How to catch estuary perch
Estuary perch thrive in most East Gippsland estuaries. The term ‘estuary’ in their name can be misleading though, as they spend a significant portion of their time in freshwater, despite occasionally venturing into brackish or true saltwater environments. Although similar in appearance to Australian bass, estuary perch have a protruding lower jaw, concave forehead, and oversized eyes for nocturnal feeding.
Primarily found near snags, weed beds and undercut edges, these elusive fish need to be specifically targeted. Hardcore estuary perch anglers agree that identifying the fish's precise location in an estuary at any given time is crucial. During heavy rainfall, they tend to migrate upstream. During dry spells, they are more likely found in the middle and lower reaches of an estuary, even venturing into the lakes. These fish don't disperse as much as move in larger groups, remaining that way wherever they go. While older reports of perch in a particular region are a valuable reference, any recent updates on their whereabouts are preferred. If you locate a school, it's a good indication of excellent short-term fishing.
Being predators, estuary perch are primarily focused on consuming small prawns, aquatic and terrestrial insects, and small fish. While dead bait can be effective, live bait is superior and deadly when fished around snags under a float. Live minnows, shrimps, and black crickets are favourites. Be prepared to react quickly to a bite, as a decent perch is likely to pull a bait fisher into structure. Many anglers prefer lure fishing for the species due to their predatory nature, making well suited to this technique. Small soft plastics fished on light jig heads, cast directly into structure and left to sink, then hopped back to the boat, are highly effective.
Perch will strike a lure as it falls or when paused at various depths. Small suspending crank bait lures are also effective, but can be expensive due to perch frequently breaking off from fishers in the snags. During low-light conditions, perch can be highly active, and on warm mornings or evenings, surface fishing can produce enthralling action. Cicada patterns and bent minnow style lures are hard to beat. Bank fishing can be productive, but locating schools can be challenging due to perch's mobile nature.
Many anglers often use bream gear for estuary perch fishing, however, given the elusive nature of the species, losing fish and lures is a common occurrence, especially when they make a beeline back to snags. Upgrading to 8-pound braid and a 12-pound leader is a wise choice, offering superior abrasion resistance when fish attempt to escape.
In situations where rivers are strewn with snags and there are large perch around, heavier drag settings become necessary to pull fish out. This is where a 3 to 5-kilogram rated graphite rod, fast/extra fast in taper, and a 2500-sized reel with 15-pound leader come in handy. With heavier drag pressures, there's always the risk of pulling hooks, but that's just one of the aspects of perch fishing that makes it so exhilarating. It's all about finding the right balance and adjusting to the circumstances of the day.