Jungle perch are an amazing species of fish found in North Queensland. They live in some of the most pristine tropical rivers Australia has to offer and this makes for some of the best scenery I have ever experienced when fishing.
The perch push up high into the tropical rainforest rivers and streams and these are extremely beautiful places to explore and fish. Remote waterfalls are often found when exploring for jungle perch, while the lush green rainforest, birdlife and clearwater add to the experience. The perch themselves are a great-looking freshwater fish with a silvery gold shine and black spots.
Searching For Perch
Good numbers of jungle perch start to appear above Townsville and running up to the north, all the way to the Daintree Rainforest above Cairns and up into some of the remote rivers of Cape York. Jungle perch love the fast-flowing rocky rivers and streams that flow to the east coast in this area of FNQ and prefer the higher rainfall basins. These areas allow the perch to push right up into the small tributaries of these systems, which makes for some exciting skinny water fishing. Perch will swim into water where the creek is less then 1m wide and less than 30cm deep.
To properly understand the jungle perch, you need to understand the fish’s biology. The JP is a long-lived freshwater perch that spends most of its life in freshwater, but – like the Aussie bass – heads down to the saltwater to spawn in the estuaries. This means the fish need access to saltwater so big barriers such as waterfalls prevent the fish from moving up higher into the top of the system.
The jungle perch will often move up to this highest point of a river that it can access, often referred to as the top pool. This is often a long way up in the mountains with little options for access other than to do the hard yards and slog/walk the many kilometres up the river in search of the last pool. The top pools are often loaded with big JPs, as this is their prime territory. Making it to these top pools is the hard part and it often takes just a single cast to catch the big fish.
Reaching these top pools can be an arduous journey that’s difficult to achieve in a single day’s walk. So, I suggest planning well and knowing when you should turn around, as walking out of these remote jungle areas in the dark can be extremely hard and dangerous. There is no reception in these areas, and you really are exposed to the wilderness.
River of Dreams
While the top pools in the system are hot spots for big JPs, there are fish spread right up and down the river. Some fish hole up in the bigger pools lower down in the system and some move up higher. There are always fish traveling up and down the system each year as they spawn, so the big fish can pop up anywhere. If you can’t make it to the top pools just fish the water you can access – it will still produce jungle perch.
Jungle perch have amazing eyesight in the clearwater and will often be onto your lure extremely fast as they wait for bugs or insects to fall into the water. This means if you are casting to the right areas the perch will hit your lure as soon as it hits the water, so be ready with your drag set.
Perch love the top of the pool where the freshwater flows in, bringing food with it, so the heads of pools are great spots to try. These are where the bottom of rapids first drops into deeper water or a large hole in the river. Places where the foam builds up on the surface in front of a snag or rock are also hot spots worth a cast. You can move through the water fairly fast with perch as they will often take the lure within the first cast or two. In many instances you may have multiple fish fighting over the lure on the first cast.
Due to the perch being so aggressive you can catch them on a large range of lures, from surface to subsurface lures. Jungle perch will often attack larger lures of 100mm and longer. By using a bigger lure (60mm-plus) you can eliminate the smaller 10-20cm fish and target some bigger ones.
My personal favourite lures are surface poppers or walkers, soft plastics with spinner blades or small spinnerbaits, and lipless crankbaits. Soft plastics with spinner blades are great in the fast flow as the blade spins and attracts fish in quickly as the lure drifts pasts, while lipless crankbaits are great in the deeper pools as they get down fast.
A 2 to 5kg spin combo is perfect for flicking small lures in tight cover and I prefer a 7ft rod matched with a 2500 spin reel. 10lb Braid and 15lb fluorocarbon leader are ideal as your line can take a bit of a beating on the rocks and after a few hours casting it may be worth retying your leader.
Big walks up the river require a good backpack and some good hiking footwear. I often pack lunch and plenty of water and head in for a sun-up to sunset walk if attempting to reach the top pools.
Take Me To The River
Jungle perch are a year-round target and are a great option when it’s too windy to head offshore. The only time catching perch can be difficult is after heavy, wet season rains when the rivers are flooding and running extremely high and dirty.
However, just after these high flow periods can be a great time to head off JP fishing, when the river drops and starts to clear. Jungle perch will bite all day, so early morning, midday and afternoon can provide some great fishing.
Jungle perch have great eyesight so try to move up the river quietly and cast at the pools from a long way back. Keep in mind that perch can spook easily if they see you approaching, and will shy away from the lures.
Perch are commonly caught between 20cm and 45cm in length, but can grow over the magic 50cm mark and weigh over 2kg, a true trophy fish. These fish are extremely rare and any perch over 45cm is a bloody good fish. These bigger perch are smart and choose to live in the most remote sections of river where anglers seldom visit, so if you want a big perch plan for some long walks.
Jungle perch are by far one of my favourite freshwater fish to target and I think this is due to the amazing country they live in. If you like hiking, seeing parts of remote Australia and native freshwater fish, get out and plan for some big walks in the remote jungle – you won’t be disappointed!
Words & Images: Colby Lesko