At the beginning of the year, my Dad and I always look forward to putting a plan together for where we’re going to fish and what species we’re going to target for the last couple of months of the river season. However, with tier 4 in place at the turn of the year, followed by the start of the third national lockdown five days later, we were limited to staying local for fishing. We’re quite fortunate though to have a few different stretches of rivers very close to home, as well as a couple of gravel pits, so we were lucky we had some places to fish.
Our first outing of 2021 was more about getting some fresh air after Christmas and New Year, but it turned out to be a red letter day for my Dad. He’s written about the day in much more detail on the Salmo website, but to quickly summarise, he landed his first brace of 4lb+ perch from a river within three casts of each other! Here is the link to his feature: https://www.salmo-fishing.com/home/articles/cold-water-crankbait-fishing-for-perch/
Just three days later, we entered the third national lockdown. At first, it sounded like angling would not be permitted during this time, so we’d cleaned down all of our lure rods ready to be put away, when it was announced just two days later by the Angling Trust that we could continue to fish locally. Although this was fantastic news, and we were back out fishing a week later, the footpaths along the riverbanks were extremely busy with walkers, runners and cyclists. There were even swimmers at times! Fishing on weekdays or at dawn or dusk wasn’t much quieter than fishing on a weekend either. It was great to see people getting their daily exercise and fresh air, but it made keeping a distance whilst fishing extremely difficult. After a couple of short but successful trips, we thought the safest thing to do was to stop fishing on the river stretches.
In the following four to five weeks, we had an incredible amount of rain, sleet and snow, that put the rivers in flood, as well as a couple of local lakes. One of the lakes though, being situated a bit higher than the river running adjacent to it, avoided the influx of cold floodwater and remained crystal clear. After a few weeks of not wetting a line, we decided to have a go at quiver tipping for the roach there.
It would be the first time either of us had fished with bait for about three years, so it felt strange sitting on a seatbox not moving around much, unlike when you're lure or flyfishing! Fishing with red maggots, we had success on our first trip, landing some quality fish up to 1lb 7oz. The problem was though that because it was very cold and the gravel pit was crystal clear, the roach wouldn’t switch on until at very last light. With night fishing currently not allowed, you’d have a few minutes of frantic action, then it was time to pack up, which was a bit frustrating!
By late February, high pressure brought with it some settled weather, and the river levels and colour finally began to drop. Although the water temperatures were still very cold from the snowmelt, we were fairly confident that after such a prolonged period of rivers out of sorts and a lack of angling pressure, the fish could be hungry. Sometimes, I think it takes a few days for the fish to become used to the changing conditions, and there’s nothing quite like using a crankbait to switch inactive predators on.
The high pressure also brought with it unseasonably warm temperatures in to the mid teens - a nice change from the snow and freezing weather! I noticed in the coming days in our koi pond that the water temperature began to rise, and over the next couple of fishing trips, I also noticed the odd crayfish scuttling along the bottom - something I’d not seen in my local venues for a while, and it prompted us to try some of the Strike King creature baits. Strike King was one of the first American brands I used in the UK when I first started lure fishing, and when I heard the news they were being distributed by Fox Rage and launched in Europe this February, I was very excited! In the lead up to the launch, we’d been trying out some of the creature baits, and soon had a few favourites for perch and chub - the Baby Craw, the Ned Bug, and Ned Ocho.
The first of the three soft baits has large twin tail claws, that help it fall slowly when cast to structure such as overhanging bushes and trees. I’ve found five grams is a nice weight to get the claws swimming. The Ned Bug has a smaller profile, with four appendages that have a subtle action as the lure falls - a three gram ned or offset ned hook is perfect. The bottom lure in the picture above is the Ned Ocho, a ned-style worm that has grooves in the sides to give the softbait more movement. All worked well in those final few weeks of the season, and the Baby Craw produced my biggest perch of 2021, weighing 4lb 2oz.
During the lockdown, it’s been interesting fishing stretches I hadn’t fished for a long time and would have otherwise overlooked to travel further afield, but they’ve thrown up a few surprises, such as the 4lb 2oz perch. Another surprise came two days before the end of the season, whilst targeting chub with creature baits. We’d fished a stretch of around half a mile or so, catching a few pike to near double figures on the Baby Craw and Ned Bug, when we reached a spot that had produced the odd perch for us in the past.
Dad fished it with no joy, so after he moved on, I decided to scale down from the size of lures he’d been using, as I felt there had to be some perch there. I switched to a small, 5cm shad, rigged on a 3g size 2 jighead - a Rage Micro Tiddler Fast (the smallest of the shads in the picture below). A few casts later, I had a delicate bite, and struck instinctively.
Although we didn’t catch any of the chub we were hoping for, my Dad did go on to land two cracking perch on crankbaits at dusk, after a move to a different stretch.