My Biggest Perch

My Biggest Perch

There are more giant perch being caught today than at any time in history, with a significant number of five pounders being reported each season. Certainly, from photographs accompanying many of these captures, a good number of the fish sizes have been wildly exaggerated, but the fact remains that there are many giant perch resident in our waters now.

From when my interest in big perch really began in the early sixties, right up until the late nineties, a perch over 3lbs in weight was the specimen fish benchmark. A 4lb fish was an impossible dream, certainly in small rivers and streams where my favourite perching has always been carried out.

The water that first fired my enthusiasm for the species was a tiny Great Ouse tributary, the Claydon Brook, and the events of the day when I first encountered the water’s incredible perch, at Padbury Mill near Buckingham, are as clear now as they were on that hot, early July day in 1962. That day I took several perch to 2lb 10oz, at the time the biggest perch I’d ever seen, and it was obvious I’d stumbled on to something a bit special. The following season I was to take the first three pounder of my career, a lovely specimen of 3lb 6ozs and over the years that followed until the early seventies, when the perch disease struck, I had several more “threes”, including a fish that would remain a personal best for over thirty years, my 3lb 14ozs specimen of 1964. During those years there were undoubtedly four pounders in the Ouse system although I cannot recall a single press report of one that size. I did, however, see two. I hooked and lost a huge fish on a small hook and maggots when roach fishing and saw at very close hand a perch well over four pounds that the late Peter Rayment hooked in 1968 when he was fishing as my guest. He had a big fish snagged in rushes and called for help. As I waded out with the net to the rush bed where the fish was stuck fast, a stem broke away and the perch came free, rolled and then shot away to my right just under the surface. Then the line parted and the fish was gone. It was certainly well over four pounds, perhaps closer to five.

In 1967, my very first angling article was published in Angling Times after being edited for me by none other than Dick Walker, and it was about fishing for big perch in small streams. In that feature, I mentioned a catch of quality fish I’d taken from a Buckingham & District AA stretch at Roman Bridge. Thirty years later, that stretch of river and downstream through the Brook’s junction with the main Ouse at a meadow known as The Twins, which I’d also fished extensively, became famous as the most prolific producer of huge perch, river or otherwise, in the entire country. Several meadows between the BDAA holdings at Roman Bridge and The Twins became syndicated and the number of four pound plus perch taken there is now legendary, particularly to Martin Bowler and John Wilson. For reasons I won’t go into I was never a member of that syndicate and all my subsequent big perch came from BDAA waters.

One of the most special days of my angling career came in July 1999. I had by now taken many dozens of three pounders from both the Brook and the main river but my personal best was still that 3lb 14oz fish from the mid sixties. With many four pounders having been taken by others over the previous four years, a fish to beat 4lbs was my new perch goal. I was fishing below Roman Bridge on the BDAA water, in the swim that had featured in that first article way back in 1967. I had taken a brace of three pounders from it the previous season. The swim featured a far bank willow whose branches hung right to the water surface to midstream, over one of the deeper depressions on the stretch, around four feet deep in summer. The previous winter, a substantial branch had broken away and toppled across the centre of the swim, effectively cutting it in two. I started off at dawn fishing upstream of this branch, swinging my float across and under the foliage and allowing it slowly to trundle round and come to rest actually touching the timber. My first cast with float fished lob was made at dawn. Small perch and signal crayfish were on the case instantly, which was a negative sign as I’d always found that when small perch come first at dawn, the chances of a big one are slim. Also, if really big perch are about, signals keep their heads down.

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Unbelievable fish of 5lbs exactly!

So I decided to move downriver about fifty yards to another productive swim. However, instinct prompted me to place a bait behind the fallen branch before moving my gear. Despite the float being only feet from where it had been before, it was taken instantly. So powerful was the fish I hooked I thought it must be one of the big chub or tench the stretch contains. But when a simply monstrous perch surfaced and rolled, I nearly went to pieces. I knew this wasn’t just four pounds, it was awesome. My heart was in my mouth as I played that perch, knowing I had to hold it hard to keep it from the snags. Any moment I expected the hook hold to fail and so I gave a huge sigh of relief when I saw my prize slide safely over the rim of the net. What a moment of pure exhilaration that was!

My hands were trembling with excitement as I examined the fish on the bank. I was in such a state that on the first weighing I couldn’t remember whether I’d forgotten to zero the Avons, which gave me a weight of 5lb 4ozs. After I had calmed down a little over a cup of tea, I got my act together and carefully re-weighed the fish three times, each time recording exactly 5lbs. I then tried to take some self portrait shots but was in such a fuddled state that I couldn’t get my bulb release to operate. As I was struggling, two members of the Perch Fishers arrived and witnessed the fish before capturing precious photographs for me. Later that day, my bulb release worked perfectly. Obviously, in my excitement, I was all fingers and thumbs! Interestingly, after the fish had been returned and I was drying my Queenford tube, I found the remains of a large signal crayfish in the mesh, which included an entire claw. I reckon that signal could have weighed three or four ounces when alive so did my perch weight 5lbs after coughing up the remains while resting in the tube or was the original weight of 5lb 4ozs correct while the signal was still inside.

On the drive home that day, I realised that I still hadn’t caught a 4lb perch, although I certainly wasn’t complaining. The following week, however, that omission was corrected. I was back at the same stretch and fished the same swim at dawn, with nothing to show but small fish. This time, I did move to the second swim and on my second cast to the thick rushes on the far bank the float shot away and I was again playing a monster perch. This fish pulled the Avons to 4lb 10ozs and it was certainly a different specimen to the 5lb fish of seven days earlier.

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The week after my five pounder, this 4lb 10ozs fish came to call

From 2000 until 2007, although the numbers of perch dwindled, a good day being one or two fish only, I did well with 3lb plus fish, taking more than forty over that weight, of which seven exceeded four pounds. A particularly fond memory is the final week of the season in 2003, when I’d had a fabulous few days. I landed over thirty good perch that week, including nine over 3lbs, the biggest two being 4lb 2ozs and 4lb 3ozs.

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March fish of 4lb 3ozs

My second biggest perch ever was taken in July 2005. I was trotting lobworm midwater to minimise the problems with signals and as it approached a clump of cabbages the float sailed away. As I struck, the most colossal perch I’ve ever seen rolled and then shot downstream, taking a couple of yards off the clutch. That fight was more reminiscent of a good tench than a perch, so powerful were its plunges, but after a few minutes I was in control of the situation. Out went the landing net, the perch approached the net, and then the hook popped out. It was less than a foot from the net cord. A second later, that magnificent perch was gone. I was overcome by that awful empty feeling. I had a very close look at that huge perch just as the hook slipped and it was certainly well over five pounds. I’ll go further and state that that fish was nearer six pounds than five and I have never really got over losing it. Naturally, I fished that area again and again over the following weeks and, in August, finally landed a gorgeous specimen of 4lb 13ozs. I remember returning it in my landing net and knowing at that moment, without a shadow of doubt, it was much smaller than the monster I had lost in July.

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Second biggest ever of 4lb 13ozs

That fish was my tenth over the magical 4lb barrier and in the years since I’ve not made contact with the 11th. For several years I did very little perch fishing as otters all but wiped out the huge fish of the Ouse as they have with the bulk of the incredible barbel. There are signs now, though, that big perch are returning to the river although the upper stretches around Buckingham are still sad caricatures of their former selves.

In the last three years, a bream water I fish has been turning up numbers of good perch as bonus captures, and I’ve taken over thirty fish exceeding 3lbs to a top specimen of 3lb 14oz. So perhaps my 11th 4lb perch is not too far away.

There has never been a better time for the big perch fan. They are coming out at staggering sizes the length and breadth of the country and long may that continue. But, take advice from someone who has many times witnessed sudden and catastrophic changes. Take advantage while you can because tomorrow it may be too late. When I had my last barbel of 18lb 9ozs from Kickles Farm in 2002 I decided to give barbel fishing a rest for a while. Before long, those lovely fish were dead, courtesy of otters. So, if you desire a great big perch, go and find it now.

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