Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Big Perch Quest - Somewhere under the Rainbows

Steve of Watery Reflections dropped me a last minute proposition on Sunday. 'Jeff, fancy coming on a trip early Monday morning after a record perch, all expenses paid, bait and tackle provided?'

Well, I was all set on washing my hair on Monday, but...

The destination was Hanningfield Reservoir, an inland sea down in rural Essex. This place used to be one of my childhood haunts as I was born a few miles down the road in Billericay and was raised in Basildon, in fact my young body was completely hydrated by its waters for thirteen years as it was and still is the water supply for the new town. Once, myself and a couple of mates bussed out from town and bunked in over the fence, through the woods and then swam out to the island on the nature reserve where we found a mess of shit, feathers, broken eggshells and the abandoned nests of the gull colony. I remembered all that as clear as the morning air

Hanningfield from miles up. The little white dots at far left corner are fishing boats

We wandered down to the jetty. Somewhere out there was a perch to smash the record. It looked daunting but the ranger put us on to the hotspot, the place where no less than three five pound fish have come a cropper this year alone and one of those was a record equal of five pounds, fifteen ounces. It is reported that much larger fish have been spotted up to an incredible estimate of seven pounds. I scrutinised a picture of the record-equalling fish nailed to the boathouse wall, a fish weighed onshore as boat weighed fish are not eligible for records and probably on the fishery's accurate pan scales hanging by the door. It looked a very young fish indeed...

Two boats had been arranged, one for Steve and his partner (me because the previous occupant had had to pull out at short notice) and one for Steve's colleague 'Stonesy', and Dr Paul Garner.  I recognised Paul's distinctive profile from his regular press appearances sporting outsize fish. He looked, as all real people do when you first know them from a mediated reality - the same, but utterly different. As we pulled away from the quayside I fired off a picture but between hitting the shoot button and the taking of the shot there's always a delay and so I ended up taking a shot of Dr Paul's arse, inadvertently of course, as he fired up the outboard.

It was the last we would see of them both for some time...

It'll be this big...

As we motored out to the fish cages and dredging pontoon, our first port of call, there to the West was the gull island now joined to the land because of the lower water levels of the recent drought. Swimming out was no longer necessary but Basildon was in no danger of dying of thirst just yet as there remained almost a thousand acres of deep water to drink from, and to fish in...

Perca maximus here we come!

The water was flat calm and though quite clear was thick in places with an ongoing green algal bloom that scattered the light and stopped vision in its tracks. We drifted around the floating structures casting and retrieving lures. After a number of unsuccessful moves we went over to the North bank and had a cast around the valve tower where we saw our first rising fish sucking insects from the filmy surface, however, try as we may we could not induce a take to our lures.

The valve tower

We moved back out again and found an area with more rising fish and drifted around there for a while lulled by the gently rocking boat on the mirror smooth water, casting and retrieving, over and over. I changed lures to from a green shad to red shad and considered a jelly worm before settling on a four inch imitation zander fry diving crankbait.

I think I was drifting too when it happened - a take so savage that it wrenched the rod right down to the water and ripped yards of braided line off the spool. The fish leapt clear of the water spray sparkling in the air and crashed back down only to tear straight under the stern and out the other side to leap once more. Good grief! My heart was pumping as an enormous adrenalin rush coursed through. What is it that someone once said about carp? How hooking one is comparable to being dragged out of bed by a grappling hook attached to a passing plane? Well, that's exactly what this was like and I had been totally unprepared for the jolt. The fish, a rainbow trout of three pounds or so, must have smashed into the lure at full pelt whilst moving directly away from me. Savage stuff!

A heartstopping rainbow

Twenty minutes later it happened again but this time at full range. The fish whacked into the lure, bored deep and then leaped a yard clear of the water. Then the fight became something entirely different. Gone were the furious head shakes and surface kiting of the first few seconds to be replaced by a ferocious downward lunging power that I could barely contain. Imagine attempting to stop a bull terrier on long leash from savaging the postman. Something like that!

I thought that perhaps my hooked fish had been swallowed by a monster cannibal trout and that was who I was now fighting, but as I managed to hold the fish near the boat for a few seconds Steve standing up with the net in hand could see it was just a four pounder hooked right in the top of the tail fin root. The fish must have shed the barbless trebles on the leap only to re-hook itself as it thrashed in mid-air.

Of course, as an illegitimate capture it was returned without ceremony despite it being the second personal best of the day.

Fox 'Rage' jigging rod, Shimano Biomaster reel, braid line, broken finger nail

We moved around from place to place  but unsuccessfully till we came across another pod of feeding fish not so far from where we'd been. Steve's first cast resulting in his first take of the day but it was on for just a few seconds before it was lost. Then the weather changed for the worse in a matter of minutes and the water from flat calm to wind rippled. The trout we'd found went off the feed so we went off to another bank structure with very deep water around it to try jigging at various depths for the perch. Unsuccessfully again.

All sky and refections of

Eventually we got to the perch hotspot, a shallow area with quite a lot of weed off the Southern bank. The perch were not found here either. By now I was thinking that our whole approach was wrong for perch: those that had been caught had come around spawning time and I would have guessed that in common with the majority of other fish, perch do not inhabit the spawning areas during the rest of the year but go live elsewhere, somewhere their depth sensitive bodies can be comfortable and well fed.

I thought that the likelihood of finding them was extremely remote as we had no real idea about the depth these fish would be found and in a water as large as this knowing such a crucial fact would have narrowed the chase down by a very large factor indeed.

Steve fights a trout

We then moved just a little way along to explore the water around a cordoned off inlet and started to catch a lot of trout around the two pound mark. They were hitting the lures regularly and often getting themselves foul-hooked even though the takes were nowhere near as savage as those I'd had in the morning. We agreed that we were using lures that were just too large for the trout's relatively small mouths and so we both scaled down to small lures and then proceeded to catch a lot more trout, but now legitimately.

One of the better trout

This was how we used up the rest of the session, finally stopping when our arms had had too much of casting to and fighting these hard scrapping fish to the boat. We lost count how many but it was plenty enough. As for the perch, we'll the other guys had had exactly the same results as us with lots of trout caught ( plenty foul hooked too) and none of the trout anglers had any either and so I concluded that we'd simply passed right over their heads and probably never once put a lure at their preferred depth whereas the trout had been in the top ten feet of the water column all day long.

That they were out there was certain but they were in a very definite place we'd not thought to look, and that was somewhere under the rainbows.


  1. A great day mate. But you could have told me the hair on the back of my head looked like a bog brush.

  2. Nice write up and you got it right, you went where the big fish are - the 1st thing to do when after a big un!

  3. Steve in Colorado24 June 2011 at 02:03

    A shame the perch didn't show but a day better spent on angling rather than washing your mange, eh?