I can remember how, as a child, we used to catch brown trout from the local streams, using light tackle with a bubble float and a piece of sweet corn as bait. Most were too small for the pot but every now and then we’d catch one big enough to take home for supper. On other days, particularly those of the long summer holidays, we could be found fishing still waterbodies, taking roach, perch, tench and, just occasionally, carp. It’s a hobby that I have not practiced for a great many years and one to which I cannot see myself returning.
Of all the fish we caught it is the perch that I remember the most, perhaps because of its striking shape and patterning. Everything about the fish revealed it to be a hunter, a predator of other fish and of aquatic invertebrates. The outline suggests a fish that is top-heavy, the deep, laterally-flattened, body shape accentuated by the large dorsal fine. This fin carries a dozen or more ‘defensive’ spines, sharp enough to inflict a deep puncture wound if handled without care. Body scales, edged with fine spines of their own, give the perch a rough feel and suggest a robust fish. Shoals of similarly sized perch feed together, roving the waters in search of prey.
It is the larger adult perch that show the deepest body shape but many populations are made up of smaller adults, less deep in profile and just 15 cm or so in length. It may be because the larger fish were less often landed that they are held so vividly by my memory. Close my eyes and I can picture the lake and its fringe of trees where I caught the finest of them.
Unlike the larger trout I caught, the perch were always returned to the water, although their flesh – white, flaky and free from bones – is said to be well flavoured and not dissimilar to that of salmon or trout. During the Second World War, a small perch fishery was established on Windermere, the fish trapped and then canned to be marketed as ‘Perchines’. That fishery is now something of the past, much like my memories of childhood fishing trips undertaken with friends from school.