Search our blog

Perch Fishing on Canals and Small Rivers

Published: 9th December 2019 | Author: Tim James

Think of fly fishing for specimen perch in the UK and more often than not this conjures up visions of anglers floating atop of very large trout reservoirs stripping lures through the depths. However, outside of these venues perching takes a very different turn especially on the small rivers and canals I have been targeting this winter. Snags including manmade ones like shopping trolleys and mopeds, frequent lack of casting space and boat traffic all conspire to make singling out the larger ones a real challenge. What follows next is a brief summary of my somewhat successful attempt to land big perch this winter.  

Why I chose to target big perch

A toddler and a pregnant wife forced me to rethink my angling this year so I elected to concentrate on fishing within a reasonable distance from my home city of London. With my work office at the time located right on the lower River Lea in East London, I thought perch would present a new adventure. However, I was not interested in catching kamikaze ‘wasps’, it was the warier big boys I wanted.


Since I acquired it in 2012 Dominic Garnett’s book ‘Fly Fishing for Coarse Fish’ has been a go to bible for inspiring new challenges. Supplementing this was the customary Google search which yielded one article by David West Beale which was particularly relevant to canals and small rivers. One very important observation of his was that getting takes on the fly is not the issue it’s detecting the takes which can be problematic.

The tackle

David started out using pike tackle i.e. 8/9wts but later settled on using a 7’6” 3wt to help feel the subtle takes that perch can give. This informed my choice of rod which is a 9ft 4wt Helios2, the extra length coming in handy to reach over bankside vegetation. This is combined with a Barrio Midge Tip line which is ideal for the shallow venues I am fishing. The tippet consists of 15lb Fulling Mill Fluorocarbon which is thick enough to withstand the teeth of the jack pike I often encounter. I attach the fly using a Rapala knot, onto which I thread a 5.5mm Tungsten bead to the loop. This bead also clicks against the hook’s eye providing further attraction. The fly I use is a lightly dressed bucktail pattern similar to a Prince of Tides but with the inclusion of epoxy eyes.


The method

At the time of writing, my approach involves fan casting to and around features. I count the fly down to the bottom and employ a steady figure of eight. To eliminate slack I keep the tension constant, avoiding overly jerky movements that induce momentary slack in the line. I also jig the fly underneath the rod tip along walls. However, I have come to accept that the lack of sensitivity of a fly set up, relative to modern lure tactics, means that I am missing out on those very subtle takes which only the later set up can transmit. Nevertheless, as a fly angler, it’s about the enjoyment of using this method, not the number of fish I land.

My progress so far

My first sessions were on the Lea in East London, where early starts saw me fishing around raves on canal boats and intoxicated hipsters staggering up and down the towpath. My only fish was a nice jack pike around 6lbs or so. However out of the blue, I was contacted by fellow multi-species fly angler, Hector Rodriguez, who was following my posts about perching. He recommended a small river located on the Hertfordshire/Essex border where he’d had large perch follow his flies while pike fishing. My first session on the new river resulted in one tiny jack pike and one lost perch of around a pound. After several weeks and hard fishing on the Lea this loss was gutting, to say the least.

A couple of sessions later I was fan casting an area where the river has an outlet. I cast out and waited for the fly to hit the bottom, began to retrieve and bang. After a short tussle, I slipped the net under a plump perch of around a pound. I was elated! However, it was to be a couple of weeks later before I was properly rewarded.


Fifty meters up from this outflow is a slightly deeper area with several overhanging trees. This is one of the last areas I fish before heading home. I cast to the edge of one of the trees and gradually fanned out to open water.  Wallop…. then nothing! Perhaps an investigating jack pike… I repeated the cast in the same location. Wham, a solid take! At first, I thought it was another jack pike – ‘nuisances’ that often provided welcome action.

However, the head shakes gave the game away, which was confirmed when a sizeable perch surfaced. My excitement was tempered with concern once I realised my landing net was 15 or so feet away! I knew that I was probably going to go several weeks before I connected with a fish of this size again. To lose this fish would have been devastating, to say the least! Thankfully the net was retrieved and the perch successfully scooped up. And it was a beauty, probably around the two-pound mark.


In conclusion

Although I am still in the process of refining my tactics and finding new locations I am relishing this new challenge. Furthermore, being from a carp angling background originally I am used to going long periods between captures. This makes successes all the more rewarding.

With perch being widespread throughout the UK, the fishing being cheap or in many cases free they represent a great species to target for those who like fishing locally and/or on a budget. So why wait until the weekend for your fishing fix when there’s a good chance of perch action in a waterway local to you!

For more perch fishing action, see here.

All articles related to perch fishing on the Fulling Mill Blog.
This site uses cookies.
ConfigureHide Options
Read our privacy policy

This site uses cookies for marketing, personalisation, and analysis purposes. You can opt out of this at any time or view our full privacy policy for more information.