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No longer puzzled by perch

Published on Friday, July 3rd, 2009

With less than a week of stay left in Denmark, I wanted one more chance to tackle the lake that we have boated in the last couple of weeks. During our first outing, we all hooked a fish each but I did not manage to land my fish. During our second outing, we hooked a fish each again but both were lost. It has been a frustrating ordeal, even though it should not be too surprising because we are after all wading into a new system. Without a depth sounder, an electric motor and proper anchoring system, it steepens the learning curve.

Perch is, after all, a carnivorous species that aggressively attacks whatever swims within its sight. They are also very abundant due to their ability to colonize and feed. There were really no reasons for us not being able to catch more, beside being at the wrong spots where the fish were not schooling.

There are still many unknowns, which I am eager to find out. Since the weather was still very warm and calm, we decided to give it a third attempt this evening. After an early dinner, we arrived at the dock at 6:30pm. Luckily there was a person who seemed to be a local old timer, so Nina’s brother Rune was able to gather some local knowledge. He pointed out a couple of specific spots where perch fishing is quite productive, which are opposite to the side of the lake where we have been focusing.

I decided to take a boat out on my own while Nina and Rune shared one, mostly because I decided to flyfish. Perhaps these fish would be more eager to bite if the presentation was slowed down a bit.

Our first stop had fair amount of surface activity, which was a good sign. Rune reported a bite immediately, Nina soon hooked the first fish of the evening. It was a perch that made a brief appearance on the surface before falling off the hook.

We moved to the second location not long after as some swimmers had taken over the area. Once anchored, I observed the surface and watched more small fish rising for a feed. A closer examination of the turbid water revealed that there were in fact thousands of these fish, swimming in schools just below the surface. With so much food in the water, I was no longer wondering why we were not getting as many bites as we should.

My first hook-up brought a perch similar to Nina’s in size to the boat, but it also fell off the hook rather quickly once leaving the water. The following cast also resulted in another hook-up, but it was a perch at its infancy, almost as small as the spinner that it tried to ingest.

Could it get smaller?

After a bit of action on the spinning rod, I switched to the fly rod. A minnow pattern was my choice, since these perch most likely feed on small baitfish. While stripping in my fly, I accidentally foul-hooked one of the small baitfish. The size 2 hook penetrated its abdomen, instantly killing it. It would not go to waste of course, because I handed to Rune so he could use it as bait under a float.

Yes, it could get smaller!

Until this evening I had no idea what were swimming around on the surface. These tiny baitfish are called bleak (Alburnus alburnus), a rather typical freshwater species that make up the base of the food web in European lakes.

I decided that it was time for another move. During our past two outings, we would anchor at one spot for a rather long time without detecting a bite. Perhaps being constantly on the move after thoroughly fished different areas would eventually lead me to multiple hook-ups.

The tactic definitely worked! Each spot where I anchored would produce several bites before fading away, which signalled me to move to the next spot. The fishing especially improved after 9:30pm, when the sun began to set. The northern shoreline was completely shaded, which seemed to make these fish feed without hesitation. At one point, I watched one fish chasing the spinner to the surface, pausing slightly as I re-submerged my lure after taking it out and attacking it again. The fly rod was also rewarded with a couple of aggressive fish.

As I made my way back to the dock at around 10:30pm, I watched large perch hunting on the surface with their dorsal fin and humped shoulder sticking out at times. The evening ended with thousands of bleaks dancing on the surface in front of the dock, where I was able to hook several fish in a row and watched more feeding frenzy on the surface. In total, I was able to connect with just over a dozen fish and land seven of them.

This evening outing was a satisfying finish of our exploration of a new lake. Although we did not find any exceptionally large fish, these smaller hunters were just as exciting to catch when the bites were consistent. Perhaps our return in the future will lead us to some trophy perch or pike.

Spiny perch can be hard to grip onto!

A simple game on a hot summer day

Published on Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

The weather continues to be fantastic in Denmark. In fact, it is almost too fantastic. Daytime temperature has been hovering in the high twenties. Combining that with high humidity and only two hours of true darkness each day, it only makes sense to spend as much time in the outdoors as possible.

Because it is so hot, there really isn’t much fishing available during the day except coarse fishing. Even though it is not a fishery that many get excited about, I guess some coarse fishing is better than no fishing at all. We decided to visit a little swamp where we caught multiple species a few years ago. These included roach, bream, tench, crucian carp, perch and a large common carp that took me for a wild ride for close to ten minutes.

Battling the golden beast in 2006

Our first stop was the tacklestore so we could pick up a container of maggots. These wiggly creatures are actually one of the best bait for coarse fish. Other common bait being used include corn and bread dough.

This game is more than just throwing out a baited hook and waiting for a bite. Little details such as float size and shape, the number of split shots used can vary the catch result greatly. Unlike fishing for salmonids, minnows feed by grazing along the lake bottom so the float depth should always be the same as the water depth. We like to adjust the depth so that the deepest split shot lays on the bottom. This prevents the float from being carried around by the wind and ensures that the bait isn’t suspending too much.

The pond shore is heavily covered by vegetations, so our only spot to fish from is the little dock.

Corn and thin floats are just two of many important components in coarse fishing.

A well balanced float can detect more bites.

The bites came almost immediately once we had our bait in the water. They usually begin with a few sporatic dips of the float, followed by a towing motion of the float. This usually indicates that the fish is swimming away with the baited hook in its mouth. With a strike, the fish would usually be on. It could be a tiny roach, a feisty tench or a powerful carp. The unknown is the excitement in a fishery that has many target species at one time.

Hooking up under the bright sun.

A roach, the most common minnow species in European lakes.

Beside connecting with a few roach, we managed to entice some bream as well. Calling these fish slimy is an understatement. There is not a shortage of their slime, which is thick, almost jelly-like. It creeps up the fishing line when a bream is hooked. With a touch, your hands would be haunted with a strong odour that can lead to nausea with a few sniffs. Nevertheless, they are fun to float fish for. We did not catch as many as we used to, but Nina managed to find a good sized fish by using a combination of maggots and corn on her hook.

Although undesirable, float fishing for coarse fish is actually an exciting pastime on a hot summer day. Its simplicity and high success rate make it an universal activity that anyone with a fishing bug would enjoy.

Slow fishing, but good companions

Published on Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

After our first boat trip at a lake just outside of Copenhagen, we had the urge to go back for another try. The first trip to any new fishery is often not productive, so it only makes sense to go back again and again until we achieve consistent result. Nina and I booked the boat again last Saturday. This time, we decided to try the evening hours.

The weather has really improved since a week ago in Denmark. Instead of the inconsistent pattern of rain, wind and sun, we are finally being spoiled by constant sunshine and temperature in the high twenties. Rain was not our worry on this day, instead we were seeking cool shades for refuge.

To make a long story short, the trip did not yield more fish than our previous. Nina connected with a solid fish briefly before losing it, while minutes later I managed to release a small perch on the surface without touching it.

Nevertheless, it was a calm, relaxing evening. The evening insect hatch was rather spectacular. The entire lake seemed to be covered with bugs. Small fish took advantage of this by constantly feeding on the surface. I should have brought along a fly rod and tossed a dry fly. Ducks and swans couldn’t seem to stay away from our boat, especially after Nina started feeding them. Once they associated our boat with food, they followed tightly behind us whenever we rowed to a new spot. Watch the video clip below to see our companions.

Perseverance paid off for some

Published on Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Most of the fishing that I have done in Denmark has been from shore. There is not a shortage of shore access. The entire coastline is opened to the public and can be fished year-round. Both public and pay-per-day access of lakes and streams are also quite abundant. Boat fishing is available, but most Danish anglers do not own a boat, or a car.

Private transportation is a luxury expense that most choose not to have in this country. Driver’s licence, vehicle and gasoline are incredibly pricey. It is the government’s way of encouraging citizens to utilize public transportation and the well-developed network of cycle lanes. It is a win-win situation. Getting around this city is convenient by train, metro, bus, bike and foot. In fact, travel time by these methods is often faster by car.

The disadvantage of this arrangement is that recreational options become limited. A car is needed to transport a boat. A house is needed to store a boat. Most people do not have this requirement, so alternatives are needed.

We decided to join a local fishing club, which is affiliated to several other clubs. For 400 Kroners (roughly around CAD$80) per year, one of the benefits that members have is the usage of club boats that are docks at many lakes in the outskirts of Copenhagen. No addtional fee is required, we simply have to book the boat on the internet and purchase a key that works for all of the boats.

We decided to give this a go by booking a boat at a lake that offers fishing for northern pike and perch today. Nina and I were joined by her brother Rune, who has decided to revive his childhood hobby after a long break.

Our mellow morning start brought us to the lakeside dock at 9:30am. The lake was flat calm, finally after two weeks of wind and rain. Our boat was a 12 footer, which could easily fit three or four people. Rowing such a large boat was not going to be pleasant, especially for someone whose only preference is an electric motor!

Club boats, ready to be used. Accessories are kept in the club shed.

A duck convention.

A typical Danish house by the lake. This property is actually on a tiny island in the middle of the lake.

Being new to the lake, we did not have any knowledge on where we should be fishing. This is especially difficult when one lacks a depth finder. I had looked at a few mapes of the lake prior to the trip, so I made a few suggestions on where we should fish.

Seeking for hot spots.

We anchored not too far from the shoreline where it is densely covered with reeds. An ideal pike habitat perhaps? Our choices of weapon include poppers, deep-diving wobblers, spinners, spoons and jigs. These ensure that all depths could be covered. After playing with large lures and not finding any responsive pikes, I switched to the light spinning rod with a 1/8oz green spinner that has brought me many fish in the past. After a few casts, I had a good tug and hooked onto a fish. The tug was very brief. The fish was on for a couple of seconds, swam away freely before I shouted “There’s a fish!”

The rest of the morning was rather uneventful beside a couple of ducks that followed us around. We rowed and anchored numerous times with no other bites, but managed to learn the depths in the meantime. Once the drop-offs were located, we could fish with slightly more confidence.

In the afternoon, we decided to work out way back through the deep sections to the original spot where I had lost a fish. Instead of covering waters that are only two or three metres deep for ambushing pikes, we began fishing in much deeper waters where fish maybe hiding from the sun. I rigged up a jighead with a rubber tail for Nina, so she could dangle the rod up and down without paying much attention. Perhaps this would grab the attention of some schooling perch.

Beside spinners, plastic baits are known to work very well for European perch. Jigging, drop shotting are North American techniques that have been successfully adopted by trophy perch anglers in Western Europe. This was in fact our first attempt of using them when targeting perch.

After being blanked for several hours, it was understandable that Nina was becoming bored, but she continued lifting the rod up and down. I watched her rod intently while retrieving my spinner. Suddenly there was a noticeable bend on her rod when she lifted it.

“That’s a fish.”
“No it’s not, just weed.”
“No really, that’s a fish.”, I said as the rod kicked a couple of times.

The more Nina retrieved, the more delighted she became. It was indeed a fish, a rather nice perch. It surfaced quickly after some struggle. Nina reached out and firmly grabbed onto its mouth.

First fish of the day!

Getting a good grip.

An European perch – A humped green body, red fins and black stripes.

No long after she released her catch, a rainstorm creeped in without much warning. The forecast indicated sunny for the entire day, but I have learned that anything goes when it comes to the weather in Denmark. Nina had my Goretex jacket, but no waterproof pants. I had a pair of Goretex pants on, but the upper body was only covered by a fleece jacket. Both of us were becoming partially wet. Meanwhile, with only a pair of jeans on and a regular jacket, Rune was fully wet. Despite of this, we continued fishing. The first fish always brings the bug that does not wear off very fast.

We repositioned ourselves to my lucky spot. Both Rune and I continued tackling the area with our small spinners while Nina was confident that the jig is the ticket to more fish.

It only took a few minutes before Rune quietly announced that he had a fish on. It was a perch, but smaller than Nina’s catch.

Wet but satisfied.

Now that the siblings had caught their fish, my chance of connecting with one was becoming slim because the rain was not easing off. We fished for another ten minutes before both wanted to call it a day. I reluctantly agreed. After two weeks of fishing without a single catch, it was becoming rather frustrating.

Although the fishing result was not spectacular, the boat trip presented many new potentials for future outings. The same boating options are available at several other lakes, which I look forward to explore in the future. The lack of boat ownership requires planning of an outing much ahead of time, but it eliminates the challenges of storage, maintenance and other hassles.

Urban jumbo perch

Published on Saturday, June 13th, 2009

The weather has been awful in Denmark. We had two days of monsoon, which flooded some roadways. The sun finally made an appearance today, but the wind did not want to die down. After dinner, I pondered on what I should do this evening because there were still three hours of daylight left. I decided to drop by the local harbour to make a few casts and chat with some friends.

I arrived at 9:00pm and found Stig quickly walking toward me and pointing at something by his rod. With that much enthusiasm, surely it could only mean that he had caught a fish. I uncovered the plastic bag and found a rather bulky perch sitting in it.

Spiny fins, green body with dark stripes, European perch practically look identical to North America’s yellow perch. The most distinct difference is perhaps their sizes. Yellow perch rarely reach 1lb and European perch can grow much bigger than 1lb. While the average weight of landlocked perch found in small swamps around this country does not usually exceed 2lb, there is a rather unique population of larger perch known as brackish perch in this region. These migratory perch, which can grow up to 6lb, reside in rivers during the winter months and travel across the estuaries and bays in the summer.

Stig’s perch was perhaps slightly less than 2lb. He caught it by dangling a small jig on his fly rod, a method that he has successfully used on many species in this harbour. I first met Stig several years ago while discovering this urban treasure. He is a regular at the south harbour of Copenhagen regardless if it rains or shines.

As the sun disappears in the horizon, we made our way to the hot spot for a few casts. Low lighting can often trigger predatory fish to bite. Smaller baitfish become less alert and swim freely in the open, which may lure larger fish out from the deep. We focused on casting around a bridge, because the structured water is prime habitat for perch. They have a tendency to suspend under structures and strike on preys when opportunities arise. Stig stood on the bridge and conveniently dropped his jig straight down for any unsuspecting fish. With a slight fear of height, I chose to fish from the shoreline and cast a spinner into the bridge.

Only a few minutes went by, the experienced local was rewareded again. I looked up and Stig’s fly rod was dancing beautifully while the fish dove deeply. Stig screamed out delightfully, probably because he was not expecting to catch another one. This fish attempted to free itself by heading under the bridge several times before Stig managed to bring it to the surface. He carefully walked along the edge of the bridge and gently guided it toward me. After a couple of nervous minutes, I reached down and gripped onto its mouth tightly before carrying it out of the water. Seeing that it was bigger than his first fish, Stig was now even more excited. This brackish perch would easily weigh over 2lb.

The evening session ended quietly. Perhaps there will be more jumbo perch like these ones in the upcoming weeks as the weather improves.

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