How to catch estuary perch in autumn
Ben Faro is an estuary perch specialist, and what follows is essential reading for anyone looking to target these feisty freshwater scrappers.
When it comes to estuary perch, without a doubt the single most important factor is locating fish. That might sound like a relatively easy thing to do, but in reality nothing can be further from the truth. Without a good quality fish finder, fishing a new waterway can feel like trying to find that needle in a haystack. I like to run a split screen with standard sonar on one side and down-vu or down scan on the other. This helps distinguish fish from structure, as estuary perch will often school in good numbers in and around submerged timber and weed.
Although finding them isn't easy, once you do, it pays to work the area over thoroughly, as estuary perch begin to stack up in good numbers once the cooler weather of autumn comes around. Estuary perch can turn up just about anywhere in a river system, but I have found that some of the best places to look will be any corners and bends in the river, creek mouths and drains, and around man-made structures like bridges and rock walls.
Some of their favourite types of structure include tea tree, willows, mangroves and weed beds, but don't be surprised to find them rounding up baitfish in the middle of nowhere; I've had them turn up in some pretty random places. It also pays to keep an eye on the surface for signs of feeding fish, as active EP's will often boof and slash at any unsuspecting schools of baitfish, sending them fleeing in all directions. Normally this is a low light thing, but the cooler temperatures of autumn often see this behaviour carrying on right through the day.
Techniques: jerk baits and soft plastics
Although most of the regular perch techniques can work this time of year, one of my favourite and often the most successful ways to catch them is with a suspending jerk bait. Fishing the jerk bait is pretty straight forward. I generally take a few turns of the handle to get the lure down in the water column a bit before giving it a decent rip followed by a pause. Then I'll give the lure two or three rips before giving it a good pause again and then repeating this back to the kayak.
When fishing the jerk bait, pause time can be a critical factor, and if you know you're in the right area, being patient with your pause can really pay off. On average I'll pause anywhere from a couple of seconds up to about 10, depending on the mood of the fish and, as a general rule, the colder the water, the longer the pause. There's literally heaps of options out there when it comes to jerk baits, but my preference is for deep diving lures in the 50-75mm range.
When fish are marking up deep on the sounder and you can't get them to come up to jerk bait, it's time to pull out the soft plastics to present a lure down at their level. In these situations, I like to sink the lure down to them and then employ a long, slow lift of the rod followed by a controlled descent down to the bottom again. Be prepared though, as bites will often come either when you're at that point where you can't lift any further or just as you start to sink it again. As a general rule you don't want your plastic to sink down to the depths too quickly, but you will want it to get down to their level, sometimes in some pretty quick tidal flow. Most of the time I'll use jig head weights of 1/16-1/6 ounce, switching between weights until I find the right combination for the conditions and plastic that I'm fishing.
For the majority of my jerk bait fishing, I like to use shorter, moderately tapered rods of around 6'4-6'6". The moderate action of the rod will allow you to lock up tight to angry perch and haul them out of danger with less chance of pulling all six hook points straight out of their mouth. The shorter length of the rods helps when it comes to pinpointing casts deep into structure, and then comfortably twitching and working your lure from the kayak. You're going to want to select a rod capable of casting light lures in the 2-5gm mark while using leaders of about 6-10 pound, depending on the type of water you are fishing.
If I find the fish are sitting deeper and I have to fish a plastic, I'll go for fast actioned rod of around 7' -7'3" with a cast weight range of around 3-10gm. The longer rods help to keep you in contact with the lure and give more hook setting power once you actually convince one to bite.
Thanks to some of the hard work done by Fisheries Victoria and a dedicated group of local anglers, we now have a very successful stocking program here in Victoria, with some waterways holding EP's to 40cm. Even though these perch are a long way from home, they still respond well to all of the same techniques as their wild river mates. Some of the waterways worth a look include Lake Hamilton, lake Struan, Albert Park Lake, Devilbend Reservoir, Karkarook Lake and Melton Reservoir. For the full list of stocked waterways, check out the Fisheries Victoria website.