Mark Wintle, an angler for thirty-five years, is on a quest to discover and bring to you the magic of fishing. Previously heavily involved with match fishing he now fishes for the sheer fun of it. With an open and enquiring mind, each week Mark will bring to you articles on fishing different rivers, different methods and what makes rivers, and occasionally stillwaters, tick. Add to this a mixed bag of articles on catching big fish, tackle design, angling politics and a few surprises.

Are you stuck in a rut fishing the same swim every week? Do you dare to try something different and see a whole new world of angling open up? Yes? Then read Mark Wintle’s regular weekly column.


During the summer, Dave Slater had promised to take me fishing for perch on a local stillwater. I had never visited this water, and really had little idea of what to expect. But during the early part of the season the water was packed with anglers trying their luck with the large head of small carp. It was a question of waiting for the crowds to diminish before arranging a trip. By September, the water was much quieter, and Dave managed a midweek trip bagging two perch of around two and a half pounds plus several of around a pound and a half. He stressed that one particular swim was the hotspot, the one that he had fished, and therefore an early start to be sure of getting that swim was essential. We arranged to fish the water the following Saturday morning.

Blue air
As I drove into the car park in the half-light, it was clear that we were not quite early enough. Someone was already fishing. Dave jumped out of the car and went to have a look. Seconds later the air turned blue. “Had to be in that ******* swim,” he said, and worse. Never one to turn down a challenge, I upped his medication before we unloaded our gear.

The swims that Dave thought the perch frequented were those with plenty of lily bed cover. The lake had been artificially constructed with a low earth dam near the car park. From the dam, the lake was an elongated triangle to where a brook fed the lake. Due to the drought, the brook had dried out so that the level of the lake was several inches below normal. Though there was about five feet of water by the dam, the further away from there you go the shallower it gets. Even the swim that Dave had in mind is only two feet deep by the lilies. Extensive lily beds and Norfolk reed beds were found in many swims on both sides of the lake. But there was little actual fishable water in many of the swims that had lilies. It was case of walking round the lake, assessing each swim on its merits, until we found one that we liked. Having failed to find a swim on the right hand bank, we crossed the now dry brook and began to look at swims on the other bank. This side looked more promising.

Mark’s and Dave’s perch set-up

Tackling up was easy. To catch the perch we both tackled up an Avon rod with 6lb line. A Drennan Crystal Chubber taking two swan shots and a size six Kamasan 983 hook (with a pinched barb) made a simple rig. The two swan shot were pinched on eight inches from the hook, and the float set to 2ft deep. Next, I needed to catch the bait. For a match angler this was a simple task. I’d brought a four-metre whip and rig for it. A single maggot on a twenty soon brought a stream of tiny roach around three inches that would be ideal. Hooking on a tiny roach, Dave made his first cast. The float lay flat with the two swan shot on the bottom. Worryingly, the swim was only fourteen inches deep. Would there be any perch? With so little water, we decided to give the swim an hour and a half. If nothing happened we would move back to swims on the dam where the lilies were in much smaller patches but at least the water was much deeper.

The early morning breeze was chilly, with patches of mist drifting across the lake. By a great bed of Norfolk reed, a carp bubbled. But, apart from the odd little roach flipping, nothing else stirred. Our floats gently bobbed on the edge of the lilies yet never showed that agitation that indicates the nearby presence of a perch. Some time after nine it was time to move on. We discounted one or two likely swims with promising cover because the fishing stages had fallen into a rotten mess. Ten minutes later, we were more or less back at the car park. We decided to give the first two swims on the dam a trial.

A strike, a miss, then success
At first nothing much happened, then after half an hour of trying to persuade the tiny rudd bait to remain by the lilies, I got what seemed to be a good bite as the float quickly towed off to the left. I struck…..and missed. There’ll soon be another chance so I hooked on another tiny rudd and recast. It’s vital to strike immediately when using a large hook with perch so that there is no danger of deep hooking. For this reason we held the rod at all times and watched the float. This is not a game for those that need a bite alarm to detect their takes. Dave then got a series of bites that he missed. Just what was going on? Then I got a solid bite with the float plunging down. A solid strike met firm resistance. I applied side strain to the right as the perch tried to get into the lilies, then it switched direction, trying to get into the weeds under my feet. The tackle was well up to the mark, and I soon netted a fine perch. Not quite as big as I hoped for but at a pound and a half, it was a start. Ten minutes later, I caught its twin, and just as I netted it, Dave struck lucky to finally connect with the fish that had been trying his patience. No wonder he couldn’t hit the bites as it was only a pound, and was probably trying to nobble the bait before attempting to swallow it.

Mark’s 1lb 9oz perch

A move
After this flurry of activity, all went quiet. But soon afterwards, the angler in the perch hotspot decided to move. And so did we, straight into his swim. There was enough room in the swim for both of us. There were two hotspots in the swim in tiny bays in the lily beds. We manoeuvred our floats towards these bays, though our baits were determined to avoid staying in those areas. We persevered with this swim for some time but nothing happened. Perhaps the perch had wised up after Dave’s big catch several days previous. After trying several other spots in vain, we packed up in the early afternoon.

Although we had had only limited success, and none of real specimen size it had been educational for me. It seems to me that there are two main effective ways of catching perch; with small livebaits, and with lobworms. On any given water, one of these methods is likely to be much better than the other. So on this water Dave has found that livebaits are much better than worms. Worms here produce eels, tench and small carp rather than perch. On the nearby Stour a livebait is much more likely to produce small pike, and worms have proved more effective for the perch. The effectiveness of the method is dependent on the perch’s preference rather than avoiding other species.

Other methods
Of course, other methods can produce good-sized perch; I’ve had them on maggots and casters, and I’m sure they can be caught on spinners but these two methods are the ones to master if you want big perch. The second lesson is that the perch are really tight to cover in many waters. That often means the float actually touching the lilies or reeds. This is something that Fred J. and Ken Taylor advocated for years from their extensive experience on the Upper Ouse when fishing with float-fished lobs. On the lake we fished, there are no pike. On other waters, small pike are likely to take a livebait even a tiny one like the ones we used. But using a wire trace to prevent the pike biting off the hook is likely to stop perch takes. Therefore, the only thing you can do is to accept the occasional hook loss to get the perch. The immediate strike that is important to prevent deep hooking a perch might result in a lip-hooked pike in which case you will probably land the pike.

I would advocate at least 4lbs line and with the modern lines stick with five or six pound line and rod to match. We used size 6 single hooks, lip-hooking the livebaits. We wouldn’t recommend using smaller than a size 8. Finally, on the day in question, there did seem to be a short feeding spell. Whether it was due to changing light conditions, or just that was when we found the perch I’m not sure, but according to Dave, this was not unusual on this water.

Next week: ‘Perch on the Ouse’