Perch Fishing Between the Boats
Osprey Specimen Group Records Officer and veteran all round big fish angler Bob Hornegold looks back at his sessions in search of big Lea Valley perch.
As with most rivers – at least in the southern half of the country – the perch fishing on the Lea system has been exceptional in recent years and although it lacks the pedigree of the Great Ouse and indeed the Thames there are numbers of good fish to be found if you work hard.
My regular fishing companions Abbey Cross member Gary Newland and Osprey SG Secretary Clive Bradley and myself enjoyed a very good 2007/2008 season on the Lea Navigation for Perch with quite a few over 3lb and one just under the magic 4lb mark, making the season a really memorable one.
Having put in the groundwork, found going areas and identified the tactics we had anticipated that the fishing would improve the following season but unfortunately the 2008/2009 season was not to turn out such a great success, due we believe to a combination of adverse weather conditions and, possibly, poaching of the canal by Eastern Europeans.
In September 2008 we started targeting the areas we had identified the previous season concentrating on areas from the Conkers at Nazeing to Fields Weir at Hoddestone and then moving to different spots in an attempt to search out the Lea Navigation for those elusive big Lea Perch. However with the exception of a 3lb 2oz perch caught by Gary from the Relief Channel we just could not locate them!!
Speaking to the Lea Navigation Bailiff during the course of our sessions it would appear that certain anglers had been fishing the Lea above Dobbs Weir throughout the close season with impunity - and it would also appear that perch were their favourite table fish...
Despite a huge effort we never again located the shoals of perch that we had found in the Fields Weir section in 2007/08 and it was with some disappointment that we decided to try some new sections of the canal and eventually we found a few fish at Rye House.
Rye House is, to say the least, an unattractive area of the Lea Navigation and with a speedway track behind it and a go-cart track further downstream it could be very noisy. If that wasn’t enough opposite are houses and flats, behind them a railway station and to the left a factory estate – so much for angling in the quiet pastoral surrounds of the British countryside.
The one real saving grace was the Rye House Pub which became a haven for tired and destitute Osprey members in the depths of winter and the £4.99 Rump Steak and Chips meal became a real life saver at times! Another benefit was that the car park for the pub and speedway track goes to the very edge of the Lea Navigation and that means you could drive your car to within a foot of the water if required.
One downside of fishing this area we soon encountered were the houseboats which came in every shape and size imaginable; many of them had been moved out of the Olympics building site at Stratford (East London) and have migrated upstream to the prettier areas of Hertfordshire. This meant that on a number of occasions there was no room to fish at all because the boats were moored up nose to tail and two abreast along the entirety of the available fishing area. These boats have no permanent moorings but are allowed to stay in one area for up two weeks before they have to move on. Although having said they were a pain I got to know quite a few of the people living on the boats and they could not have been friendlier and of course perch like nothing better than a bit of cover and moored boats were ideal!
When we could find gaps between the boats to fish through we started off using lobworms but typical for this part of the Navigation all we could connect with were countless crayfish but thankfully small fish were not too tricky to tempt on light gear and livebaits turned out to be the most successful approach.
Gary was the first of us to be successful at Rye House with a nice perch of just over 2lb, then I had one at 2lb 2oz but we were catching lots of small pike every trip which kept us on our toes. Clive was the first of us to catch a decent perch over 3lb and followed it up with a new PB of 3lb 14oz then Barry Shipman (another Osprey member) chipped in with another 3lb 14oz fish - which we believe was a different fish to Clive’s.
I’m not sure how many small pike we caught from this section of the river but I reckon it must have run into hundreds, at times I would catch up to 10 jacks in a day session! But just occasionally, every once in a while, the fight would reveal that marvellous flash of red fins with black stripes instead of primrose spots and sharp teeth!
I believe the biggest pike we landed between us was a 12lb fish but I did hook something one day that just kept going and going and going like an express train. It could have been a decent pike I just couldn’t stop on my light gear and I have known carp to snaffle the odd livebait at times too and there are certainly a few of those in the Lea; then again it could have been a catfish – they too are not unknown in the system and that is one of the delights of the Navigation; you never know just what’s going to turn up next!
We typically kept our tackle very simple indeed: light rods, drop off indicators, front buzzers, open bale fixed spool reels, 6lb line, float paternoster or sunken float set ups with Pro-Leader/ Catfish-Pro armoured braids and single hooks with small livebaits either lip or tail hooked.
As we approached the end of the season I was beginning to think I was not going to get any where near my target 4lb perch but I knew there were big perch in the area I was concentrating on because I had lost a ‘big un’ at the net a few weeks earlier. The water depth at Rye House is deeper (12ft) than at most parts of the Lea Navigation and I think I was missing fish by striking too early.
So when, at last knockings a week from the end of the season, the line went tight and pulled out of the clip on my sunken paternoster rig I left it a bit longer that usual, as the line started to move away I wound down and struck and felt a solid resistance.
I was actually fishing a very space-restricted area at the rear of a boat between a corrugated iron fence so there was not a lot of room to play the fish but I managed and nearly had a heart attack as the fish surfaced, thinking I might finally have broken a lifelong target!
Unfortunately it was not to be and turned out to be a spawnbound perch that weighed in at 3lb14oz 8dr, my second largest ever Lea Perch and Russell from the houses across the river kindly came round on his bike to take the photo’s and witness the fish. This was my last decent perch of that season and I would have to wait another year to try for that much awaited 4lb plus Lea Navigation Perch.
As it transpired 2009/2010 was again a very difficult season but we did manage to locate and catch some decent Perch to 3lb 10oz and I did manage the 4lb Perch – although not from the Navigation but from a gravel pit alongside it.