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Pearl perch
  |  First Published: November 2012



Once upon a time, before bag limits and upper size restrictions for snapper came into being, we would fish for snapper in winter and we’d fish for pearl perch in the warmer months. However, since the snapper bag limits have become tighter, we often limit out on snapper at first light. So during the rest of the day we are now more likely to target our pearl perch locations.

In Queensland, pearl perch have a minimum size limit of 35cm and a bag limit of five fish per angler in possession.

Time of Year

The last time I wrote in QFM specifically about pearl perch in summer was circa 2004. That article included a cover shot of a big pearlie taken by dragging heavy metal jigs across the bottom out from Noosa. I could have included photos of summer caught pearlies with this article as well. However the three photos are all of fish that were caught across various locations in late winter/early spring on the same day that big snapper were caught.

The same techniques that work for pearlies in summer also work in practically every other month of the year: Fish a wire weed bottom in deep water with a paternoster rig and ensure that you get it on the bottom and keep it on the bottom. That is the basic philosophy for targeting pearl perch, you can’t miss it!

Of course there are many other titbits that may enhance your chances of consistency, size and bagging out.

Terminals

I normally only catch one fish at a time when I use a two-dropper paternoster rig. Normally, most of the fish come in on the bottom hook of my paternoster bottom basher double dropper rig. So for most of my reef fishing I’ll use single dropper rigs – except that is for pearl perch.

For pearlies I prefer the double dropper as it is not uncommon to load up both hooks with a tasty pearlie once you get amongst them on the bottom.

After hooking the first fish, I let my baits waft around on the bottom a little longer in the hope of catching a second pearlie before commencing the long wind (grind) to winch the bucket mouthed pearlies to the top and into the iced slurry after bleeding. I often use single circle hooks on my paternoster rigs in order to stay attached to the fish.

Once I have located the fish, I will use a tough bait that stays on the hook; often this is a piece of oily fish flesh, such as mullet or tuna. I’ll also have a piece of squid on the hook that is likely to stay in place. This ‘cocktail’ offers both scent and durability and is ideal for bottom bashing and dragging on the bottom.

When prospecting for pearlies, I use the paternoster ‘berley’ rig with a gang on the top and a single circle hook such as a Mustad Demon on the bottom. The hooks can be quite large as pearlies have a huge mouth. Once you get amongst them, especially with a bit of pilchard berley, pearlies can be very aggressive feeders. It often doesn’t take long to get that second hook up.

Pre-Tied Droppers

For school pan-sized fish, I regularly use Mustad pre-rigged paternosters of three droppers of single hook. I’ll sweeten one hook with a squid bait (for durability), mullet on another hook (for scent) and the other hook with a 4” Assassin curl-tail soft plastic in either rainbow trout, baby bass, crystal shad, pink, or even chartreuse.

Lures

Once, around Christmas time a few years ago, I discovered that pearlies ate metal jigs with assist hooks bounced and dragged on the bottom. A few years prior to that, we caught them on soft plastics by bouncing the bottom.

There are two basic lure approaches: bounce 1-4oz jigheads (a 4oz jighead is about the size of a 10-ball sinker) on the bottom with a variety of soft plastics, such as 7” straight tails, 4-6” t-tails, and even 4” curl-tails; or, rig a soft plastic on one of the hooks on a dropper rig.

The 4” Assassin Glow curl-tail is popular for both techniques. Even a small bit of glow, either as paint on the jighead or a piece of lumo tube on the line just above the jighead eyelet, will do just as good a job. Tests have argued that only a small amount of lumo glow is all you need. Some tests even suggest that less is more. I use the Sure Catch lumo tube and/or Sure Catch lumo beads.

Techniques

Often it feels like the bottom is carpeted with pearlies. So three drops is all it can take to secure your five fish bag limit.

Bag limits also have an impact on the size of fish that we target. At times I've been fortunate to find a school of big pearlies, and it seems that pearlies swim in schools of similar-sized fish. If I start getting 35cm just-legals then I will move to another spot in order to target bigger fish in the 60cm class. Once we’ve found the bigger specimens it is all hands on deck to secure a limit of these fine-tasting trophies.

Having said that, a 45cm pearl perch is quite a good-sized fish that yields fillets big enough to satisfy at one per plate.

When looking for bigger fish it helps if you have your GPS marks from a recent successful trip. Such ‘electronic’ information gives you greater confidence to leave fish and go prospecting elsewhere.

Sounder Knowledge

When you get into a hotspot for a particular species, why not record what the sounder image looks like. That way, you can refer back at a later date to refresh your memory on the complex details that include how the bottom looks and how that species of fish shows up on your sounder.

These images can be captured by either digital camera, mobile phone, or playback via your computer. Similarly a snapshot of your GPS screen will also provide valuable information.

Edibility

It is often said that pearl perch are the best tasting fish of southern Queensland waters. I recall slabs of freshly caught pearl perch fillets on fresh bread and either a twist of lemon or a squeeze of plain mayo as one of my all time favourite reasons for going fishing.

Like all fish, you should bleed and spike them soon after capture and then immerse them in an iced slurry.

Fighting

It is fortunate for anglers that they taste so good that we are prepared to overlook their very poor fighting ability.

When you hook them they simply open their mouths and force you to wind them in against the resistance of their wide-open bucket mouths.

With tongue-in-cheek, I suggest that the faster you wind then the greater the resistance and the more your can make them appear to fight by putting a bigger bend in your rod. However, rather than winding like crazy and/or pumping erratically, it pays to be smooth and steady. Otherwise fish that have been merely pricked through lip skin can be lost on the way up. For this reason, charter boats often recommend very soft tipped rods between 6’6” and 7’ long.

Tackle

The basic tackle I use is a Fin Nor Star Drag overhead reel (BT50) loaded with 50-65lb braid with a paternoster tied from 60lb mono over a Wilson M10 type rod.

Description

Pearl perch have a distinct black blotch (which is easily rubbed off) that covers a pearlie shiny bone on the body about two-thirds of the way up behind the gill opening and a very obvious (big) eye.

Locations

Generally pearlies are a deepwater target in waters from 35m. Normally around 100m depth is seen as the limit of conventional tackle. Beyond this, such as deep drop fishing and wreck fishing, electric reels come in to play.

Pearl perch are caught from Yeppoon and south to Coffs Harbour/Seal Rocks/Port Macquarie in NSW (see factbox for South East Queensland specific locations).

Wire weed and sparse gravel bottoms seem to be their preferred location. They are less likely to be taken in numbers from hard bottom. Wire weed looks like black coiled or twisted sometimes rusty (orange) wire.

I’ve also caught them by dragging lures over light rubble bottom in the spaces between hard reef.

Time of Day

Some authors have referred to pearlies as a nighttime angling species, however this is wrong. Plain and simple they are caught regularly by day. In fact, I treat snapper as a dusk and dawn fish and pearlies as one of the main targets during the middle of the day.

Time of Year

Pearlies are certainly a warm season fish; however, when we get warm weather we also get afternoon northeasters, strong winds and faster drift currents. Therefore, the good days for pearlies can involve quite a bit of getting the boat ready and waiting.

Pearlies are not a wide ranging pelagic that will disappear with the seasons, they are out there somewhere. Enjoy them this summer.

SE Queensland locations include:

• Wide Caloundra (wire weed) between November and June.

• The 100m line around the Barwons up to Noosa.

• Gold Coast’s 42 and 50 fathom reefs

• In 80-100m of water off Point Lookout.

• Wide out off Hervey Bay, in the deep water accessed by going around the top end of Fraser Island.

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