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Cameron Cronin

With summer coming up fast, most of us are looking forward to the hot fishing that is now just around the corner. If I asked any keen lure angler what they planned to target this summer, you could almost guarantee that species like bream, whiting, flathead, bass and a variety of pelagics such as bonito and kingfish would be at the top of the hit list. There is one species however, that I find misses out on some much deserved limelight, especially in my local waterways around Sydney. That fish is the estuary perch.

In the Sydney region, there is a general consensus among many anglers that estuary perch is a species that is only available in small numbers. The next time a passer-by tries to tell me of the rarity and mysterious nature of perch, as I unhook my catch, will definitely not be the last! The reality of the situation however is that estuary perch or EP's for short, are actually an extremely viable angling target in Sydney and once you have broken down the 'perch barriers' and caught your first few, it almost becomes too easy to track down a perch or five!

The Perch Barriers

No matter where you fish, estuary perch are just one of those species that seem to be shrouded in mystery. Those who have not caught perch before often think of waking up at the crack of dawn to fish a glassed out creek with morning fog rolling across the water's surface and timber snags lining the banks. Although perch will be quite often found in a scenario like this, there are plenty of other places to begin searching, with a lot of them being much closer to home. I think the reason why people don't target perch in the first place is because they believe they just aren't there. Often, all you have to do to encounter your first perch is actually target them...

Targeting Perch

Firstly and most importantly, you must choose a location that actually holds fish. I would suggest first trying a location in brackish to salt water. Because perch move around a lot, they can be found anywhere from gutters and channels near the mouth of the estuary, to tree lined banks right up in pure fresh water.

Probably the best place to consistently locate perch, in my opinion, is around bridge pylons. These areas hold plenty of bait and provide our quarry with cover to shelter from the current, so it makes perfect sense that an aggressive predator, such as a perch, would call such a place home. Other places worth a look include deep holes upriver, snaggy tree-lined banks, weed beds, marinas and pretty much any form of structure that will provide both shelter and food.

As a general rule, you can maximise your chances by fishing further downstream after rain and vice versa, although this often does not apply for smaller estuaries. You can also help increase your chances by fishing at night and by reading posts on online forums to help out with finding successful locations. It also pays to remember that perch are one of those species that get easier the more you target them: once you catch a few and crack a pattern for your local system, everything will soon fall into place.

It may seem obvious, but you are going to catch nowhere near as many perch  if you don't use techniques specific to the species (although when selecting a rod, reel and line, look no further than your favourite bream gear), just like when you would fish for other species like bream, jewfish and whiting on lures. Because perch are aggressive implosion feeders, there are a wide range of lures that will all catch perch on any given day. I find that the sole most important factor in consistently locating perch is to make sure you are using a lure that is matching how and what the perch are feeding on. For example, in my local waterway there has been a large influx of small mullet and the perch are holding in deeper water, waiting for the mullet to pass overhead before smashing into the hapless school just under the surface. This calls for a different approach and I have been using larger vibes and plastics to great effect to target these deep water mullet feeding fish.

So when you arrive at your next perch spot, take a look around. What types of bait are visible? Is there no bait at all? How big is the bait? Is the water deep? Is there any current/snags? Asking yourself these questions can almost always bolster you catch rate, especially when you are first starting out.

Once you have assessed the situation, it is time to tie on a lure according to what you have found. When I am fishing over an open sandy bottom in deeper water, I will almost always tie on a blade first. This type of lure always seems to get a take from fish holding in deeper water and even if the school is not actively feeding they will often hit a small and noisy presentation out of pure aggression. In my experience, the best blades I have ever used for my perch fishing are the TT Switchblade in 1/8oz and 1/6oz, along with the TT Lures Ghostblade in 1/12oz in low current / shallow water situations. By hopping these presentations across the bottom, I have found that I can rack up a good catch of perch, even in the toughest of conditions. I have also noticed that the Switchblade's slightly larger profile and stronger action often seems to pull much bigger fish when compared to other popular blades from other manufacturers.

However, while fishing a more snaggy area, such as that typically found around areas like bridge pylons, it is often near impossible to fish a blade without racking up a serious bill to replace all the lures you just lost to snags! This is when I switch to a different lure, such as a soft plastic. These can be worked slowly and subtly past heavy structure, with the added benefit that if you do snag up, they will cost you a hell of a lot less.

So far I have had a lot of success casting the ZMan 2.5" GrubZ and the ZMan 3" Scented ShrimpZ around structure. Recently I have also had success casting the larger ShrimpZ to fish feeding on prawns skipping across the surface. When I fish a plastic near structure, especially a curl tail lure such as the GrubZ, I find that the best way to fish is to do nothing! What I mean by that is to sit down current and cast up current as close to the structure as possible. By simply winding to keep in loose contact with the lure, your lure will drift past the structure, not unlike an injured baitfish too weak to fight the current, drawing a strike from any waiting perch. Sometimes though, there may not be any current to drift your lure. This is when I prefer to switch to a standard retrieve, allowing your plastic to sink as close to the bottom as possible (without touching it) and proceed to impart a couple of small jerks before allowing the lure to sink back down and then repeating.

When fishing soft plastics, I find that the 1/20oz  TT Hidden Weight System (HWS) jighead is a good starting weight when dead drifting, while 1/12oz  TT Tournament Series jigheads are a favourite for casting, keeping in mind that you will sometimes need to alter these weights depending on the current. (Check out the new TT HeadlockZ HD and HeadlockZ Finesse jigheads designed to lock your ZMan plastic in place on the jighead)

One thing that is very similar with all kinds of perch fishing is the subtlety of the take. What may appear as the lure hitting a small obstruction can easily be a fish hitting the lure, therefore it is imperative that you carefully watch the braided line for any sudden movements or a stop in movement before the lure is meant to be on the bottom. Remember, strikes are free and if you suspect a perch has eaten the lure but do not strike, there is every chance that the fish will realise something isn't right and eject the lure, leaving a chance at another fish begging.

Last but not least remember to experiment! Using larger lures like the ZMan 3" MinnowZ and even the ZMan 4" SwimmerZ, or using completely different lures altogether such as the TT Vortex spinnerbaits can sometimes result in some awesome fish, especially in highly pressurised waterways where the fish have seen plenty of conventional presentations before. Give it a go you may be surprised by the results!

So now you know a bit about perch and how to catch them. The only step left is for you to get out there and fish for them yourself. But don't say I didn't warn you! Once you catch your first decent EP the perch addiction can be very hard to break!

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