Estuary perch are somewhat of an enigma amongst many anglers. Like most of our native species, they are a great sportfish, however, many of their behavioural characteristics have kept them away from the catch bags of most estuary baitfishers. And those that were taken were often confused with their close relative, the Australian bass.
Lure anglers are the real winners when it comes to chasing perch, and many (like me) are completely hooked.
Macquaria colonorum are found in coastal flowing rivers and estuaries right along Victoria’s coastline. They can be particularly prolific in some of the larger river systems, especially those that experience periods of high salinity.
Most angling methods in the past have not allowed anglers to tangle with estuary perch, mainly because their offerings were made in the wrong areas. Considering that perch and bream inhabit very similar areas, this is even more amazing.
The popularity of lure fishing has brought perch back to the angling table because anglers are now specifically targeting areas where they live. Estuary perch can be very aggressive predators, and it’s this characteristic in particular, that makes them such an exciting target for lure fishermen.
The first step in any fishing equation is to find the fish, which sounds self-explanatory. But with estuary perch, it’s vitally important because they can school very tightly and in a small area, even in a large system.
This means that 95% of the estuary may be completely devoid of perch. You could waste a big part of your day just trying to find them.
The trick is to target areas where they are likely to be. Once you’ve found the school of fish, then you can fine tune your approach and try different things.
In almost every estuary I’ve fished for perch there is a bridge of some sort. This is the best place to start.
Bridges provide cover and shelter for hungry perch, and fill the same void for their prey like shrimp, baitfish and small finfish such as mullet. This gives the predator a perfect platform to launch an attack, and to hide when they are not feeding.
Concentrate your efforts right against the structure and use any available current to get your lure as deep as you dare. You might lose a bit of tackle, but it’s not nearly as much fun, or productive, if you don’t.
Snags are the next most obvious area to target, especially the larger ones that obstruct flow. Much like the vertical pylons of a bridge, these snags provide a perfect ambush position for old mate perch to attack his prey, or your lure!
I prefer to target large snags that have a greater surface area above the water. They create more cover. Also, lay down snags that have fallen straight out from the bank are well worth a cast or two.
Interestingly, a single pole or stick can be a major piece of structure in a barren estuary system so don’t discount them, as insignificant as they might seem.
Like any other form of lure fishing, keep a keen eye out for visible signs of feeding fish. Perch can shower baitfish in all directions, and smash prawns in the shallows.
I’ve also seen them sip insects off the surface as timidly as any brown trout.
Any sign of fish is worth a cast, just like any likely bit of structure, but pay special attention to aggressive swirls and splashes, surface boils and frantic flashing beneath the surface.
It pays to keep an eye on your depth sounder too. Perch can be found right out in the middle of nowhere and in some pretty strange places.
Normally though, they’ll be in good numbers when you find them and will therefore be fairly recognisable on your depth sounder. Keep your eyes on that screen as you move from place to place.
Pay particular attention to small troughs and indentations on the bottom. Schools of perch love to hang just above rows of weed in open water. Don’t dismiss any sign of fish for the sake of a cast or two.
A great way to start is to use big hard-bodied lures to search for perch. This usually brings a response fairly quickly if the perch are close by. These larger lures often have noisy rattles and are especially good for searching areas of bank with heaps of structure.
Once you’ve located your quarry you can adjust your approach and employ finesse methods. This is sometimes required because the fish can become wary after a while.
The colour of your lure can be important while at other times it’s the smell, but generally it’s the size and shape that’s most important.
If you can figure out what they’re feeding on then you can try to ‘match the hatch’. The first perch you catch is particularly important in this regard because it might cough up a sample of what it’s been eating.
When I first started fishing for estuary perch I was amazed how subtly they would take your lure sometimes. Be ready for this, because one day they can hit like a ton of bricks and the next, like your lure has just brushed by some weed on your retrieve.
I’ve even felt nothing at all and retrieved a limp line with nothing attached to the business end. Perch that live in the snags in the McClelland Straits seem particularly adept at this!
A slow retrieve is a big advantage when you’re chasing perch so lightly weighted soft plastics and suspending hard bodies are very handy indeed.
It’s no different to targeting bream. You will catch more perch if your lure spends more time in the ‘strike zone’.
Perch are real suckers for a couple of big whacks of your lure after a long pause. This retrieval style will normally draw a very fast and aggressive response.
Tide and current can be very important contributors to perch fishing success. Very often, a rising tide brings fish into shallower water to hunt prey. These areas are quite often unfishable at low tide, especially over weed edges and sloping mud banks.
A falling tide can see perch feed more frantically over a short period before their time is up and they have to retreat into deeper water.
It can be very useful to look over a likely area at low tide and make note of any subsurface structure that could hold perch at higher water. These insights can really make a difference to your catch rates so take advantage of any ‘down-time’ by doing from research and preparing yourself for when they’re more vulnerable to your lure presentations.
A nice, flash fishing platform like one of today’s modern tournament boats is the ideal choice for chasing estuary perch, but you don’t need anything more than your own two feet in a lot of cases. Many river systems can be fished very well indeed from the bank.
But, like all land-based anglers know, there’s always a particularly attractive looking bank on the other side of the river, or a snag that’s just out of casting range.
Estuary perch are a favourite angling species for lots of people. They are great fun to catch, live in some pretty nice parts of the world and provide more than worthy sport for avid lure casters.
So grab your favourite lures and a few of your mates, and get out there after a few perch or barramundi of the south as I like to call them!
Ten Renowned Estuary Perch Locations
Estuary Perch Soft Plastics
Ecogear Grass Minnow S
Ecogear Grass Minnow M
Ecogear 5” Short Curl Worm
Ecogear 3” Paramax
Berkley 3” Bass Minnow
Berkley 3” Gulp Minnow
Berkley 3” Gulp Fry
Berkley 2” Gulp shrimp
Top Water Perch Lures
Teimco Pencil Minnow
Lucky Craft Sammy 65
Heddon Tiny Torpedo
Sinking Perch Lures
Teimco Stick Minnow
Maria Flying Diver
Perch Deep Divers
Lucky Craft Bevy Shad 65
Jackall Squirrel 61
Small Divers For Perch
Jackall Chubby Deep
FACT BOX IMAGES
Top Water Perch Lures
Sinking Perch Lures
Perch Deep Divers
Small Divers for Perch