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From the water’s edge

September 2014 - Autumn perch

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The focus of our fishing for the last few years has been to catch as many fish as possible. Not numbers for numbers sake, you understand, but because there is nothing to beat that electric sensation of yet another fish grabbing the lure. It is takes that stir the blood rather than a tally in a notebook. Both of us would rather catch tiddlers all day long than an occasional decent fish every month or so. We have had tremendous pleasure from days where the largest fish would have been looking up at 8oz on the scales rather than down. A take every cast is exciting no matter how large or small the fish that generates it.

But I would be lying if I denied any interest in catching bigger fish. The ideal might be 50 two pounders in a day, but size alone is only relative anyway. If all our fish weighed two pounds, then four pounders would be the prize. It’s never going to happen, at least I hope it’s not, so we settle for as many small fish as possible and greet the better ones with open arms. We had one short of fifty fish this morning, but Autumn of all the seasons heralds the start of our quest to add more substantial quarry to the bag and today, we saw the first signs of success.

We drove out to the next stretch uphill from the one we fished last week and headed for a big bend that has produced many decent fish for us in the past. Fifteen minutes with no interest in our three and four inch baits had us rooting around in the dibbling and fiddling sections of our lure boxes and in no time, we were both on our way round the corner to the lock with small shads and curly tails clipped on ready.

Looking back, that seems remarkably impatient and I am struck at the way we have become so quick to abandon one spot for another or one method for another. The fact is experience tells us that if the fish are there, the takes will be immediate. That impatience is often tempered by determined perseverance but not generally until signs of life are evident. All it takes for us to go through the box and try every level and speed of retrieve is one decent flicker of interest and so it was today. With nothing happening on the bend we quickly made steps toward the lock and in the next hour, we had two dozen fish on the bank. Just about every lure in the box saw the water in that time, the most effective being small curly tails in yellow and white, but shads from 1 to 3”  added a few to the score before sport diminished beyond the point of profitable activity. We set off.

When all else fails, there is always ‘the spot that we never catch from’ that produced so many last week, so we walked down to that and caught another load. All perch and small zander, no sign of toothy troublemakers at all all day. We had four out and lost a couple last week, but the water was dirtier this time and pike seem to be almost exclusively sight feeders when it come to taking lures in my experience.

Another hour and sport had dried up completely again, so we raced the first boat down to the next lock. Last week we never had a take in this one. This time it was more generous, I had a couple or three slightly better zander and Pete was finding perch at his feet. I was on 3” and all my takes came across the far side. Pete was on 1” and all his came casting alongside his bank or dibbling.

After a quarter of an hour ignoring each others catches, Pete shouted across. This time the rod tip had stayed down when he struck and a heavier fish was bumping away deep in the dirty water. It was a little while before he slid the net under our first proper fish of the autumn and it looked pretty heavy, so it was treated to a ceremonial weighing. 1-11, a substantial canal fish by our standards. Five minutes later up goes the shout again and this one looked a bit bigger so once more, out came the scales that until a few minutes before hadn’t seen light of day for months . They showed it to be exactly the same weight as the last. Same bait, same swim, same weight, same fish? No, the pictures said not.

This was an even better sign than a singleton. This suggested that they may be gathering together already and that from now on, find one, find a few could be the order of the day.

The boat traffic was getting pretty heavy by now, the water colour was pretty grim but our new found success with perch in coloured water still surprises us after many years of struggling once visibility was reduced. I put this giant leap forward down to our slow, methodical approach.

Keeping the baits small and fishing them as deep and as slow as possible right in the side has caught us hundreds of fish, many of them surprisingly large. Dibbling has seen a step change in our catches, particularly with perch. So many folks cannot believe that we are serious when we fish within a foot of the bank, but there are often some big fish right under your feet. You can honestly hear people sniggering and taking the piss when they see this gnome like approach but over the last couple of years, a lot of passers-by have changed their tune when we have caught fish right in front of them.     

It was only a matter of time before this productive spot dried up and we sauntered off back up the hill towards the car. There was one more area to try en route. A rather enigmatic lock and bridge complex that has produce lots and lots of fish in the past, and many blanks too. One small area in particular, a stretch of bank around fifteen feet long tends to throw up a better fish or two when they are feeding, so we concentrated on that now that some tiredness and the anticipation of beer was setting in.

It didn’t take Pete long to catch a slightly better fish, then I had one, before losing a bigger one altogether. It was my own fault. Once more I had failed to slacken off the clutch and the hook pulled when it dived hard for the bottom. I put that right once the horse had bolted and continued dibbling my way along the margin.

A firm knock and an equally firm, almost involuntary, strike saw the tip pulled down firmly towards the water and the freshly-slackened clutch began chirping cheerfully. Heavy water boiled to the surface with muck and debris churned up in its wake. This was more like it.

I walked it away from the swim and all the while it ran and turned, boiled and dived and plugged away, bumping the rod tip hard but eventually giving ground enough for me to slide the net under it. “Much the same as yours Pete”, I said as I knelt to return it. “I’d weigh that if I was you”, he said, “it looks bigger to me.” Thanks Pete, it was. Two pounds on the nail. First of the season, first of many I hope. I wouldn’t even mind if Pete or Terry catch one or two occasionally. There really is nothing to touch a heavy perch. Absolutely one of nature’s richest jewels and a wonder of the universe to my eye. Roll on the hard weather, I have a good feeling.

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