Barbie pink by Archie Braddock

Phragmites reeds, a perch magnet.

I’ve been a big fan of Enterprise artificial baits since they first released their sweetcorn. This proved to be instant for me, and made catching carp relatively easy; and my rig was simplicity itself. A bomb on the end of the line, a five inch helicopter hooklink just above that, and a single corn hair-rigged to a size 12 hook. The bait was buoyant, so a bb shot was applied just two inches from it: this allowed it to pop-up that two inches and kept it clear of any bottom debris.

Presentation was also simple – I just cast it as far as I could, with no loose feed or groundbait at all. I caught carp wherever I tried it, which wasn’t just over-stocked commercials. It worked just as well on hard gravel pits or heavily pressured lakes. I told a friend to give it a try, and he headed to a syndicate water and blasted three baits into the blue. He fished 6½ daylight hours and caught twelve big doubles: more than the ten long-stay bivvy carpers had taken between them over the previous three days. He did the same on a large gravel pit later, catching half a dozen bream to 9lbs.

I well remember feeder/maggot fishing on the Trent, and trying an Enterprise white maggot for the first time – I had a 1½lb perch within 10 minutes. Coupled with success on a tench water using artificial casters it ensured I always carried a selection of Enterprise baits with me from then on.

The Covid restrictions of 20/21 ruined my proposed river campaign and left me wondering if there was any worthwhile fishing to be had during that cold winter. In desperation I turned to a local five acre commercial lake. This water had produced a perch of 4lbs 11oz a few years ago and there were plenty of perch in it, but that was the limit of my knowledge. So it was that ‘six -a -week’ Steve (he’s retired and fishes six days a week relentlessly) and I arrived at the water mid morning on a cold day in early January.

Steve’s not a keen float man, and set up a simple running leger with a lightweight bobbin indicator; I set up a 12ft Avon style rod with a 4grm waggler. We both fished Denrobaena worms on a size 10 hook. No lobs, everybody else uses those. With a depth of 4½ feet close to the near bank reeds we were able to feed chopped worm and maggots by catapult. The other anglers present were all pole fishing: one of them had a pole that seemed to reach to the middle of the 4 acre lake, and the angler using it was clearly an expert. It was fascinating to watch.

Steve was away first, catching two perch, biggest around 1lb. Biteless, I wandered over to see what he was doing that I wasn’t. He’s always added a red maggot to the hook along with a worm, but as this venue was ‘barbless’ he was using an Enterprise buoyant plastic maggot in Fleuro Orange. Back in my own swim I went through my collection of plastics and selected the brightest Enterprise Fleuro I could find – in PINK. It was really garish, and I named it Barbie Doll Pink after the famous girls doll named Barbie.

The Barbie Dolls worked for me big time.

And it worked! I soon caught up with Steve with two perch of my own, best 1lb, and a 2lb bream. Intrigued we returned a week later, Steve catching three perch to 1lb 7oz, a 2lb bream, and a ½lb roach. I struggled with just one 6oz perch. The difference in ours swims was that Steve had reeds both sides while I only had them on one side. They were Norfolk Reeds, (Latin: Phragmites), tall at six feet plus and very tough. In summer they are strong green leafy canes, in winter they are strong brown leafless canes. On our third trip in late January, which was getting expensive at £7 per rod per day, I opted for a new swim; just a gap in the reeds which the pole men avoided. They grew out about 12 feet from the bank but as I was only planning to fish at around 6 feet out it didn’t matter.

The perch were there immediately, in just over 4 feet of water. I had fish of 1lb, 1¼lb, and 2lbs. I also pricked and lost two decent fish and had several missed bites. It was a real joy to be close range float fishing, loose feeding by hand, and watching the laid-on float bob and glide away. All my bites came to a medium size dendrobaena topped by a Barbie doll Pink. Steve had also changed swims, but struggled to catch. I felt that the float was the better method, as it’s not easy to fish delicately and accurately at such short range with leger gear. He didn’t return to the water, electing instead to fish on a tough local gravel pit next time. I did return and got three more, 6oz, 1lb, 1½lbs, and more missed bites. Intrigued and interested, I turned up again three days later – to find the water frozen over! Somewhat disgruntled I also moved to the gravel pit with Steve: and so began a remarkable period of perch fishing.

This pit is large, deep, and was cold, with the water temperature in the low 40’s Fahrenheit. Although we’ve had perch from it before, that was only during the river close season, i.e. mid-March onwards, though it was never easy. Early February was a different proposition. I found a swim that was just a narrow gap in the dead Norfolk reeds, with about seven feet of water at the end of them. From there the bottom sloped steadily away to sixteen feet. I tried the seven foot depth first, fishing two feeder rods with alarms and bobbins, but found it full of dead leaves from the reeds. I eventually settled on a spot of around twelve foot depth, which was some twenty yards out. That’s where the fish proved to be.

My rigs were helicopter set-ups as used by specialist anglers all over the country, for stillwater roach, bream, and tench – seldom perch; but I do set them up differently. I always fish two hooks on my maggot bolt rigs, one just above the feeder, and one about two foot above that. As they are held in place with plastic float stops they can be moved up or down the line as required. With two rods I have four hookbaits (size 10 hooks) so the permutations are many. Some days all the bites come on the hook nearest the feeder, other days it’s the upper hook. Odd times I have had to move the upper hook as far away as four feet from the feeder to get bites.

I fished one rod with a single Dendrobaena on each hook, usually a smaller one and a larger one, and the other with two worms again, but with a Barbie maggot added to one hook. The feeders were filled with maggots for extra attraction, but I soon swapped one of them for a bomb when I found I could catapult broken worms to the required distance easily. I stopped bait-dropping Choppy, which was my normal tactic, and fired out pieces of worm on a regular basis; drip feeding matchman style. All of this I developed over the month of March after I was fortunate enough to make a good start.

On the first trip I had a perch of 2lb 2oz to the Barbie/worm, while Steve fishing some fifty yards away had a 1lb 10oz fish on his running rid and single hookbait. Over the weeks he began asking why most of his better perch were between 1lb 10oz and 1lb 14oz while mine were usually well over 2lbs. The Barbie effect again? In fact I soon found that the Barbie rig was taken readily and I estimated that four out of five perch came to this bait, even though there were four baits in the water to choose from. Steve was also catching but using single worm hookbaits tipped with a live red maggot. The fishing got better and better and throughout March I caught 2lb plus perch on just about every trip; often two, three, and once four, plus a very good fish lost at the net. We also caught lesser fish right down to 6oz.

During the same period I had learned that perch spawn once the water reaches 47.5ºf or above. Sure enough near the end of the month it hit 48ºf, on the very day that a friend joined us for the first time – and all three of us blanked! From there on it got much harder but I couldn’t complain as I’d had some great results from a rock hard gravel pit in very cold conditions. Although my best fish only went 2lb 12oz I have had three’s there in the past. Experience tells me the perch will be back with us round the end of April, which also means tench will be on the move as well.

I did flirt with glow-in-the -dark Enterprise maggots, and I did catch fish, but I dropped them temporarily; it complicated things so I stuck with the Barbie Dolls until I had proved comprehensively that they provided added attraction. There are several other bright colours in the Fleuro range and in three different sizes, so there’s plenty of scope for the adventurous.

Even though I knew it would be a struggle I continued continued fishing the pit into April. It’s a month that seems to bring cold easterly winds every year, but apart from the commercials there’s nothing much else to go at. It proved much slower, but I still picked up a few fish with the odd ‘two’ among them. I had by now extended my helicopter hooklinks to 6 inches as I believe perch, and also tench, need that little bit more leeway to take the bait properly. If I was after roach the links would be 3 inch or less. I had also by now swapped one rod to feeder and maggots only, and dropped the hook size to a 14. I eventually found that just a single red maggot was definitely the preferred bait and was taken regularly, even with two or more maggots on the other hook just two feet away.

The change to maggots seemed to be the right thing to do, as bites as the worm baited rod had all but dried up. Feeder maggots worked briefly and even gave me a good fish of 2lb 13oz but all too soon bites on this rig also dried up. The perch had now all clearly gone off to spawn, but I’d learnt a valuable new approach with the Barbie Doll Pinks.

Archie Braddock

Enterprise maggots. There’s plenty to go at.