Perfect start to the year - Stuart Court

Former British barbel record holder Stuart Court recounts his start to the year, including the capture of two monster perch!

The last couple of weeks of the river season are often a very fruitful time for catching big specimen fish of all species. The weather is generally on the upturn with daylight hours becoming slightly longer and temperatures beginning to creep into double figures during the day, signaling the first breaths of spring.

A big barbel or chub is definitely on the cards during February and March if you catch the rivers in good condition, but to bring my season to a close this year I decided that a big perch was going to be my primary target.

There seem to be big perch just about everywhere these days, from commercial stillwaters to gravel pits, canals and obviously many of our rivers, so it's a brilliant time to get out there and catch a huge stripey.

Drop shotting for perch is all the rage at the moment and it’s a fantastic method of catching fish of all sizes, however, my favourite method for big perch is the good old fashioned quivertip.

I like to fish the lightest tip I can get away with so when a fish picks up my hookbait, which is always a big juicy lobworm, I can see the slightest of pulls before the fish feels any amount of resistance. It's a really exciting way of fishing knowing that every little tug on the tip could be a monster.

Perch are predominantly sight feeders so twitching your worm back a few inches by cranking your reel handle half a turn very often results in a bite. They seem to sit near your bait waiting, then as soon as it moves their predatory instincts kick in and they can't help but make a grab for it. I usually twitch the bait back every few minutes until I think it's out of the likely bite area then make a recast.

As the bait is dropping through the water on the cast and touches down on the bottom, it's not uncommon to get a take before you can even set the tip for exactly the same reasons as I mentioned above, the perch love a moving target.

Feeding maggots through a small feeder is another way of keeping perch in the area of your bait. As the maggots escape from the feeder, the perch are attracted to that movement and also the shoals of small fish, which will be feeding on them.

A steady trickle of chopped worm going through the swim is a great advantage too. I tend to chop 4 or 5 large lobs up then catapult them slightly upstream of where my hookbait is laying so they drift down and land in that area. No perch can resist the attraction of chopped worm, it's a devastating bait that I always have with me on a perch session.

Rig wise, it couldn't be simpler. On my reels I use 5lb Drag line, a small Guru lead running on it, stopped by a speed bead, then an 18-inch hooklink made from 5lb fluorocarbon with a big size 4 hook tied to the end. I've caught big perch from rivers, lakes and canals on this simple set up so it’s pretty versatile, there's no need for anything complicated.

I used exactly these tactics at the end of the season and was rewarded with a superb day’s sport on the River Lea. The day started quite slowly as I built the swim up with a stream of chopped worm and maggot, my first bite not coming until lunchtime as the sun was high in the sky, which is traditionally not the best time for perch to be feeding.

It weighed in at 3lb 10oz and was soon followed by another of 3lb 13oz, both fish looking stunning in the spring like conditions. I introduced a few more catapults full of chopped worm and kept re-casting the feeder every 20 minutes until a couple of hours later I had another unmistakable pull round on the tip.

This fish fought extremely hard and at one stage I thought i was into a pike but it surfaced just beyond my landing net and I realised it was another big perch. A beautifully plump fish went into the weigh sling and took the scales to 4lb exactly. Obviously over the moon with the day so far I really didn't expect it could get much better, but it did!

A final bite just as the sun was going behind the trees saw another perch of exactly 4lb lying on my unhooking mat. What a fantastic way to see out the river season.