Few freshwater fishermen would consider perch a target species, but as Greg Morton explains, they’re always a welcome surprise and a great addition to the table…
My freshwater targets are typically trout species and salmon. They are good fighting fish and there is always a chance of hooking into a trophy. Recently, however, I encountered a journeyman species – a fish that is definitely an extra on the fishing film set.
New Zealand’s redfin perch were introduced to this country from Tasmania, after being introduced to Australia from England. Perch are a coarse fish. They will always get the title ‘journeyman fish’ because they are not very obvious. Most of the fish are small, and they are not highly regarded as a fighting fish.
My province, Otago, has perch, particularly around the South Otago coast. Many other parts of New Zealand are also home to this species, including Southland, Canterbury, Westland, Taranaki, Whanganui, Wellington, Wairarapa, Auckland and the Waikato. They thrive in slow flowing and still-water environments like lakes and ponds, the lower reaches of big rivers, and swamps.
They are quite striking in appearance, as the accompanying photos show. Perch have two dorsal fins, the larger having numerous firm, sharp spines. The gill cover has another flat spine which many anglers have discovered the hard way. Perch have six or more dark bands along their sides which are bright in small fish but less distinct in trophy fish. Most of the fins have a bright red edge. Their skin is rough to the touch and the scales are large.
They are carnivorous, eating whatever they find. Big solitary fish are ambush experts, while smaller fish often travel in shoals looking for prey – bullies are a favourite. They are attracted by water noise and often turn up when the river bottom has been stirred up.
Growing up as a kid we had a nearby dam that contained small trout and perch. The hoped-for fishing prize was a brown trout but the reality was that the bag would usually end up filled with a lot of very small perch. There was the occasional big boy living there, however, and I was lucky enough to land two of those large specimens, one at 2kg and the other 1.5kg. The big perch are easily filleted and make excellent table fish as the fillets are of a firm, white consistency. Unfortunately, the perch population declined over time in this spot.
Since then, I have seldom been in perch water, so was surprised to encounter them again while fishing the upper Taieri River in the Maniototo Basin. The 288km Taieri River is the fourth longest river in New Zealand and travels a circuitous path to the ocean near Dunedin. A lot of the route is through swampland, gorges and across farmland. At times it is very slow flowing, and in its lower reaches is perfect perch habitat. Near SH1 it skirts Lake Waihola and Lake Waipori and these lakes are trophy perch waters.
I was a long way from the best perch water but as I was to find out, perch are quite a transitory fish. Fishing the river near Waipiata with a yellow Mepps Thunder Bug spinner, I had a nudge, then another and another. Strange trout behaviour I thought; then finally something latched on. Taieri trout fight hard, so it very quickly became clear that this was no trout. After a couple of token runs, it revealed itself as a small perch. I released it and cast again but all I got was a couple more tweaks of no consequence.
The Mepps Thunder Bug spinner firmly hooked through the mouth of this perch.
The Mepps Thunder Bug is one of my favourite spinners these days. It has been designed to mimic an insect swimming for its life so appeals to all fish species. It comes in a number of colours so the spinning angler can match the hatch on any given day. Some blades are gold, some silver and some dark. The body is segmented, the hook is dressed with contrasting fibres and the spinning blade looks like an insect wing on the retrieve. It casts like a bullet though, swims quite shallow, and the number two size I use weighs seven grams. I wind it very slow and have found that all colours catch fish.
Each time I visited the Taieri I could virtually guarantee that sometime during the day I would encounter a perch. None were big, and I never landed more than two per wander. However, on my most recent trip things were a bit more exciting.
I had been working my way upstream using long casts to seek out fish. I was having a good day and had landed a couple of nice brown trout. In front of me was a tree growing out of the water and in its lee was a dark, deep pool that looked like a good ambush spot. My first cast with the bug got a nudge so I had an inkling of what species was lurking there. My next cast was nudged again but no hook-up. I changed the yellow bug to a black one and flicked it back out. Two winds of the handle and whack – it came up tight! It gave a spirited fight but this perch wasn’t very big and was soon landed.
My next cast hardly landed before I was hooked up again – another small perch that was outgunned, landed and released. I went back to fishing and after another instant hook-up, I knew there must be a shoal hanging out by the tree. This one felt bigger and actually pulled some string off the reel as it hugged the bottom. He was a slugger rather than a greyhound, burying his head in the weeds and trying to hide under the bank. Once I got his head out of the weeds, his battle was over and I brought him to the net. He was a good-sized perch of about 1.25kg. Another similar size one was landed next cast and then it was all over. A huge eel turned up, attracted by the ruckus, and the shoal vanished. I kept the two big perch and enjoyed their excellent fillets with chips that evening.
A big Taieri perch - perfect for the table.
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