I have to tell myself off on occasion. I find myself in Spring looking forward to the start of the season. In Summer, I’m looking to the Winter, and on it goes, until another birthday passes and I wonder why they come so soon.
This year I could not however, shake the yearning for the autumn that crept up on me sooner than I had ever felt it – in June!
This Summer filled me with an intensity like no other; admittedly, this was more to do with certain personal events on the horizon than just the fishing. I just couldn’t find my rhythm. I was tinkering too much. Wishing I had bought this with me instead of that; should’ve gone for roach instead of barbel, should’ve bought my lure rod etc.
Don’t get me wrong, the Summer had been kind, a P.B. Barbel, a cracking summer perch that will make 4lb + in Winter, a couple of really good SAS socials and taking my two and a half year old son for his first ever minnow bash.
These were all much needed relief during a pretty contentious time. But all that stress is over – and as the leaves begin to fall away, so do my anxieties. We are here. The Itchen is booked for the first of our social grayling events, the freezer is stocked with deadbait and I’m still wondering when Sy and I will hit the Kennet for the redfins.
It’s Autumn and I want it to be this way forever – at the moment anyway.
Now is the time for me to seriously concentrate on my first love, the perch, more exclusively, Kennet perch. I don’t know what it is about perch from the Kennet that I’m so hung up on, I guess the fact that I love the river so much helps.
If the Thames is the old curmudgeonly father that is warm to you as long as you stick to the rules, and the Loddon, a beguiling succubus, that takes you to a point of blissful orgasm one minute only to give you the cold shoulder for weeks, months, years after, then the Kennet is the big brother that I wished I had been blessed with as a youngster. Sometimes taunting and teasing, sometimes downright bullying, but never letting you forget that the rewards are there. It seems fitting that the perch, the bully, sometimes punching well above its weight, should reside and flourish in such a waterway.
I have had many great perch from many waters but none give me the buzz and excitement that I get when finding a new perch hole on the Kennet – which is required often, as the perch there do like to move between the still canal stretches and the flowing river sections. Thankfully, this means multiple repeat captures are very rare. In fact, this season is the first to see me actively planning a return to a particular spot later on in the winter to catch a fish I encountered earlier this summer, weighing in at 3lb 4oz, but looking every inch a 4lb+ winter fish, that absolutely dwarfed the 2lb 10oz that graced the net soon after. I’m sure I shall forgive myself for this notion if it does make the magical 4lb. If, of course, it is still there.
In fact, Jez, a good angling pal and recent addition to my band of merry speci-hunters decided to join me for the day, fishing for his beloved chub. He was not too sure as to whether he had ever seen a perch over 1 and a half lbs, to which I suggested that he would indeed remember, as there is no fish bigger than a big perch, I soon proved my point with a 3lb+ just as he ambled past me to look for more chubby holes. I remember the words I spoke as I revealed this great stripy lump.
“This will change the way you feel about perch!”
It certainly did, he was fixed, as I am every time, on the fish’s belligerent stare and confidence, even out of it’s comfort zone. I often recall the scene from Monty Python’s Holy Grail, with the Black Knight refusing to admit that his opposing swordsman had got the better of him.
Anyway, how to locate Kennet perch? There is a thing. If a swim looks perchy, the chances are there will be something of note lurking in the vicinity, the trouble is, we labor away for hours in these swims, only to resign our selves that there are no perch there and fish it never more. Why? Because perch are easy to catch aren’t they? PAH! I have watched perch, big perch, sit nose to nose with a bait for the best part of an afternoon, only to strike their prey a soon as the occupants of heaven nudge the dimmer switch down a touch.
A big lesson to me, early on while perching on the Kennet, was to always look at the venue as if it is the first time you are targeting the perch that reside along it. A swim that you may well have worked hard once, and ignored thereafter could well produce a dream fish on the fourth, fifth or even sixth time of asking.
Another great tip is to take along a lure rod whenever walking a venue for the first time, even if you are looking for swims for your next barbel mission. Not only does this give you a chance to actually gain some idea about the substrate and underwater features, it also give you an idea of a good working spinner pattern or shad colour for that venue, thus confidence in the lure you are using and a chance (if like me) to whittle down the amount of lures you take out with you on a dedicated trip. How frantic the fishing gets when I have taken nearly 500 different lures out with me and refuse to move from the swim until I had tried each and every one for a good few chucks. By the end of a session on these occasions, I’m a wheezing, jelly-kneed, cack-handed shadow of the man I was when I first arrived. It is so important to have a smaller selection of lures in your box that you are confident with. I probably have 3 out of every 100. It should be no great shock to discover that one of these is the Rublex Ondex.
It may be quite surprising however to learn that most of my success on the lures has come during periods of middling atmospheric pressure, as well as after a consistent spell of low pressure – but I would say that the former has the edge as regards my biggest specimens.
It also pays to look at the baitfish available in each stretch. This may be obvious to many of you but not so to others. In areas populated heavily by bleak, of course, anything looking remotely like an easy one to pick off will be the first to go, so I employ something silvery/golden and green. Likewise with roach, silvery/white and red and blue will perhaps get a bit more attention from the sergeants. Of course if this all fails then a perch pattern certainly won’t, in fact, rather like some pike waters, I have encountered sections at certain times of the year, where the perchy elders will only succumb to a smaller version of itself.
The only other finding of note about lure fishing on the kennet that doesn’t, hopefully, put me in the league of teaching Granny to suck eggs, is not to get too distracted by the far bankside roots and overhangs. On many canal sections, especially in the colder months, these are often pretty shallow and the fish are in the very centre of the waterway, in the deepest parts. It pays to have a long cast to your left or right at pretty much dead center of the river to pick these fish up.
If you have tried all this to no avail, then please do think about slowing your retrieve a notch, I’m guilty too, of having a slow session, trying every lure and the frustration building to a mechanical piston busting frenzy, even if the fish fancied what was on offer, it had no chance of catching it.