuable commodity in winter canal matches Will Raison takes us to a gin clear Basingstoke Canal to reveal how he targets these bonus fish.
PERCH are one of those species that are often ignored in match fishing but can be match or section winners and in team matches can boost a poor points return into a great one.
They are present in most canals across the uk so what I am going to tell you this month will apply to a lot of you. Although I am showing you my canal approach bear in mind that with perch in so many commercials now a similar style could also work in a tough winter match on the stillwaters.
So today we are on the Basingstoke Canal near the Swan public house at Ash Vale in Hampshire, where I have selected a peg near the bridge opposite the pub. You might question why I have sat opposite the pub with the potential for disturbance but the reality is that on a canal you could easily find yourself in a similar situation. With public access to many canal banks disturbance can be a factor.
My approach for the perch may differ to what some of you are used to but I want to show that it taps into the area of least disturbance in the canal.
By that I mean I will be targeting the deepest water down the middle of the canal. I won't be fishing across towards the far side and I won't have a short line. No today it is just a two line attack. One in the deepest water in front of me and the other several meters down the canal to my left but on the same mid canal deep water line.
Some canals may be static but many have a natural draw or tow from one direction to another. On this cut on this towpath it is from my right to my left and this is important when selecting where to place the lines. The first one is always directly in front of me but so that is simple but the second line is always going to be downstream of me. Why? Because it is much easier to present the rig correctly in a downstream position than in an upstream position.
So if you donut know the venue try and find out the normal direction of the tow and when you get to your peg plumb up to fid th deepest water. On most canals I fish the deepest line tends to be a consistent depth so the rig you use for one can also be used on the other.
Today I am going to fish exclusively for the perch on these two lines only. I am not going to combine it as part of a match plan featuring other baits and methods. There are occasions when I would, in fact in many canal matches my perch swims would be a bonus or back-up line in case roach or skimmers were hard to come by. However when the canal is very clear like today, and in pegs or areas where I expect the fishing to be very hard then I would be prepared to fish exclusively for perch. The beauty of perch is that they tend to roam around in packs looking for food and you can catch them from ounces up to 2 lb or possibly even more. Because of the size range it is possible to put together a reasonable weight in relatively short feeding spells. A couple of bonus fish say pound or 2 lb samples plus a rake of smaller ones and 4-6 lb is on the cards and that is the sort of weight that would win a lot of canal sections in winter if not the match outright.
Last night was cold, there was a frost this morning, and now the sun is high and bright so with gin clear water the canal could be tough today but that's great as it will highlight what I am trying to achieve.
Since arriving at the peg some builders have started work on the roof of an outbuilding in the pub car park opposite and close to the far bank of my swim. The banging and blow torching plus the builders banter will be a real test of this method today. You would not expect shoals of roach and skimmers to settle in front of such disturbance but with perch you can catch them at any time as they are always on the move looking for food especially in clear water as they are sight feeders. They will be swimming up and down the deeper part of the canal looking for food.
By fishing exclusively for them my baited rig will always be in the right place as and when the stripys move through and so I am confident that I should catch some fish. Whether it will be a lot or just a handful that may be affected by the extent of the far bank disturbance but if any perch pass through I should pick a few off. Even four or five perch can do some section damage especially if one or two are of bonus size!
I've selected my Daiwa Tournament Airity pole with a top kit fitted with white hydro elastic because this grade suits the stamp of fish I could encounter, it is soft enough not to bump the smaller perch and will also cope with any bonus 1-2 lb fish as well. The rig line is 0.14 mm diameter Daiwa Tournament Reel Line direct to the hook because perch are predators, they have hard mouths with some sharp areas and they can take the bait aggressively. A lighter line with less abrasion resistance and durability than the Tournament Reel Line will risk breakages and lost fish. Hook choice need s to reflect a few factors, not least of which will be the size of the hook bait which today is going to be lobworms. Therefore I will be using a size 11 Kamasan B711 pattern which is also string enough wire to cope with big bony mouths and hard fighting bigger perch, as well as offering a wide gape and barb to securely hold the big hook baits.
My float choice may surprise many anglers as I choose dibber patterns for chopped worm perch work instead of the traditionally favoured thick bristle. There is a lot of lifting and dropping involved in this style and many anglers think that a long bristle aids this process but think about it when you lift and drop the rig you are generally lifting the float right out of the water so the bristle isn't really playing a part. The accepted thinking has always been that a long thick bristle will better support a heavy lob worm hook bait but trust me a dibber top will do it just as well with a big advantage. This being that the overall size of the dibber required is much smaller than a bristled float required to support the same sized hook bait. It is there fore easier and less obtrusive in shallow water canal swims where even the deepest part may only be 3-4 ft. maximum. Some may argue that a longer bristle allows the fish more time to take the bait properly and let the bite develop. Now I agree that you do not want to strike too soon when using big lob worm baits or even larger pieces or whole dendrobaenas for that matter but you donut need a bristle to help you. What I do is when the float goes under is to count to three then strike. That way I know it is a proper bite and the perch has the bait in it's mouth. the beauty of a dibber is the low profile but very buoyant balsa tip will support the hook bait and avoid false bites. When you get an enquiry it will often show as a few bobs up hand down, sometimes it may even move sideways across the surface of the canal but wait until it goes right under and as I said count to three before striking.
The actual float of choice for me today is the Drennan Dibber in size 4x14 which is ideal for this work. The shotting pattern is simply a spread of number tend shot because with the lift and drop approach I want a natural fall of the hook bait.
When plumbing up I will mark the depth as usual on the top kit using a Tip Ex pen and then adjust the rig so that the hook bait will just be about two inches over depth no more than that.
BAIT & FEEDING
So to go with my exclusively perch approach i have chosen exclusively worms to feed and use on the hook with both a supply of lobworms and dendrobaenas with me. I also have some casters but probably won't feed them today although they can be an ideal compliment to the worms.
You do not need lots of bait, last night I went out and collected about 50 lobworms from my local playing fields. Ideally you want a damp milder night for worm collecting. use a torch but try not to use too bright a torch as that can spook the worms as they will dart back into their burrows. When you spot a worm grab it quick but do not pull as that will usually result in a broken worm. Just grip and hold, they worm will be pulling back into the ground but after a few moments it will retract towards your hold and that is when you can ease it out of the ground.
My dendrobeanas I have had in the fridge for a few weeks now and they are still in great condition, I won't need many today but it always pays to have a few extra.
The lobs will be used as feed but will also be my hook bait of choice, my favourite being a tail of the lob. To mount a hook bait I will break off the lob about about one third of the way down and then take the tail and thread the torn end onto the hook and roll the worm around the bend and up the shank with the point coming out of the side. This makes the worm hang dead straight and also masks a lot of what is a big hook. This is where choosing the right hook is key because the worm tail will wriggle a lot and could work it's way off a barbless or inappropriate hook.
The dendrobaenas are only really there for feeding and to kick start the two swims I will take about 4 lobworms and cut them up quite finely because they are big worms to start with and it will be the lob juices released that will attract the fish. Then I will add about ten dendrobaena worms to the pole cup but as they are smaller worms I will cut them once only to create bigger pieces for the bigger fish. This is not a lot of bait in total but enough to start the session and also for the subsequent top ups. It is enough to stop the roaming perch but not so much that they can't quickly locate the hook bait.
So that's the theory now for the practice and after chopping the initial fed the line straight in front of me is fed followed by the line downstream to my left. I'm starting on the line on front of me and it is quite possible to get an early bite if there are any perch in the area.
Right from the off I am working the hook bait, remembering that perch are aggressive feeders that will feed by sight in clear water. Yes the smell of the chopped worms will attract fish but as they get near the fed area the visual response kicks in and a lively hook bait will attract takes. Now the tail of the lob I have started with is wriggling well by itself but I also work it by lifting and dropping it trying to catch the attention of a perch.
To lift and drop the bait it is simply a case of lifting the float out of the water, sometimes just a few inches sometimes as much as a foot and then dropping it back in. I will do this probably every 20-30 seconds, I won't leave it still for long.
True enough after a minute or two today I get a bite and catch a perch but it is a very small one. That said it's promising because the chances are there are others around and hopefully bigger ones too.
After catching that fish I'm back in on the same line but can't attract another bite despite giving it another ten minutes of working the bait. So I'll leave it for a bit and try the other line further down the canal.
That line has also slow with no bites in about ten minutes fishing so I decide to top up that line with a similar modest about of bait that I started with. After topping up i go back to the line straight in front of me but once again it proves tough with no more bites in a 10-15 minute spell.
The noise of the building work increases and isn't helping but if I was drawn here in a match in such circumstances I'd have to get on with it so that's what I'm doing,
MORE ON FEEDING
One reason the perch like the deeper water is because in a gin clear canal most of the other fish, the roach, skimmers and bream will probably be in the deeper track as well. So the stripys will patrol the canal looking for shoals of food fish.
When you understand that these perch are swimming up and down the deeper water of the canal on the look out for food you realise why feeding modest amounts but fairly frequently is important. The amounts are not small enough to warrant the use of a Kinder egg style pole cup hence I use a dedicated cupping kit which is better suited to the sizes of worm segment being fed. It is important to have some feed in the swim when the perch approach but not too much. The idea is to nick a fish or two.
I would suggest 15-20 minutes is a good time to try a top up, no longer than half an hour really. One thing to watch out for on a clear water canal is to realise that even the pole tip above the fish can spook them and it can pay to feed a swim and leave it to settle for ten minutes or so. Then when you drop back in there you can very often get a bite first put. If you are lucky you might get a second fish before they unsettle again and you have to feed an leave once more.
Although it has been slow to start I have now managed to nick four perch and I have also missed a bite but they are all small fish under 6 oz. Interestingly three of the four fish have come from the downstream swim which in my experience is what expected as it is further from my fishing position.
I have been constantly moving the hook bait as described earlier and what is really interesting about this style is that even when it's been slow you know that it can happen at any time, that float can go and you could be into a big perch. Personally I've had them to 2 lb along here fishing just like this.
I've continued to feed and rest the swims rotating between the two of them but really it is that downstream swim that is producing the fish. That said it is possible that a fish or two extra could be tempted from the swim right in front of me, and in any case it gives me somewhere to fish while resting the productive swim.
The downstream swim produces a couple more fish to about 12 oz and I'm hopeful of a bigger one as the afternoon progresses.
The system of catching fish or two then topping up and rating continues to work well as more perch half rom that downstream swim. For the top ups now I am chopping just the one lob and ten dendrobaenas but still fishing with the tail of the lobworm on the hook. It really is a great bait as it will catch anything that swims, it is one of the most natural baits to a canal fish and while you can select quality fish with it you will still catch the smaller perch on it too so it is great for building bag.
I'm pleased with how things are going considering the clear water the cold night preceding and the far bank disturbance, it just shows how this method can dig you out of a spot. All the elements have come together, the rotating two lines, nicking a couple then feeding and leaving to settle again, the big target hook bait, working that hook bait, the dibber float and rig choice, it's all worked well.
The float has been great, as soon as I see any kind of indication on the tip I will stop lifting and dropping and let the bite develop, it's all part of the 'letting 'em have it' theory and today not striking until the float has gone for three scones has worked well as every fish I have hooked has been landed. That is important on days when you are not going to get loads of bites.
I've also managed to add a fish around the 1 lb mark and at the end of these session I've finished with around 15 perch for 5-6 lb in weight. I'm well happy with that as I know that the last open along here was won with 7 lb so this isn't far off.
If you have a few canal matches coming up give this approach a try it works, and works well. WR.
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