Perch - Leuciscus Cephalus

perch
About the Perch.
The perch is a unique and striking-looking predatory freshwater fish that is widely distributed throughout the UK, Europe and Asia. During the 1960's and 70's it fell victim to a rare ulcer-forming disease that almost wiped out the entire UK perch population.

For this reason, many waters lost huge numbers of big specimens, leaving thousands of smaller sized fish to compete with each other for food, and therefore preventing them to grow particularly large. Although the perch population has just about recovered, it is generally only dedicated anglers that hook a 3 or 4lb specimen.

Perch Identification

The perch is distinguishable through several of its unique features and through its colouration. The back and top half of the fish are a rich dark olive colour, which gradually fades to a lighter olive with golden hues along its flanks. Its underside is a light creamy shade. It has approximately 8 vertical black stripes running down the side of its body, for which is has been given the nickname "stripy".

The perch has bright, almost luminous orange - red anal, pectoral and caudal fins, which stand out against its dark body and are convex in shape.

The perca fluviatilis, as it is known in Latin, has two separate dorsal fins that run along its back. The first contains 13-15 long and sharp spines that can be raised to frighten predators or when panicked. It also has a distinctive black spot at the back end of this dorsal fin.

The second dorsal fin only has one or two spikes but mainly consists of 13-14 soft branched rays.

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The caudal fin is not very large, which means that the perch is not a particularly fast swimmer, although it can go long distances without tiring. When hunting its prey, one of its tactics is to pursue its target until the latter is too tired to go any further, which is when the perch swoops in victorious.

The perch is rough to touch and does not have the usual slippery feel of a fish. This is because it contains small spikes on its body scales, as well as a few on the its gills. Care should be taken when handling the perch as any of its many spikes and spines may pierce your skin.

Although the perch's head is relatively small in size, with a small blunted snout at the end, when it opens its mouth, its jaws almost miraculously expand outwards so that the fish is in fact able to swallow up another fish of nearly half its size. The perch has hundreds of teeth but they are minute and do not inflict a huge amount of damage.

The perch's eyes are large saucers that divulge its predatory nature.

Perch Habitat

Young perch move together in shoals, whilst larger specimens tend to be more solitary. Their favourite habitat is in slow-moving rivers, canals and any type of still water. Typically, perch can be found lurking about weedy areas, where they camouflage themselves well, and also around sunken trees and bushes, under bridges, weed rafts and lily pads and close to the edges of the river or lakes. As their excellent vision is a useful hunting tool, they are also very at home in clear waters where they can easily see their prey.

Natural Perch Food

Baby perch or fry generally feed on minute crustacea and water fleas when they are very small before quickly moving on to insect larvae, nymphs and aquatic insects such as water beetles and bloodworms.

Some perch may switch to a predominantly fish diet when they reach a weight of approximately 4oz (115g), after which they tend to accelerate in growth; whilst those that stick to the insect diet remain stunted.

Strangely, perch like to feed on other perch but will also include other species of fish such as minnows, rudd, roach, dace, sticklebacks and gudgeon on their menu.

Once perch have targeted their prey, they give chase, constantly nipping at their prey's tail in order to try and inhibit swimming. As they are about to engulf their victim, they always make sure that this is done tail-first.

Perch Reproduction

The perch species usually spawn in late spring, during the months of April and May. The female lays anything between 1,000 - 300,000 sticky, white and string-like eggs that can measure up to a metre long, which attach to water reeds, tree roots, twigs or any other solid object located in the shallow waters.

The eggs take about a week to hatch after fetilisation. Perch will thrive in warm waters of over 10°C and tend to grow larger in size under these conditions.

Within a few months perch fry can often reach a length of 2-3 inches (5-8cm), at which time male perch are often ready to sexually reproduce. The female perch takes longer to become sexually mature, often not ready until her third year when she reaches a length of 6-8 inches (15-20cm).

The Perch's Vital Statistics

  • Average weight: 6-8oz (170-225g)
  • Average length: not usually more than 35cm
  • Specimen weight: anything over 2lb
  • Life-span: up to 13 years
  • Current UK record: 6lb 3oz, (Crowborough Stillwater, Sussex)

Rivers with big perch include:

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