Words & Images: Ross Borella
Want to catch golden perch (yellow belly) on lures? Looking for a few tips? Then the following information should have you better equipped to get amongst some of these great medicine balls. Your approach has to be different to most other freshwater species, starting with the basics. Don’t race off expecting to catch golden perch without considering at least a few of the following critical elements unless you like going home fishless. To catch yellow belly you need to consider the time of the year, weather, and location for any real chance of success.
In this “how to” I have detailed a couple of old tried and proven methods, added a few important tips and have tweaked up a few things that will make all the difference. These methods are not new but have stood the test of time. What’s on offer here is to help you catch your first golden perch. From there you can advance into some newer methods for targeting perch such as blades, soft plastics and the like, but first let’s catch you a fish.
This species, native to Australia, has now been stocked with great success into many of our impoundments giving golden perch a huge lift in popularity, and with this new found interest, people are now targeting our natives with a better than average chance of catching one. Golden perch can be called an ambush predator as they seldom, if ever, swim far from cover. Not built for speed they hold very tight to logs, rocks or trees waiting for their pray to swim to them, taking note of this behaviour is one of the keys to success. You need to present your lure right in their face. Trolling along a proven ‘yella’ run with plenty of rocks and lay down timber along the bank is your best bet at presenting your offering in the face of a yellow belly. It always astounds me that so many anglers seem to like trolling out wide; their lures are running in water that is over five metres deeper than their lures are can possibly dive; nowhere even close to the fish. Either these anglers don’t like snagging up or don’t like catching fish. While they appear keen they are missing that very important key to success that I will emphasise again, you need to present your lure right in their face! Think “ambush”, the fish is hiding, you need to go to the fish.
The importance of water temp
Fishing from experience in southern lakes, the first thing that stands out is how important water temperature is to your chance of getting any reaction from the fish at all. If ever a species could be said to go dormant, this is the one. To catch any species with any regularity you need to know as much as possible about its behaviour. I started my long learning curve many years ago when I had a golden perch of around 1.5kg in a very large fish tank. By closely studying the fish’s behaviour I noted that during winter it was obvious the metabolism slowed, very close to hibernation when the water temp drops too low. So much so that I observed almost no movement in the fish apart from its fins moving just enough to keep its body stable. I experimented with the fish’s feeding habits by tying a worm on a piece of cotton and dangled it in front of the fish to observe its reaction, there was no reaction. I then let the worm crawl over its face still nothing; the worm then crawled into the fish’s mouth, then out its gills, still no reaction. The worm was then slowly pulled back out. Conclusion, it would be a waste of time fishing for them when it’s too cold. A few months later when the water warmed to just over 20 degrees the same fish would strike my finger as I dangled it in the water of the tank, it would devour any yabby, shrimp or worm fed to it before it reached the bottom. It watched every move anyone made in front of the tank, it was fired up and very alert. So bring on spring when water temps increase and this native will quickly make up for it’s lack of movement and suppressed appetite in the colder months in a big way. Add a few hot, calm days into the equation and you can expect to trigger a reaction. Conditions like this are as good a sign as you can expect to go fishing.
Times and conditions
In our South Eastern States the timing is critical if you intend to catch yellas on lures. The months of October to December have proven to be the peak months. Look for a steady barometer sitting over 1020hPa and for calm weather as trolling or drifting close to structure becomes extremely difficult in a strong wind. We have identified that calm conditions are by far the better choice as this is normally associated with a high barometer. Stable conditions have the water below the surface clear and still which is more to perch’s liking. A high rising lake or at least a steady water level has proven to be best. If you have all the aforementioned conditions coming together it’s now time to go fishing. If you get a hot day, dead calm, on a high stable barometer, and then throw in a full lake, you’re in with the best chance. When all the above conditions are met the time of day doesn’t become as important. Early in the season the warmest part of the day is by far the better. As the season rolls on I have had great success being the first person to run along a bank each morning. Normally the first couple of passes will you get the most strikes. To do this you need to be on the water in the very early hours. The other preferred time is straight after work if conditions allow, again some of my best fishing is after all the other boats have gone back to the ramp. I always stay that extra half hour and find it extremely hard to go home when they are on the bite. A lot of my better fish have been hooked up in that very gloomy light just on dark.
Where to fish
Good knowledge of your chosen lake will help as finding structure is paramount. Look for steep rocky or clay banks with a few large lay down trees with structure in two to six metres of water being ideal. On popular waterways look for other boats as they all seem to congregate around the better fish catching areas and this will start to give you an indication of what kind of structure I am referring to.
Trolling for perch
Once you have found some good structure get your boat quietly in over the structure, select a deep diving hard body lure in the 100mm range and troll or cast it into or over any logs or rocks in that 2 to 6 metres of water depth. Keep in close to the structure and remember that you want to present your offering right in front of the fish.
When trolling hold the rod in your hand at all times as you need to feel your lure climb over the stumps, rocks or whatever cover you are fishing. Holding the rod should prevent snagged up lures and you will get to feel the strike when one grabs your lure. If you’re not snagging up or bouncing along the bottom you are out too wide and not in the face of the fish. You need to move in closer until your sounder shows a depth the same as your lure is traveling. That’s as far out as you should ever get. (Your lure will help you determine this depth as you will start to feel it hitting the bottom) Zig zag in closer as often as you dare. Then plot on your sounder a line that you must not venture out past. Fishing this way is very hard work, and If this is too hard and you don’t like getting snagged then fishing for yellow belly may not be for you. Remember you need to present your lure right in the fish’s face. If you don’t believe we get in so close have a good look at the photos of our lures after a few sessions. These lures have been in the fish zone. Bibs all scratched up after bouncing off all the rocks and timber. We also try not to get passed on the shallow side when oncoming boats approach, I kill the electric motor, have a few casts, and make the other boat go around. It’s very hard for them to argue when your boat is sitting dead in the water, they have to go around if they want to keep trolling. All the very keen anglers will be jockeying for the best troll runs. Try to keep in the face of the fish for best results.
If you have passed over an area many times you can refine your troll run to follow the contours of the bottom. Keeping your lures no further than 500mm off most of the structure can minimise time lost snagging. Changing your speed will allow your lure to rise or fall. Floating deep diving lures rely on water pressure on the bib to dive and will float up slightly when the speed is reduced. Holding your rod and lifting it higher will also help it travel over shallow ground. I still like to get in closer and pick off any fish waiting in ambush that the other boats keep passing as they run out slightly wider. Trolling lures no further than 15 to 20m back will help you steer them around obstacle that are too shallow. Minimise the length of your troll run to a few hundred meters of prime location and work it over as best you can before moving to the next spot. My trolling speed preference is somewhere between 2.5 and 3km/h. This speed is critical in keeping the lure cranking down at the desired depth. Any slower and the lure will get lazy, not diving deep enough. Yellow belly can be quite quick over a short distance and as long as the lure passes in close range you can get a strike. I have found 3 km/h is not too fast and guarantees an excellent hook up rate.
Casting for perch
Using deep diving hard body lures cranked down into the structure is also very effective, especially where the structure is in relatively shallow water. The other good thing is if your hard body snags, give it slack line and it will normally float back off, allowing you to continue fishing as opposed to vibes and crank baits that are rarely successfully retrieved once snagged, the more you tug the tighter they get, finally ending up as more Christmas decorations on the structure below.
My choice in any deep diving lure is green and yellow or yellow and black. Have a good stock of these colours in hard bodied deep divers around the 100 mm size or longer. My tackle boxes are always full of these colours as they work best for me.
Bait casters or spin gear all work fine, it comes down to personal choice. Rods in the 3 to 5 kg range around 1.8m long are good and are the most popular. The rod and reel are not as critical as the trace and the lure. I like to use 15kg hard mono leader due to the abuse I give it. Length of the leader I choose is around 1.5m as this keeps my mono or braid well away from the wear and tear terminal end. I now use a slim beauty to tie my heavy leader to the braid. This has always been a problem if the knot is too bulky to let the de-snagger slide down to your lure making lure recovery very difficult. Lure to trace connection I like to use a small loop knot that you must keep checking and re-tie regularly. I have had the loop completely wear through due to the amount of movement of a correctly swimming lure. Braid has now taken over as my preferred main line; this can be any breaking strain that you feel comfortable with. I have fished as light as 2kg test mono, which landed me the current Australian Record golden perch of 9.525kg (21 pound). These days I tend to use braid above 10kg just to minimise lure losses. No other reason, occasionally I go lighter when I’m feeling a bit sporty. Using a de-snagger is another great way to minimise lure loss. The four-piece extender poles are a must have in any boat fishing for natives and has helped save thousands of dollars in lost lures. Due to the demands and number of snags with this type of fishing I can carry up to three or four different styles of de-snagger; if one type doesn’t work I will try another. The calm weather also helps as you can get over the top of the snag and work the lure off without being blown around by the wind.
Our golden perch are a real challenge, can be very hard to locate within any chosen waterway and always subject to weather and conditions. That’s why we challenge ourselves targeting these great medicine balls. Have a think about the above tips, apply them to your fishing and hopefully you can add a few to your photo album. Best of luck and good fishing to you all, now go crank gold.