During that time specimens over 4lb have become relatively common, with two- and three-pounders barely getting a mention in despatches. As impressive as this ‘new normal’ for the species has become, experts believe that even larger specimens prowl in our waters, thriving on a perfect storm of environmental conditions and a ready supply of food.
Experts believe that even larger specimens prowl in our waters
Perch are arguably the most accessible of our native coarse species, found everywhere from vast open lakes to muddy canals.
Scroll back 50 years, though, and the situation was far different. Ravaged by a virulent disease, they were pushed to the brink of existence. So how have they made such a remarkable recovery?
Kye Jerrom, Senior Fisheries Officer at the Environment Agency, revealed that a number of factors have contributed to their success. He said:
“We’ve been monitoring perch populations since 1975, and since then there’s been a substantial increase in not only their numbers, but also their size.
“Many of our coarse fish populations have flourished in recent years, aided by excellent spawning success due to the recent long, warm summers.
“As a result, there’s plenty of food for perch, and in the correct environment they can display exceptional growth.”
This ‘correct environment’ ideally features – alongside an abundance of prey fish – a lack of other predators for competition, little angling pressure, and good water clarity. When all these factors come together, alarming growth rates have been witnessed, as Kye went on to reveal.
“Analysis we’ve done in such conditions showed that perch can grow to over 15cm in their first year and to over 3lb in weight in less than four years. For a species that lives for around eight years, this leaves plenty of time for them to reach record proportions.”
Perch can grow to over 3lb in weight in less than four years
All the rage
But there are other reasons why we’re seeing so many big perch being caught today, as Andy Cheetham, chairman of the Perchfishers club, told us.
“It’s been many years since they were wiped out by disease, so right now they’re at the peak of their recovery, resulting in bigger fish and larger populations. Add to this the fact that lure angling has soared in popularity, with thousands of anglers now at it, and that lure fishing is a great way to single out the biggest perch, and it’s little surprise that we’re seeing so many big fish being caught. Perch have also become quite a ‘trendy’ fish, with ever more carpers fishing for them over the winter months.”
Andy Cheetham with a fine 5lb 11oz perch from a Midlands river
A rosy future
Nobody can fail to be impressed by pictures of Matt Atkins’ potential new British record of 6lb 4oz, banked in October 2020, but Andy Cheetham believes even bigger fish are on the cards… if they haven’t been banked already.
“I certainly think there are bigger fish on the horizon, and have actually been told of fish to over 7lb having been caught in this country. You have to remember that many anglers don’t report catches nowadays, especially from a water that’s on form. Perch are cyclical and may fade from a venue for years before suddenly reappearing, so people like to make the most of quality fishing while it’s there – without competition from other anglers.
“The best perch fishing I ever experienced came from a stretch of river most people had given up on. I hit on a small group of very big fish, and over a five-year period I landed 11 four-pounders and five fish over 5lb,” Andy added.
Matt Atkins’ potential new British record of 6lb 4oz
With the average stamp of perch in the UK on the rise, the question remains whether one day the nation’s specimen hunters could be catching fish of five, even six pounds, with some regularity.
Across the North Sea in the Netherlands, fishing like that is already on offer, and Dutch specialist Tim Janssen firmly believes the UK could one day witness a similar level of sport because all the necessary foundations are in place.
“One of the reasons we have big perch is because of our big river systems connected to large gravel pits,” Tim explained.
“These are filled with clear, healthy water as well as loads of small bait fish for the perch to hunt, as well as a fish we call the ‘donal grondel’ (a small freshwater goby), and millions of crayfish.
“The UK has gravel pits with a good balance of food and clear and healthy water, so perhaps one day the perch should reach a similar level to ours.”
Whilst Britain does indeed have large gravel pits, they’re not on the same scale as those found in Holland, and most are not connected to rivers. Perhaps the closest we have to this model is the Norfolk Broads and, interestingly, that is a county that was geographically connected to Holland some 10,000 years ago. With the Broads already known to have produced perch to over 5lb in recent seasons to publicity-shy anglers, and with a rising number of crayfish and an abundance of bait fish in our waters, who knows what the future might hold?
One thing’s for sure: it’s an exhilarating time to be a British perch angler!
This huge Dutch perch of 6lb 11oz fell to Tim Janssen