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John Bailey: A sail-finned sergeant is perfect for snowy weather

PUBLISHED: 11:03 05 December 2017 | UPDATED: 11:03 05 December 2017

All wrapped up for winter, John Bailey holds a fine, bristling perch. Picture: John Bailey

All wrapped up for winter, John Bailey holds a fine, bristling perch. Picture: John Bailey

Archant

Brrrrr, how the winter has sprung upon us. Just a few days ago, at seven on a shivering morning, I was out on the riverbank, itself shimmering white with frost and a lick of snow. Amidst heavy clouds, a bright sun was about to rise and I figured it would be a perch or nothing day. Good call.

My boots crunched along a stretch of middle or perhaps upper Wensum, a beat barely fished, almost forgotten about by the angling public. There was just a tinge of colour that I felt might be on my side and there was cover for glorious perch everywhere. The river here was a textbook of perch swims from overhanging trees, through to rafts and thick beds of Norfolk reed. The very air whispered perch.

Bait-loving Bailey was actually lure fishing. A tiny rod, miniscule reel, braid, trace and a small grey/green plastic crayfish creation was all I needed, along with net and camera. I flicked the crayfish here, there, everywhere I guessed a perch might lurk. I tried to retrieve it in the way that I know signal crayfish behave, always darting, hiding, resting and looking extremely edible to a big, heavily-striped perch.

An hour into the morning and I felt a pluck followed by a pull. I missed it. My stomach lurched. I cast again to the same spot and, miraculously, the fish came again, or perhaps it was a fellow shoal member. This time, though, I remembered to strike hard and upwards and that was the key. Three pulsating minutes later, a fine, bristling sail-finned sergeant was looking at me from the meshes of my net. I took a photograph, realising I looked like some green Michelin man in my layers of clothing. Who cares? It’s the perch that is the glorious one.

This is not my triumph. Later on in the day, I fished with Robbie, Jack and Matty down in Norwich, along the city reaches of the Wensum. These are the kiddies, the teens and the 20s who are bringing lure fishing into the modern arena. You can see why. Lure fishing is so much more engaging than drowning maggots, worms and peeled prawns. It’s all about action, invention, mobility, touch, accurate casting and skilful retrieve. Watching a float and the minutes drag as the snow falls around you. Work a lure and the day just flashes past.

I guess we must have cut a strange sight, the four of us, all togged up, rods in hand, cutting our way through the centre of the city, following every meander in the river. Christmas shoppers bustled past, business people in sharp suits and the backdrop was one of buses and endless droning traffic. Still, there was beauty all around, the low, setting sun dancing off the bridges, off the fine buildings that line our city centre river. There’s a beguiling mix of modern and mediaeval and as I looked at the lads, intent on their perching sport, I guessed that this was a scene that must have been played out December upon December for centuries. Perch and Christmas weather have always fitted well and lads of all ages have enjoyed the perching experience, I know.

We failed to catch anything massive in the city in the afternoon, though Matty had taken a whopper at first light hours earlier. It didn’t really matter. It was the anticipation that kept us bubbling as the afternoon temperatures plummeted. It was real, raw, on-the-edge fishing and I loved it, adored it.

Perch are a magnificent species, often sadly overlooked. They come and they go from our waters and, if you know a big perch this winter, I’d advise you to hit them while you can. They’re not our most long-lived species and a successful year class can pass into history in the blink of an eye. A pound perch is a good fish, a two-pounder a beaut and a three-pounder truly the fish of dreams. In fact, if I were to think of the best Christmas present ever, for any angler it would be a four. Who knows? They are out there, perhaps most especially on our tidal rivers. But now the snow is falling, though, will I, for one, have the courage to get out there after a sail-finned, magnificently-striped sergeant?

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