Stickfloat perch brightens a dull winter’s day.

December 4, 2014 at 3:14 pm

A planned autumn visit, before the leaves dropped, to my small local river, was thwarted by constant rain and flooding, that saw surging brown water covering the banks for over a week, but as the temperature fell, so did the water level and I arrived on the 1st December to find a pacey, clear stream running within it’s banks. Those banks were covered in mud, as I carefully picked my way through to my chosen swim, a weak midday sun fighting a losing battle with grey scudding clouds. With a busy town road one side and a crowded housing estate on the other, this is a ribbon of wilderness among an urban sprawl.

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Upstream gravel shallows channel the flow along the opposite bank, where I expected to find a few chub to start the session and threw a couple of squeezed balls of liquidised bread beneath the tree roots in anticipation of the next few hours fishing. The river here is only 30 inches deep and a light approach is required, setting up my 12 foot Hardy Match rod with a 3 No. 4 Middy Ali stickfloat on 2.6 lb line to a size 16 barbless hook on a 2 lb link. Bait was a 5 mm pellet of punched bread.

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First cast in, the float never settled, sliding off towards the bank, before sinking from view. I braced and swept the rod back upstream, watching the rod bend in an arc to the pull of a fish. A flash of silver deep in the river said roach, not chub, the steady pounding of the roach, not the hoped for explosive run of a chub.

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A solid healthy roach nonetheless and a good start to the session, which was repeated on every put in for the next twenty minutes. I tried another ball of bread further downstream towards an overhanging branch and cast to follow it down. The float sped away downstream, a firm strike and bang, solid resistance. A chub? At first I thought it was, as the fish made a beeline for the the snag in a straight line run, before turning across the river, then dashing back, hugging the far bank, boring deep. Getting the landing net ready, when it drew near, I lifted the rod to see, not the big white mouth of a chub, but the bright red fins and deep body of a decent rudd.

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I now settled into a steady rhythm of fish catching, the bread punch selecting smaller roach, the occasional rudd, or skimmer bream and gudgeon, including some clonkers.

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Bringing a small roach back along the far bank, there was a swirl and as I lifted the roach clear, the pale green, striped back of a big perch broke the surface. The bread had attracted more than just small fish and next cast I hooked a small gudgeon, drawing it slowly back, dabbling it on the surface to tempt the predator. Like a ghost, the perch came up behind the offering, hovered and took. I gave slack line, as the gudgeon was seized, only for the small fish to appear on the surface again, rejected. I reeled in a foot of line and the perch was back with avengeance, this time turning, taking line downstream. A count of ten and I lifted the rod to meet the full force of a fish determined to escape. I can’t recount the time that it took to beat it, countering run after run in the shallow water, waiting for the gudgeon to be spat out at any time. Eventually it made a long run upstream, but ended up wallowing in the gravelly shallows and I drew it back on the surface into the net. Phew! Made it. How many perch have I lost in the past at the lip of the landing net?

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Lifting the perch out of the net, the gudgeon was clearly visible, the tiny hook holding the bigger fish, having passed through the gudgeon’s lip into the edge of the gaping mouth. Removing the hook from  the perch, the gudgeon was lifted out alive and swam off, when released. Not wanting the aggressive predator in my keepnet, that too was returned to the shallows, where it remained for a minute, or two, then was gone in a puff of mud.

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At 15 inches long, I estimated it’s weight to be around two pounds, but this being my biggest perch ever, I remembered after I’d released it, that I had my lightweight scales with me and could have recorded an accurate figure. All the same, it was an impressive fish to land on such a small hook. A sit down with a hot cup of tea from my flask was needed, before sorting myself out to continue. Looking in my bait tray, over a hundred pellets of bread had been made, each one a fish in the preceding two and a half hours.

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With perch in mind, I now switched baits to red worm and brandlings from my home compost heap, hoping for a few more stripeys, before the light went, but first trot down was another big gudgeon.

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Casting back in with the same worm, the float gave a couple of dips, then buried. Again not a perch, but a hard fighting roach, the change of bait must have shocked this one into taking.

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Perch did take the worms, but none more than a few ounces, enough to put a bend in the rod all the same, each cast taking pot luck on the species hooked. By 3 pm, the light was fading fast and I called a halt to my fishing, finishing my last cup of tea, while reflecting on a rewarding few hours spent on a truly urban river, bypassed by most local anglers heading out of town to fish.

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Constant action helped keep out the cold, putting over six pounds on the scales, which was a good result without the bonus monster perch.