Weekend Sport Column – 14th February

Sport 44 I received a huge shock this week. It came as the sun was setting on a local commercial fishery that I’ve been targeting for big perch. But before I get too carried away, let me set the scene. The fishery in question is quite small. It holds neither pike or zander, so perch are the apex predators. This is happening in a lot of commercial fisheries up and down the country and these perch have rapidly grown to specimen size. Because most anglers who fish commercials use baits that perch rarely eat or use methods that might never catch one, big perch can slip right under the radar. Commercial fisheries tend to be fairly quiet during the winter months so even the chances of an accidental capture diminish. During the summer perch feed almost exclusively on fry and small fish so again they avoid capture. Perch don’t leap or roll like carp, bream and tench which means they don’t give themselves away, and finally, they mostly tend to feed at very low light levels, close to sunrise and sunset. This is at odds with the opening hours of most commercial fisheries, so, it’s clear there can be big perch lurking underneath your nose that you will have no clue about. In this case I had a heads up. I’d heard from a good source that there were big perch in this particular pool and that they had been caught to nearly 5 pounds. In recent weeks I and a few mates had caught fish from there to nearly 4lbs but the legendary monster had evaded our best endeavours. After a while this apparent failure begins to play with your head. Did the angler who supposedly caught the biggest fish in there weigh the fish accurately? Was it an old wives tale, exaggerated with each fresh telling? And why are there never any photographs of these mythical monsters? As the weeks pass you begin to wonder if you’ve already caught the largest fish and that you’re now chasing shadows. Give up, or press on? What should you do for best? For now I’m sticking with the plan. It’s not like the rivers are fishable with all this floodwater. Saying that the water level is so high in the pool it is running over the banks at one point and the forecast is for even more rain. The banks are a right old mud bath and I’ve an hour’s work when I get home from each trip just to clean my gear. I’ve become a fan of using king prawns for perch this winter. For some reason perch find them irresistible. It looks a bit mad when you cast one out but whilst ever the fish are eating my prawns I’m happy to use them, but as the water warms carp will invariably become a problem so it’s a case of making hay while the sun shines. Anyway, back to last week. After struggling all afternoon the drop in light levels as dusk approached was met with a definite increase in fish activity. First I caught a perch of 2lbs or so. A specimen that I’d normally be overjoyed to catch but it wasn’t the monster I’m after. Then the float dipped again. My strike was immediately met with a satisfying thump. The fight from a big perch tends to be quite determined rather than spectacular. It won’t run too far but it will hang quite deep. And so I dug in with confidence, not wishing to bully or hurry the fish. As it began to tire and come closer to the surface huge tail patterns caused boils to well up on the surface. This was clearly a serious fish and I allowed myself to think that maybe, just maybe, those monster tales were indeed true. This was obviously a very big perch so I eased off the pressure slightly so as not to risk pulling the hook. With a now rapidly beating heart it plodded round in circles below the rod tip as I readied the net. No room for error, just stay focussed Bob. More tail patterns. Any time now it would be mine. And then, through the coloured water it broke surface and I blinked hard. My leviathan perch was a bloomin’ tench! Tench are synonymous with warm summer mornings, not the middle of winter. They disappear in late summer never to be seen again until the following spring. Winter captures are exceedingly rare but here I was with a lean, hard fighting ‘tinca’ in my net. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. *  *  * My old mum was 86 when she was flooded out of her bungalow in 2007 so I can sympathise with those similarly affected on the Somerset Levels. What I cannot sympathise with is the political shenanigans, the posturing, blame culture and calls for wholly inappropriate and ineffective solutions. Dredging isn’t a solution. It may provide a sticking plaster but it’s the dredging and straightening of rivers undertaken in the 1970s, the abandonment of natural water meadows and removal of anything and everything that slows down the velocity of the ‘fluid relief channels’  that’s at the root of so many of our floods today. Draining moorland and forcing water to hurtle from source to sea as quickly as possible is at the root cause. So is the draining of water meadows, building on flood plains, concreting over gardens and ripping out hedgerows to create prairie farms. We’re architects of our own doom. Getting rid of water from one place is invariably detrimental to those living in another. And what happened to the old farming practise called warping, where fields were deliberately flooded in winter so the sediment that settled out would fertilise the land? The terms level, fen, marsh and ings are all clues that our countryside had a history of flooding. We can only meddle with nature up to a point. It is fashionable to show sympathy for whales, tigers, elephants, rhinos and even giraffes in Belgian zoos, but who’s going to show sympathy for the millions of fish that will remain trapped on the fields as flood levels recede. No-one will. But the Environment Agency should. It’s their job. So while I’m prepared to sympathise with the impossible position the Agency has been placed in due to Whitehall budget cuts I do feel their own policies, rooted in the past, will result in a catastrophic and negative effect on fish stocks and fishing, particularly where floods have had the greatest impact.

Fishery Of The Week

Royal Berkshire Fishery

Head for the Royal if you fancy some cracking winter roach sport. Bags to 40lb have been taken in recent weeks and there’s always the chance of a specimen two-pounder to be had. You have a choice of 3 lakes where caster will sort out the better specimens. Just for good measure the lakes also contain some surprisingly big perch. Location: Royal Berkshire Fishery, North Street, Winkfield, Windsor, Berkshire, SL4 4TE Contact: 01344 891101, 07976 967976, Web Site: www.rbf.co.uk