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ESTUARY PERCH

Matt Reeves

As I positioned my Hobie Mirage kayak perfectly beside an oyster encrusted bridge pylon, I opened the bail arm and sent my shrimp-imitating soft plastic hurtling towards it, landing only a few millimeters away from the desired target. I flicked the bail arm back over and prepared myself. As the soft plastic slowly wafted down the through the water column I twitched the rod upwards numerous times, hoping to imitate a fleeing prawn. I must have succeeded as I was rudely interrupted by an aggressive strike and a screaming drag. As the drag sung, my first thought was to rip the fish away from the unforgiving structure that it had been residing in. Unfortunately the fish had other ideas, heading straight for the pylons. I instinctively grabbed the spool of the reel and dragged the fish out. As the fish neared the kayak I leant back, grabbed the net and slipped it under the fish. Yeehaa! I had finally managed my first estuary perch, measuring in around the 40cm mark and I was one happy angler!

After landing my first estuary perch or 'EP' for short, I was hungry for more and my urge to hunt down more saw my knowledge of these fish expand dramatically. I'm more than happy to share what I have learnt, so hopefully you can get hooked up to one of these amazing fish. From its large, powerful tail, to the oversized bucket mouth, they are an amazing fish.

Estuary perch are found in southern estuary systems within NSW, all the way down to southern Victoria. These fish congregate around any type of structure, with the most common being pontoons, floating wharves, fallen timber and the list goes on. They usually hang in schools, so where you find one of these fish there will generally be more, of a mixed size range in the area. The quantity of fish in the school and average size is mainly due to whether the amount of bait in the area is sufficient enough to feed the school of fish. The structure is also a key factor that influences these fish when it comes to schooling up.

One of my most exhilarating experiences when fishing for estuary perch is still stuck in my mind like it happened yesterday! A couple of mates and I were working a bunch of moored boats with our soft plastics and eventually ended up flicking at a moored houseboat that was sitting not too far away from the shoreline. Not thinking much of it, we moved around to the other side of this particular boat and witnessed more perch than the eye could see! They exploded from the surface and ducked for cover as we powered forward with the electric motor. We made our casts toward the bow waves of the fish. Our lightly weighted, grub style plastics hit the water and we braced ourselves ready for impact. Next thing we know, we had a double hookup!

No more than ten metres away, while un-hooking our perch, we could all hear a distinctive 'boofing' noise every five seconds coming from under a marina. It was perch... hundreds of them, all feeding on small baitfish on the surface! At the time I had a ZMan 2.5" GrubZ rigged and I flicked it towards the feeding frenzy. In no time at all the soft plastic was inhaled, I set the hook, fought the fish to the boat, slipped the net under the EP and landed it. Shortly after admiring this beautiful fish I unhooked and released it. While I was making another cast towards the frenzy both of my mates were hooked up! They both landed their perch and I hooked up again, landing another fish of similar size. This continued for the rest of the session and a memorable session it was! A combination of bait, structure and correct water temperature this far up the back of the large estuary system we were fishing was what sent the EP's insane.

Perch are very easy to target on soft plastics, but finding them is the trick. As I mentioned earlier, structure is the key and is where you're going to find these fish. They are a lot more active during the cooler months because of their spawning patterns and from June through to August perch are off limits due to this fact. From September through to November is when I love to target EP's, as they go mental and XOS perch seem to be unavoidable and offer great fun on ultra light spinning gear.

These XOS perch have been reacting well to a range of soft plastics, with the ZMan 2.5" GrubZ having been my most effective soft plastic to date. The ZMan 4" StreakZ Curly TailZ isn't far behind though, having accounted for multiple oversized perch. Even yabbie-styled soft plastics, like the ZMan 3" Scented ShrimpZ are triggering bites from these fish. When feeding, perch will react to almost anything thrown near them, including vibes, blades, cranks, flies. They all work. In my local estuary system the perch are aggressive enough to slam a 4" soft plastic aimed at flathead! Their oversized bucket mouth means they have the ability to scoff down anything they desire.

At times estuary perch don't require any special technique to catch... in fact at times they will eat any lure worked in any way! But for those who really want consistent numbers of larger estuary perch there is a technique that they usually can't resist, that is fairly simple too.

Firstly getting your cast spot on, as you want your soft plastic to be landing as close to the desired target as possible. Too far out and you won't have a chance, too close in and you'll be hooked up to some sort structure. Generally, try and aim to be within 5cm of the target, while positioning yourself as far away as you can, making those long casts a necessity.

As your lure hits the water as close as possible to the target, leave some slack line to sink the lure down to where the EP's are feeding. After a short pause start slowly cranking the reel, twitch the tip of your rod about a half dozen times followed by another pause. If a perch hasn't exploded onto your lure repeat the slow crank, twitching and pausing. This imitates an injured baitfish and if the fish are feeding on a school of bait, the injured fish stand out as an easy target. This is why soft plastics work a treat!

Estuary perch seem to be early morning and afternoon feeders, with this being these key times that you want to be out targeting these fish. From dusk till dawn you will find perch congregated around any light source, as small baitfish will also be attracted to the light. Find the bait find the perch, its simple.

Fishing soft plastics or hardbodies at night requires colours that stand out, or if you're fishing hardbodies something that makes some noise. This is why the TT Lures Ghostblade and Switchblade work a treat. The vibration of the lure, set off by the slightest movement of your rod tip, sends out signals through the water, attracting species such as bream, flathead, jewfish and estuary perch. Soft plastics don't 'need' to have bright colours, but it helps a lot and a highly active tail is a must if fishing those hours from dusk till dawn.

Estuary perch are available to any angler on foot, in a boat or kayak based. Land based perch fishing is awesome fun and can result in some quality fish, at times producing more fish than those fishing from a boat or kayak. Select the area you want to be fishing, locate any type of structure, select a place to cast from and you're set.

Targeting perch from a boat really requires an electric motor, as moving around with a large boat motor will often spook these fish. Having an electric motor is a massive advantage due to its stealth and the ability to scout around the different types of structure that are available. A kayak is also a great watercraft for getting into some perch. Again, the stealthy approach is a proven fish catching method and is why I love fishing from the kayak.

Targeting these fish requires light tackle and light lines, but in saying that the perch in my local estuary system are happy to eat a lure tied onto up to 16lb leader at times! I personally use the same gear as I do to target bream; 2-6lb braided line with around a rod length of 3-6lb fluorocarbon leader. The rods and reels I tend to use consist of 1000-2500 size spinning reels, on 1-4 kg rods around the 7' mark. Making long casts is an advantage and rods around that 7' mark make this easy.

I highly recommend the catch and release of estuary perch to sustain a healthy fishery. I would hate to see these fish become no more!

If you're serious about getting into fishing for estuary perch grab some small grub-styled plastics or blades, locate some good looking structure and start hammering it. Once you catch your first, I guarantee it won't be your last!

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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2017