How to catch estuary perch

The estuary perch or Gippsland perch Macquaria colonorum is found mainly in the larger estuaries of Victoria and New South Wales.

This fish is similar in appearance and habits to the Australian bass but prefers staying in saline water, however it can at times be found in areas of low salinity.

Estuary perch are found in tidal rivers and lakes from the Richmond River in northern NSW south to most Victorian estuaries.

In Victoria they are more abundant in deeper rivers such as the Glenelg, Tambo, Mueller, Bemm, Hopkins, Curdies, Genoa and Wallagaraugh Rivers.

They were once found in numbers in Melbourne’s Port Phillip and Western Port Bays but have since declined there.

They are found further west to the Murray River mouth in South Australia, and in the Arthur and Ansons Rivers in northern Tasmania.

They are quite common in suitable streams within the mainland distribution, especially in southern NSW and Victoria, but nonetheless can be hard to find and catch.

This is possibly because estuary perch tend to move around a lot.

Spawning occurs in the lower sections of estuaries, usually in late winter and spring, and this is usually when anglers target them.

Spawning may happen only during wet La Nina years, with possibly years between spawnings.

In recent times the spawning runs have been protected from commercial fishing.

During the spawning run they are found in the deeper, lower sections of estuaries.

At this time estuary perch appear to prefer feeding near the bottom, eating mainly shrimps, prawns, worms, shellfish and smaller fish, however they will surface-feed like Australian bass, making boofing noises on the surface, especially after the spawning run and they heading back upriver.

Estuary perch much prefer livebaits to deadbaits and this is the trick to catching them.

They will take small artificial lures presented on light tackle but baits such as live worms, prawns and marine yabbies are a surer bet.

Fishing tends to be better in mornings and afternoons and in still, overcast conditions.

When a congregation of feeding fish is found the fishing can be frantic, and they will sometime attack almost any lure.

After the breeding season estuary perch can be targeted as they move back up the rivers and congregate around rockbars and other large stream obstacles.

A bonus when fishing for estuary perch is that the same fishing methods with lures and livebaits will often catch quality bream.

How to identify estuary perch

Estuary perch have a deeper shape than their close cousin Australian bass, with a larger mouth and more pointed snout and flatter head profile.

However, estuary perch and Australian bass can interbreed, and the young can be viable spawners themselves, so don’t be surprised if you have trouble identifying a fish you’ve caught.

Further confounding fishos, Australian bass and estuary perch both move downstream into lower estuarine waters to breed, with the two species breeding at much the same time.

Estuary perch are a great table fish. They are known to grow to well over 2kg but are usually smaller.

The species is long-lived, reaching 40+ years. This is not unusual with Australian native freshwater fish, as long life gives them more chance to breed successfully between years of adverse conditions.

Not surprisingly, perch numbers fluctuate greatly, however the bans on commercial fishing, and stocking, should see them become more secure.

Fishing tackle for estuary perch

Much estuary perch fishing involves casting small lures or baits where you find a congregation of fish. A 4kg spin outfit is ideal for this style of fishing. See eBay listings for light spin combos here.

Use a 6kg hard nylon leader to help prevent line abrasion.

Soft plastic paddletail or shad style lures in the smallest sizes are effective lures for the species, see eBay listings here.

Weighted jig heads are needed to rig most soft plastic lures, although some have the jig head built in. With estuary perch it pays to use the lightest jig head possible. Light resin jig heads allow an angler to present a more realistic suspending lure action, but the light weight makes them harder to cast. See eBay listings here.

Small diving minnow lures that get down to about 3m will also take estuary perch.

Floats are useful for suspending a livebait for perch. Polystyrene floats are slid or clipped onto the line and a stopper is placed above the float to set the depth a bait is fished. See eBay listings here.

Small quill style floats are useful when fish are shy but for some reason are not much used in Australian fishing. Try a worm or shrimp suspended under a quill float.

Clear bubble floats are also useful.

Ball sinkers are ideal for livebait fishing on the bottom, using a running sinker rig where the sinker can slide along the line, allowing a fish to run with a baited hook. See eBay listings for ball sinkers here.

Fine gauge hooks up to around Size 2 are ideal for the livebait fishing, with fine-gauge hooks better for keeping livebait alive. See eBay hook listings here.

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