Perch (Perca fluviatilis)
In the UK, perch normally grow to between 4-10 inches (12-25 cm) in length and weigh between 4-12 oz (250-750 g). A perch weighing 1 lb (0.45 kg) would be considered a very decent catch.
Specimens between 2-3 lbs (0.9-1.4 kg) are out there but are extremely rare.
Also known as
European Perch and Redfin Perch
LC – Least Concern
The perch is without a doubt one of the most colourful and striking freshwater fish in the UK. Its brawny head houses large black eyes and a mouth which can expand considerably, allowing it to swallow prey which may appear far too large for what is a rather small fish.
Its back is a shade of dark green which transitions into a shade of off-white on its underbelly. Between five and nine distinctive vertical, pointed dark stripes decorate the flanks. The anal, pelvic and base of the tail fin are a bright orange-red colour whilst the front dorsal fin is a dark green colour and has a series of spines which are rather sharp.
The perch also comes with tough, thick scales, each scale is armed with lots of tiny spikes along the edges, which gives the fish a rough texture when held. The gill covers are also spiked on the rear edge to defend against larger predators in the water, such as pike.
Warning: The front dorsal fin holds a tough series of sharp spines. On a decent sized fish, this is an area to avoid as they will easily slice through skin.
So how do we catch one?
Perch are aggressive fish with large appetites and are known to take baits which are far too big for them. They are mainly bottom feeders and their diets differ depending on their size. The natural diet of small perch (3-4 inches in length) is made up of crustaceans as well as insects. Larger perch prefer worms, other small fish and fish fry.
Effective baits include lob worms, earthworms, maggots and casters. When fishing for impressive specimens between 2-3 lbs (0.9-1.4 kg), dead baits of small fish such as minnow are a great choice, as is spinning with artificial lures or spoons.
A Note On Spawning
Perch spawn in April and May, once water temperatures have reached a consistent 8-15°C. Females lay their sticky white eggs in white ribbons (which can be up to 1 metre in length) over weeds and roots. Perch prefer to spawn in calm, sheltered waters and during their spawning months, laarge shoals of perch fry can be spotted in such areas.
During the autumn and winter months, as temperatures drop, perch shoals grow and the fish migrate to deeper waters, where they are far less active.
As such, during autumn and winter aim for those deeper reaches where the fish are likely to be lurking. Conversely, during warmer months fish close to objects and features in shallower areas in order to catch perch.
Perch can be found across the UK and inhabit all types of water, from large rivers to small ponds, gravel pits and lakes.
Small perch are generally found in shoals, whilst the larger, more sought after specimens are typically solitary beasts. River perch usually provide a better fight than those found in lakes or ponds.
Favourite Feeding Places
Perch are mainly bottom feeders and like to lurk around large objects below the surface, such as tree roots, reed beds, undercut banks and manmade structures such as bridge foundations.
A lot of the time, perch is caught by anglers who are out fishing for other species or as an opportunistic catch if their presence is recognised in a swim which is being fished. This is not because people don’t like to fish for perch, far from it, perch are great fighters and are welcome by many anglers, but they take bait favoured by other species too.
If you are wanting to specifically go after perch on your local river, it is advised that you spend some time figuring out where they are. It is best to do this early on in the day when they highly active, the best spots to find them are in or close to the deeper reaches of the river, near cover such as rushes, bushes, trees and lily pads.
At this time of day, perch can be seen hunting shoals of minnows and fry. Spotting the perch’s distinctive dorsal fin above the water or small fish and fry jumping out of the water as perch attack from below are fantastic indications of active perch in the area. During the rest of the day though, perch will generally be hiding under cover where they can ambush passing prey. This can be at any part of the river, which is why you need to get out nice and early so you can know for sure whereabouts these pesky fish are.
Effective baits for perch include worms, both small and large, bunches of maggots and small freshwater fish, both live and dead. Unlike pike, perch will not take any sea fish baits.
Minnows, either dead or alive, make for a very effective perch bait, particularly if there is a large minnow population in the river you are fishing. You can also use small roach, dace, and surprisingly, even perch, many anglers even claim that perch is the most effective perch bait of all.
Perch do not grow to reach humongous sizes by any means, a fish of 3 lbs (1.36 kg) would be considered a very good specimen. As such, a main line of 3-3.5 lb (1.3-1.5 kg) should be used and will be strong enough for pretty much any perch you catch in a small river.
There are three rigs you should use when perch fishing, depending on the type of swim you are fishing.
If fishing a swim where you want to trot a float alongside cover, such as a bed of rushes or below a canopy of trees, go for a chubber float rig. It is well suited for easing a large worm bait down the swim or trotting with live minnows. In slow and slack water, this rig is also capable of doubling as a float ledger rig if fished over depth with the shot positioned on the bottom.
A chubber float rig
Trotting a moderately fast swim requires a quick strike, but when float ledgering, the float has a tendency to dip slightly, lift out of the water or move slightly to the side. This can last from anywhere between a couple of seconds to over a minute, before the perch will properly take the bait, causing the float to slide away.
If you want to connect with the perch correctly, patience is key and you need to wait for a positive indication before striking.
If fishing in fast waters where trotting is not appropriate, switch to a simple link ledger or sliding ledger rig. The weight which is required for the rig to just hold the bottom will dictate which one you need to use.
A link ledger rig (left) and a sliding ledger rig (right)
This style of fishing requires a fine rod tip or sensitive quivertip. Smaller perch have a tendency to pull the tip round sharply a couple of times before taking the bait properly, whilst larger perch can make the tip twitch for quite some time before providing a positive indication to strike, just like they do when float ledgering,.
When fishing shallow water, around a foot or two (30-60cm), use a simple reline rig and don’t include any weight on the line, this will prevent it from splashing as it enters the water and scaring the fish away. Realistically, the only bait suitable for this style of fishing is a large lobworm or minnow which provides enough casting weight but will not splash when it enters the water.
Make sure to use a slack line from the hook to the rod tip as this will ensure that the perch feels no resistance when taking the worm. In a similar fashion to float ledgering, bites may start with a couple of light plucks before a positive tightening of the line which indicates that it is time to strike. Bites can be encouraged by softly twitching the bait to give it a bit of movement or to reposition it on the bottom from time to time.
Perch can be caught using a small spinner, but for this method to be feasible, plenty of room to both cast and to work the spinner through the water is required. If you want to give spinning a go, small patterns of the Mepps type of spinner are ideal for perch fishing.
Use a wire trace when spinning. Although perch are unable to bite through line, there are often pike in the water which can.
Maggots will gain the attention of all the fish in the swim, meaning that if you want to only catch perch specifically, they are not the best hook bait to go for. However, what maggots will do for you is attract both perch and the small fish on which they feed into the swim, so feeding maggots while fishing a larger bait such as a lobworm, is a very effective method.
Landing a large perch is no easy feat, having one on the hook is by no means a guarantee of getting it in the net. Like roach, small perch have a tendency to shoal, whilst large perch are typically found alone or in pairs. Keep the tackle strong, but not heavy when trying to catch big perch.