Perch are a small to medium sized fish found throughout Europe. These common and hardy fish are found across the UK and are sought by anglers as a sport fish.
They are the first fish that many young anglers will catch so hold sentimental value to many anglers. Although common, don’t think this makes them a lesser fish, they are handsome and their distinctive stripes and red fins make this predator a delight to catch!
The European perch (scientific name perca fluviatilis), known in the UK simply as “perch” is a freshwater fish of the Percidae family. They have nickname “stripey” which refers to the black stripes down their flanks.
There are three other species of fish around the world which are called perch and are from the same genus. The Balkhash perch (scientific name perca schrenkil) is similar to the European perch in size but is found predominantly in Kazakhstan. The Balkash perch is slightly bluer in colour than the European perch.
The yellow perch (scientific name perca flavescens) is smaller in size to the European perch and is predominantly found in North America. Unsurprisingly the yellow perch is a yellower colour than the European perch.
All varieties of perch are farmed for both sport fish and food. It is said that perch make extremely good eating, and are known in some areas as “freshwater seabass” – we suppose this refers to the fact that they both taste good and have a slightly similar appearance.
They have been described as having white, firm flesh and are relatively easy to de-bone and good flavoured. In Europe, the European perch is extensively farmed and in Finland perch are the third most important eating fish by weight after herring and sprats.
In the UK, perch were eaten commonly throughout history. There are accounts going back to the Middle Ages (and eating them was likely to have been commonplace long before this) where monks grew them in their stew ponds and wealthy families feeding them up for the table.
Most anglers in the UK now catch perch for sport and return them to the water.
If you are tempted to take a perch home for the table, remember to always obtain permission from the owner.
If you obtain this (and if you live in England and Wales) and have a rod licence, the Environment Agency stipulates that on any given day anglers can take up to 15 native species (up to 20cm each) home, including perch.
Rules on other species vary so please check before removing.
Distribution and Habitat
Perch are native to Northern Europe, extending as far as Russia and even parts of Siberia. They are not native to the Southern European countries of Spain, Italy and Greece. They have been successfully introduced on a small scale to these countries.
European perch have been successfully introduced to countries as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Morocco.
They are likely to have been introduced for sport and as a food source. In Australia and New Zealand, perch are often called “redfins” or “English perch”.
Perch are an adaptable and hardy fish that can live in a large variety of freshwater ecosystems. They are known to inhabit ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, reservoirs, lochs, lowland rivers and canals.
They can even be found living in the brackish waters around estuaries. Perch can often be found living in shoals.
Perch were almost wiped out on the 1970s and 1980s by a deadly virus, however it is a testament to the species that they have made such a strong return.
Perch are hunted by larger predators such as pike and larger perch (they are cannibalistic).
Perch are probably one of the most recognisable freshwater fish. Their colouration depends on the environment in which they live. In shallow areas where light can easily penetrate they are darker whereas in darkly coloured areas they are lighter.
Perch are generally a green colour with dark black, tiger like stripes going vertically down their flanks. They have a slight hump on their backs behind their heads.
They have a brilliant dorsal fin which makes the fish look particularly stunning. To us, they resemble lion cubs with raised hackles!
The fins of the perch differ in colour. The pelvic and anal fins are a beautiful orange or red colour. The dorsal fins are a dark grey colour and some even have the continuation of the stripes from their bodies.
There are sometimes two dorsal fins, with the first (going backwards from their head) containing spikes while the second is soft.
Perch have large eyes as they hunt by sight and have large mouths to swallow their prey.
Perch are not large by angling standards however they are generally plentiful and a larger specimen is a real treat on the line.
Perch average between 4oz to 12oz (0.25kg to 0.75kg) but the larger specimens can grow up larger. A specimen is considered to be over 2lb. Perch will average from between 4 – 10 inches long (12cm – 25cm) although you may find larger specimens.
The British record for perch stands at 6lb 3oz (2.8kg) from Wilstone Reservoir in 2015.
Perch can live for up to 10 – 12 years.
How they Feed
Perch are carnivorous and are aggressive and bold feeders. They will feed differently depending on how big they are and will have different hunting styles. Smaller perch in shoals will try to herd and surround their prey so will have a wolf pack mentality.
Larger perch are solitary predators and will either slowly approach their prey in the hope of catching them unaware, or hide and lie in wait for their prey to pass.
Perch have large mouths but even bigger appetites as they are known to try and consume prey which is too large for their mouths.
Perch are not particularly fussy when it comes to their food. They are known to eat invertebrates, crustaceans and fish. More specifically, they are known to eat crayfish, flies, mayfly, worms, insect larvae and all fish fry.
Their fish diet includes minnows, roach, dace and even smaller perch as they are known cannibals. In some waters individual perch grow incredible large as they have cannibalised the other perch!
Juvenile perch will begin feeding on small organisms which live in the water. As they grow older and larger they will feed on invertebrates which live on the bottom of the water.
Although the growth in perch differs, at the age of approximately 4 – 6 years, they start feeding on fish. This introduction of a high protein diet means that they grow larger much quicker as a result.
There is evidence that this can happen quicker, and that some perch is shoals eat fish quicker than other and grow much larger than their peers.
Male perch reach sexual maturity at approximately two to three years, with females maturing approximately one year after this. Perch spawn in shallow water from April to June, when the water temperature reaches between 8 and 15 degrees Celsius.
The females can produce between 45,000 and 135,000 eggs per kg of bodyweight. The eggs are white and the females produce a sticky band of them which they spread across vegetation and rocks. Once this has happened, the males fertilise them.
The juvenile perch hatch in approximately two to three weeks. They will only be around 0.5cm when they hatch. The juveniles consume their yolk sacs which takes approximately one week.
After the yolk sac is fully consumed, the juveniles will move to the margins and stay nearer to the surface of the water to feed on zooplankton before moving on to larger invertebrates.
As the spawning of perch is weather dependent, colder weather can cause a drop in juvenile perch whilst hotter summers can result in a strong batch.
How to catch
Perch are excellent fish when caught and make the perfect fish for new anglers. They are happy to take the bait (sometimes they even queue up to take it!) and smaller fish can be caught freely. The larger perch are excellent for the experienced and specimen angler.
Perch are at their most active at either sunrise or sunset. However they will generally feed at all times of the day. Perch will generally feed in the colder weather and will feed in autumn and winter.
If you are looking for quantity over quality (or perhaps you are teaching a young angler) then the margins are probably the best place to look for smaller perch. If you are looking for larger perch, then look at the surroundings and try to locate a snaggy area such as reeds, lillies or maybe an overhanding tree.
These are the locations where the larger perch will lie in wait for their prey. If there aren’t any features, then look for the deepest parts of the water where the larger fish will venture out to.
In terms of bait, perch are aggressive feeders and will go for most animal based bait. Good bait includes worms, lobworms (perch adore these), red worms, minnows, casters and maggots (try to get good wriggly ones).
If you are looking for larger perch try lobworms or whole prawns as this should deter the smaller fish and (hopefully) other coarse fish. You could also try live bait if it is permissible (and if you are happy with this technique) and lures.
Perch Fishing Techniques
Perch can be caught using several methods including float, feeder, drop shot fishing, lure spinning, free-lining and even fly fishing (according to trout fisherman we know). This is a testament to just how many various waters the fish live in!
For stillwater, float fishing is perfectly acceptable using light-ish tackle. You could use a waggler with a large lobworm and size 8 – 12 hook. A standard waggler or softer avon rod with a test curve of 0.75 – 1.25lb would do the trick.
If you match this with a 3000 sized reel and 5lb monofil you’re in business. Fish just off of the bottom and use some chopped up worm with your groundbait. Get the fish feeding and cast out for excellent results.
If you wanted to go lure fishing, use a fairly small spinner at 5cm – 10cm. There are a huge amount of lures available in all tackle shops to choose from but we have found that jelly worms work really well.
We would recommend to try a couple and find what works for you. Spinning can be a brilliant way to fish as perch will chase their prey before going in for the kill.
If you wanted to try live baiting, first of all make sure that the owner is happy with this way of fishing. Once you get the owner’s permission, use small livebait such roach or rudd for stillwaters or gudgeon for rivers at around 2 – 3 inches long.
A size 6 – 8 hook is probably best here (perch have large mouths). Try to fish just off of the bottom using a good float.
Perch are not particularly delicate, but like all fish they should be handled with care to ensure that their fins, skin and scales are undamaged. A good fish unhooking mat should make sure that they are protected.
Use a good landing net to bring the fish in, and only keep the fish out of water for as long as absolutely necessary.
Be careful when handling perch as their dorsal fin contains spikes which, although not poisonous, could give a nasty prick. There are also flattened spikes on their gill covers. They actually feel rough to hold in comparison with other species which feel more slippery.
This is due to there being small spikes on their scales, although these won’t hurt you. The spikes all act as armour to protect the fish from predators.
Perch are notoriously aggressive and greedy with bait, so it is recommended to have a disgorger on hand in the event that they are hooked in their gullet. They are hardy creatures but it is our responsibility as anglers to ensure they are returned as strong and healthy as possible!