Gone Fishing with Jonno: estuary perch

Catch and release: Local angler Andrew Bruton with a 49cm estuary perch caught fishing with Jonno at Nelligen on the Clyde River. Most anglers who target EPs practise catch and release, but they actually eat well.
Catch and release: Local angler Andrew Bruton with a 49cm estuary perch caught fishing with Jonno at Nelligen on the Clyde River. Most anglers who target EPs practise catch and release, but they actually eat well.

Before we get into my tips on cracking the code to catching estuary perch here is a quick fishing report.   Offshore the marlin have shown up around The Banks, also try the Mud (area to the west of The Banks) for some snapper.

At the moment it’s also worth a trip to the Fish Aggregation Device (FAD) off Currarong to have some fun catching Dolphin Fish.  The FAD is one of many deployed along the NSW coast and they are designed to attract small fish, which in turn of course brings the bigger pelagic fish in like dolphin fish and kingfish.  For those with a GPS device our local FAD is deployed at 34° 57.750' 150° 58.500'.  To catch the Dolphin Fish try casting small metal slug lures in towards the FAD and spin them back, longer soft plastic lures like the Squidgie Flick Baits will also do the job.

In the Crookhaven River there is still plenty of flathead, bream, luderick and garfish around and over the last couple of days we have seen a good rise the barometric pressure, which should get the bass on the chew in the Shoalhaven River.  I’ve also been having some good sessions catching estuary perch on surface lures, which brings me to what is going to be a two-part special on fishing for these fish.

Most anglers have that one fish they are obsessed with, and for me it’s Macquaria colonorum, estuary perch (EPs). I’ve even got a whole Facebook page called the ‘Lure of Estuary Perch’ (https://www.facebook.com/LureOfEstuaryPerch) devoted to fishing for them.  There is no doubt that EPs are the enigmatic sports fish of the estuaries of the southern part of South East Australia.  Sometimes misidentified for Australian bass, the body of an estuary perch is slightly deeper than that of a bass, with a concave head profile.  EPs can grow up to 75cm, which is around the 10kg mark and one seriously big estuary sport fish.  Although I have not heard of fish this big around the local area, there has been several caught between 50cm and 60cm in the Shoalhaven River.

The bag limit for EPs is 2 per day and there is a closed season in rivers and estuaries May-August inclusive as this is the time they breed.  Most anglers who target EPs practise catch and release, but they actually eat well, particularly prepared steamed using Asian cooking flavours. 

One of the EP’s main food sources is prawns and they love woofing down live prawns. We once caught and released around 120 of them over a couple of hours using live prawns fished on lightly weighted circle hooks.  They also love lures, particularly ones that of course look like prawns.

Like many other estuarine sports fish EPs hang around structures like bridge pylons, snags, deep rock walls or weed beds.  They will often congregate in a large school, these show up on a sounder as big blobs near the bottom.  A good quality sounder is an excellent tool when fishing for EPs as it allows you to look around the structure or deep rock walls to find out where the fish are congregating. Once you have found the fish I recommend turning off the echo sounder as the pinging of the device off the bottom can put off the fish.  Now sometimes when you have found the EPs it can be difficult to get them to bite so be prepared to put in heaps of casts, change your lure type/colour and retrieve to activate the bite.  To some degree that is one of allures of angling for EPs, it’s about cracking the code each day when fishing for them.

The best time to fish for EPs is the last two hours of the run out tide and the first hour of the run in tide.  You can pretty much catch them all day long, but I prefer early morning, late afternoon and the night.  One of the attractions of fishing for EPs is that you can get out at night to target them particularly around the last couple of hours of the run out tide, in most cases you’ve got the river to yourself to enjoy catching them.  

When using soft plastic lures to target EPs you need to use light fishing tackle and employ finesse angling techniques.  I use a light carbon fibre rod around 7ft with a 1000 size reel spooled up with 4lb gel spun line. Shimano’s 7ft 2inch Finesse Bream Rod is ideal and reasonably priced.  A 4lb Fluro carbon leader is perfect for fishing around more open water like rock walls and bridge pylons, but if you are casting your plastics into thick snags consider going to using 6lb – 8lb leader.

When it comes to soft plastic lures and artificial baits you pretty much can’t go past the following; Squidgie 65cm Prawn Wriggler Tail in Cracked Pepper or Bloodworm colour, Squidgie 80cm Whip Bait in Black n Gold colour, Squidgie Lobby in the Dusk colour, Berkeley Gulp Alive Shrimps, particularly in the Cracked Pepper, Natural and New Penny Colours.

One of the tricks to catching EPs using soft plastic lures is using a jig head that is suited to the conditions you are fishing. Try to get away with using as light a jig head as possible to get to where the fish are.  In most cases this means using a 1 to 3 gram jig head.

The retrieve I use when fishing for the EPs is a slow lift with a couple of twitches at the top.  Now EPs bite very soft, they feel like small taps through the rod and when you detect this lift the rod tip to set the hook.  That said there are times when they have engulfed the lure on the drop and I’ve nearly had them come of the water chasing a lure up to the top of the water.

There is one thing better than catching EPs on soft plastics, that is catching on the surface using poppers and other surface lures, I’ll covering that in next week’s article.