FOR MANY anglers the mountain trout, rock flagtail or jungle perch (JP) remains a highly prized target in the upper reaches of our swift-flowing tropical rivers and feeder streams. Catching this fish has all of the ingredients to whet any sportfisher’s appetite.
Firstly, the surrounds are usually the kind of stuff that light tackle enthusiasts dream of. Imagine this scenario: it’s a steamy hot day in the tropics and you’re clambering through some thick undergrowth on the edge of a pristine stream. You make your way closer to the sound of the cascading water, taking care not to damage your rod as you weave through the gaps in the loya vines. A small azure kingfisher with stunning purple plumage and a buff coloured breast flashes across your path.
On the next step the thick vegetation opens up slightly, revealing a crystal clear rock pool about the size of the floor space in a double carport. Water is tumbling through small piles of granite dropping about a metre into the pool. There are small ferns everywhere amongst the moss-covered boulders worn smooth by the water and larger treeferns are overhanging the edges of the stream. You scan the pool of water and prepare your rod for a cast.
Excitement and anticipation set in. Stealthily you get in position; no need to rush. You fire a small Rapala SR5 out across the pool. As the lure gently lands a black shadow flashes towards it, crashing the lure with an explosion of water. The next thing you know your 2kg rod is buckled over and you’re tight to a little powerpack with silver sides pulling drag on the light Shimano spinning reel. JPs are stubborn for their size and rarely capable of winning the encounter, and soon you’re cradling the handsome specimen you came for.
JPs are a delight. Their aggressive behaviour towards a huge variety of artificials intruding into their domain, coupled with their handsome appearance, dogged resistance and stunning environment, make them a truly worthwhile fish to chase on foot. I have heard of JPs being captured over 50cm, but anything over 40cm is an oustanding fish and their territorial attitude is reflected in the aggressive way in which they dominate particular rock pools.
When heading off for the day ‘legging it’ I take a small tackle box with a selection of lures and a spare snap, Leatherman type tool, sunnies, camera (in waterproof container), sunscreen, food/snacks and a water bottle, and pack it all in a small canvas backpack. An old pair of runners or reef type sandals, a hat and some lightweight, cool clothing are all you need to be comfortable for your day out in search of perch!
Most of the northern freshwater streams hold healthy populations of JPs, although in areas heavily affected by sugar cane farming the fishing isn’t quite as good. I head towards streams which are as pristine as you can possibly find. It’s well known some of the best JP fishing in the state is in the area between Tully and Ingham. Try the Tully River, and of course the Herbert River and feeder streams. JPs are occasionally caught from boats in salt and brackish water. There is a school of thought that they spawn in the saltwater estuarine reaches of northern rivers and then make their way up into the fresh sections.
Jungle perch are quite happy to feed during the middle of the day and throughout the year but the best times are after rain when the waters start to clear up. These fish will take both dead and live baits but luring has more visual appeal and the small rods are easy to transport into these often tight casting situations. JPs will take a huge array of lures and flies. Most small minnow patterns as well as plastics and small spinners work a treat.
A small (about 1.6m) whippy light rod in the 2-4kg range is all you need, matched up with a small spinning reel spooled with about 2-3kg line. Some people prefer to use a short thin leader of about 7-8kg and a lightweight snap while others don’t use a leader and merely tie the lure straight on. Occasionally a big JP of around 40cm+ will bust you up on the rocks or timber if you don't use a leader. David Mayes and fishing mate Karl Schuster recently spent a day catching and releasing over 30 healthy JPs, including some beauties over 40cm. They walked, climbed and waded their way through the small feeder streams which flowed into the main river, a day or so after some heavy rain. With the water levels dropping and clear water settling, the JPs were really on the chew. There was a bycatch of a few sooty grunter but they were mostly in the main river.
Just to prove his JP prowess was no fluke, Karl rolled up to Lake Tinaroo for a night’s fishing. He casually strolled up beside myself and Col Upham, who’d had no luck during the previous three hours – and neither had I. We were using fizzers so Karl borrowed one of Col’s rods, stood next to us and cast the gold Bomber that was tied on. Unbelievable – three winds and he was hooked up to a healthy 15kg barra!
Till next month, .see you on the water.
1) Jungle perch will take surface lures with gusto at any time of the day.
2) Fishing tropical creeks can provide some of the best tropical sportfishing around.
3) Karl Schuster caught this great 15kg barra on a gold bomber with a borrowed rod and first cast on one of his regular trips to Lake Tinaroo.Reads: 897