Down she goes... any second now
A ‘lifeless’ pit produces among the lilies
THE water lily blooms were long gone and now the pads, too, were showing shades of amber and brown where the cold had hit like a hammer.
For now, though, there was enough cover for perch to call the place home, and amid the maze of stems running up from the tough rhizomes a shoal of stripeys had found a refuge from the gin-clear, open water.
From the banks the pit seemed lifeless, and yet in every vestige of vegetation a band of perch had moved in.
Hiding from larger predators, some of them their own kind, was one motive, but the real draw was the ambush point such cover offered. From here a shoal could launch a rapid attack on a group of fry.
These little fish, too, were drawn to the lilies, vulnerable to beak, tooth and claw now that early winter had stripped the pit of colour. So were the decaying pads really such a safe haven? The perch had other ideas.
Once the attack was launched the mini roach and the smaller perch were corralled into a mini bait ball. A few would escape but the fate of most was sealed.
To an observer on the bank all this activity would be barely noticeable – maybe a flick of a pad or a boil on the surface as the prey fish tried to leap clear of pursuing mouths.
It would be all too easy to miss a feeding frenzy lasting just a matter
of minutes at each end of the day.
For now perch were the apex predators – but armed with a rod and reel I was hoping to change all that.
A lucky sighting while tench fishing in the spring had alerted me to the perch’s presence, but now, after a few hours of casting out into open water on this bright and seemingly hopeless day, I was left scratching my head. It was then that the lily-choked margins caught my attention.
At first glance the water here seemed too shallow, no more than waist-deep, and the perch were holding station above the marginal shelf and not lower down, as I would have preferred.
Could they really have moved so close in at this time of the year? I would have my answer shortly.
For most of the trip I had been using an Esox paddletail jig in pearl red, bouncing it over bars and down gravel slopes to no avail. I began in similar fashion at my new pitch, but as I drew the jig towards the pads I knew there was limited time I could keep the lure in the taking zone.
The sun may have been weak, but it was still bright enough to ensure that if any perch were present they would be deep under cover. Time for a rethink!
First job was to get a set of chest
“There was enough lily cover for the perch to call home”
waders out of the truck so that the tip of the 8ft 6ins Esox Drop Shot rod could touch the open water on the outer edge of the pads.
I loaded 6lb fluorocarbon line directly on to a Drennan FD3000 reel – I can’t understand why some anglers prefer braid with a fluoro leader for drop shotting. It may add a few yards to the cast, but this is a relatively close-range tactic anyway.
The lack of stretch in braid, to help with clean hooking, is of little extra benefit at such short distances, and by fishing the line direct my drop shot rig was far quicker and easier to construct, with one less weak link to potentially fail.
On to the fluoro I tied a size 4 Esox drop shot hook via a Palomar knot, leaving a long tail. This was tucked back through the upturned eye, making the hook stand off
the line at 90 degrees. My lure of choice could be mounted on to this, but first a small 8g lead was pulled on to the tag end and secured with a clever keeper clip that meant no knot was required.
I had no intention of casting the weight, just dropping it to the bottom on the edge of the lilies. This would give a fixed point from which I could move the lure up and down, but not into the vegetation. Now I could stay in the taking zone for as long as I wanted. It seemed a good plan, even for an angler like me who prefers to bait fish.
First up I mounted a small holographic minnow that would replicate the perch’s prey. I opened the bail-arm, allowing it and the lead to fall into the pit. Momentarily it held station and then, by gently flicking the fine-tipped rod, I brought the imitation to life as it darted to and fro around a foot off the bottom. Occasionally I would shift the lead to search out another area, but I didn’t get a single strike.
There were two possible reasons
for this – either the lure hadn’t grabbed the perch’s interest or there were none there to be impressed!
A change of lure might be the answer, so I swapped the minnow for a 5ins Chartreuse Lime Curly Worm that no predator could miss. The response to its erratic movement was immediate, and the perch went mad. A seemingly empty pit suddenly had a group of stripeys sitting under every set of pads, and I plundered their numbers with the same ruthlessness that they had shown the fry. None were huge, but a bad day had been turned on its head.
In the clear water each perch’s markings were wonderfully striking, and I filled my boots.
Predictably, a couple of days later, I wanted another fix but for an hour no perch joined the party. In desperation I nicked on the same pearl red paddletail that I had first used, this time on a drop shot rig. Amazingly, I started catching again! Twice I had saved a blank when it would have been so easy to just walk away.
I lowered my drop shot lure over the dying lily pads.
The perch weren’t huge, but look at those colours... continued DOWN SHE GOES... ANY SECOND NOW!
Drop shot leads with ingenious clips.
A Curly Worm was met with enthusiasm.
A pearl red paddletail – deadly on its day.