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Jungle Fever
  |  First Published: February 2012



Chasing jungle perch is not for the faint-hearted. Trekking through tropical rainforests in search of one of the smartest fish in freshwater presents numerous challenges.

Firstly, you have to get into the top sections of some truly remote and isolated jungle streams to experience untouched jungle perch fishing at its best. Second, is the challenge of approaching the waters’ edge without alerting any wary jungle perch to your presence and making an offering their keen eyes can’t refuse.

DISTRIBUTION AND HABITS

Jungle perch (JP), Kuhlia rupestris, are found in coastal river systems east of the Great Dividing Range. Although patchy they can be found from Fraser Island to Cape York, however, stocks of jungle perch have declined significantly. They have become locally extinct in many systems in South East Queensland from Mackay to the Gold Coast. This is probable caused by several factors, the main one being the erection of barriers to their migration as JP must have access to saltwater to spawn, much the same as Australian bass.

Another major factor is the loss of riparian shading. This is caused by the practice of clearing forest right to the water’s edge. The Queensland sugar cane industry has been identified as one of the major culprits. As recreational anglers are starting to voice their concerns there has been considerable public pressure to address this problem.

JP do not occur in the Gulf of Carpentaria drainage or anywhere else in Australia, but have been found on some Pacific islands and in south eastern South Africa. Although they are primarily a carnivore feeding on other fish, shrimp and insects, they are officially omnivorous and have even been known to eat such diverse foods as fruits and figs.

The JP colouration is predominantly vibrant silver with black scale margins and bold black dots on the tail. They can take on a bronze hue when the water tannins up a little. JP can get mistaken for spotted flagtail and vice versa but the major difference is in the tail; JP have rounded tips on the tail as opposed to the pointed tips of the flagtail.

JP have a size and bag limit of one combined JP or flagtail and a maximum size limit of 35cm. They are commonly caught around 20-30cm, but in remote locations or in slower moving deeper river systems, they have been known to reach the magic 50cm mark and push 3kg!

If you are going to catch and release JP then please take their welfare into consideration and limit damage to the fish’s gills and eyes by using barbless hooks. This simple practice can minimise harm to their vital organs and help the future welfare of fish and recreational angling.

FAST AND RISING

Some years I experienced some truly amazing JP fishing in a spectacular environment during some rather wild weather conditions. I did a little research and was confident I would be fishing in productive waters however, there were building storm clouds overhead.

As I headed down through the growth I could hear the distinct sound of rapids and as the I caught sight of the emerald green coloured water mixed with bubbling white turbulence the anticipation of catching my first JP peaked.

Earlier I had tied on a surface popper to cast around on arrival but once there the speed the water was moving at made it difficult to work or even see the popper. I dug through my bag and found a jighead and a soft plastic to tie on, right about the time the storm clouds broke and opened up. I started my way upstream in search of some deeper pools and in turn some slower moving runs but the rain was going to make this combination hard to find. With what was now a torrential downpour I committed to the fishing, crossed the stream and headed further up into the rainforest through rising waters and along slippery rocks.

Casting a plastic into fast flowing water doesn’t need much of a retrieve to entice a take, you just simply need to keep contact with it as it washes down the run. This was all it took to come up tight on my first spirited little JP and to my surprise the fish even took to the air like a miniature barramundi. As the afternoon wore on and the water levels kept rising the fish switched on and every presentation into the headwater of a pool produced one to two fish without fail. The fast flowing and fast rising stream played to my advantage as these usually sharp eyed clued on fish just threw caution to the wind and aggressively fed on every colour plastic I threw at them.

I don’t think I got a true appreciation of how attuned to its environment the JP is on this first venture. I ended up catching 13 JP that day with a couple on the 30cm mark and found them quite easy to catch in these conditions.

FAST WATER TECHNIQUES

JP in slow moving water can definitely live up to the hype of being hard to tempt and hard to fool, but when the water flow picks up and food starts to wash through the system the JP seize every opportunity they can get.

The majority of JP streams are classed as nutrient deficient; meaning there is not enough nutrients to support large populations of forage fish or crustaceans, which is why terrestrial animals play such a big role in the life of the JP.

During heavy rains terrestrial organisms get washed into the system and the dinner bell rings for these fish. Presenting an offering into the start of a fast flowing run will usually be swallowed up by a waiting mouth. The best lures for this scenario are ones that sink, as it helps the JP find it below myriad bubbles being forced under the surface. A sinking stick or pencil bait can offer the angler a few advantages with extra long casts presenting well with minimal movement as it’s twitched down the run.

The most successful lures I have used in fast runs have been soft plastics, either rigged on a jighead or connected to a beetle spin.

The beetle spin is a great all-round prospecting lure as it has several fish attracting benefits. When weighted right it gets down below the bubble trail quickly and with a steady retrieve, usually just enough to get the blade spinning, will tempt most fish first cast. With the addition of a paddle-tail soft plastic that has good body sound and a realistic appeal, the beetle spin is ready to catch fish.

The most effective plastics I have used have been Ecogear’s Grass Minnow M. In conjunction with the blade, they pump out a lot of lateral line tingling vibration adding to the overall appeal. The Colorado blade distributes a lot of light into the surrounding bubbles and this flashy dispersion of light seems to trigger an aggressive strike almost instantaneously. As a general rule use a silver blade in clear water and gold in dirty water.

The only problem that can arise from this technique is that once this flashing presentation has be refused, or a smaller fish takes it first, the remaining bigger fish gets wise to its presence very quickly. Even if you change the plastic to another colour the vibrant flashing blade stays fixed in the minds. Like I said, these are one of the smartest freshwater fish.

SLOW AND STEADY

Coming down from the mountain streams, a lot of JP water meets farm land and turns to a series of slower pools joined by shallow rubble runs. These slower pools, if conditions suit, can still hold decent populations of JP and quite often big old wise fish. Some of my bigger JP have come from old washed out pools with irrigation pumps running into them.

The slower runs often give the fish more time to commit to a take and they can be increasingly more attuned to their surroundings. A stealthy approach is a must when sneaking up on these wary fish because of degradation of the riparian shading. They are more vulnerable to air-born predators so they always keep an eye on what is happening on and above the water’s edge.

Keeping this in mind, use the latest versions of the more traditional lures in the slower water. If you’re chasing JP then you have a collection of surface lures, along the lines of poppers, pencil baits and sub-surface lures, such as small diving minnows or creature patterns like crawdads or grasshoppers.

When using surface lures approach a pool from downstream as most fish will be holding close to the flow entering the pool. I find ‘less is best’ when casting, which means that you don’t need to cause a lot of commotion to induce a strike. If a terrestrial animal finds itself in a wet foreign environment it usually tries to vacate the area with as little fish attracting splashes and vibration as possible. JP are pretty switched on and they very rarely miss something landing in their domain.

This also applies when casting small crankbaits as most times fish will hit the lure with minimal pause and twitches. My favourite hardbodies are shallow sub surface models because JP are always looking towards the surface for their next meal. A slow steady retrieve keeping contact with the lure will see JP commit to a strike usually before the lure leaves the water.

The gear I use for all my JP fishing consists of a 6’6” to 7’2” fast tapered rod with a 1500-2000 size spin reel spooled with 4-8lb braid and a 8-10lb fluorocarbon leader. Ideally a mono leader suits a surface lure but for the short time the lure is drifting through most pools there is no disadvantage using fluorocarbon. Spinning outfits are the only way to go when trying to cast small lures in often very tight surroundings.

If you are ever in the tropics and don’t mind a good walk have a go at chasing these truly challenging sportfish it’s a must for any real sport fishing enthusiast.

1

Jungle perch will take a variety of lures depending on the conditions of the day.

2

A cracking JP taken on a Beetle Spin rigged Grass Minnow M.

3

The JP colouration is predominantly vibrant silver with black scale margins and bold black dots on the tail.

4

A two-for-one special!

5

Sooty grunter are a common by-catch when targeting jungle perch.

6

Not so common in the upper reaches, mangrove jack certainly can be a thrill when you’re chasing JPs on light tackle..

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