A Tale of Two Days

Jack Porter fishes for jungle perch in Far North Queensland

I can’t quite remember when my fixation with jungle perch began. Probably in my late teenage years, when the bass bug really began to bite. Seeing the odd video of these fish may have started it — they looked like bass, but silver, with the most striking brown and gold markings. While you’re watching, you not only see these incredible looking fish but also the way they eat a surface offering, and the pristine jungle streams they live in. It was hard not to be captivated by the whole experience, even through the window of my small computer screen. In 2015 I made my first real trip north, chasing barramundi in the dams and catching up with a good mate in Townsville. We spent some afternoons rock-hopping up Crystal Creek with small spin rods. I was chuffed just to catch a couple of little estuary perch in that fashion. I tried with a fly rod, but these small flighty fish just proved too cunning for my inexperience. Since that trip they have been top of my list, stealing many hours of daydreaming about how and where I might get to catch one on a fly rod. I’ve been lucky enough to make some good friends that, through their own travels, have settled up and down the east coast of Queensland. While having a yarn to Reid, a good mate of mine in Tully, he told me he’d been stuck into some handy jungle perch over the last month or so, as the weather warmed up. The nature of these streams in the Far North, being so small, means they are very susceptible to the weather, especially rain. A swollen, muddy creek seldom fishes as well as the same creek running lower and crystal clear. It doesn’t take much water for them to swell, and in Tully, it rains a lot… so time was of the essence. If I was to make a serious go at turning a dream into reality, I had to pull the trigger and just get up there. What follows is the story of that weekend — a tale of two, very different days. Preparation I booked flights in September for the middle of October, leaving me about four weeks to get organised, decide what gear to take, and tie a whole bunch of flies. I settled on packing a 6-weight and 3-weight. The #6 based on Reid’s description of the fish he had been catching and the size of the lures he was throwing, and the #3 based on what I had seen in videos and previously experienced. My thinking for those smaller fish was that a light rod and small flies would lend more chance of success. I tied a whole range of flies and raided my bass box as well, to really top up my supply. I packed two boxes, including a small one of oversized trout flies — size 6 Royal Wulffs, Stimulators and Muddler Minnows, along with some small nymphs and bigger leech patterns. The other box was packed full of bass flies — some size 2 streamers, 3-inch Game Changers and a whole assortment of foam and deer-hair bugs — Dahlberg Divers, Frogs, Sliders and even a size 1 Articulated Bird, just in case we had ‘one of those days’. From my research I knew JPs were opportunistic feeders but I wanted to have every base covered. When you travel a long way to catch one fish, you don’t want to be left without that one fly you didn’t think to bring. So with this selection of flies, I figured I had all possibilities covered. If we ended up in a tight boulder-clad stream I could drift the big dries down the runs, and if they were tentative, a nymph or leech would get me out of trouble. If we fished a slower creek and bigger water with more timber, the bass-sized flies, fished to the snags, would have me in the game. Day 1 – A Dream Come True We started nice and early so we were in the creek and casting just after 6:00. Moving upstream, we missed a bunch of small fish along the way. On the second good bend I moved a sizeable fish when I cast past a snag laying on the edge of a deeper ledge. A bow-wave charged out of the timber and smashed my little foam fly a foot into the air, and promptly disappeared. Bugger! Then, in three casts, I landed a little sooty grunter, a khaki grunter the same size, and finally, all off the same ledge, my first jungle perch on fly! The little stinger hook had pinned it just on top of its nose. I’m not sure of the last time I was so elated to catch a fish barely 8-inches long. Very few perch were showing interest in my flies, although Reid managed a handful of nice fish on his spin gear. I spent most of my time dealing with the hordes of micro grunter. These little fish are voracious and fearless feeders, making short work of most casts with my little Gurgler or Muddler Minnow. By mid-morning I was sick of unhooking these agro little fish, and had the feeling they were hindering my chances of a real JP getting to my fly, so I upsized. First to a Dahlberg, and although this didn’t stop the sooties, at least it tempted some bigger models. One in particular had me in all sorts when it ate the fly on the far side of a rock ledge and very nearly made it home! I rolled through my assortment of bigger flies as we made our way further up the creek without much success. Sometime after lunch, we’ll probably never know why, the fish flicked a switch. We hit the bottom of a nice long pool, shaded down the right-hand side with a nice deep channel cut along the bank through some prime looking snags. I cast a big foam bug between two snags, and the usual micro grunters were all over it again. But halfway through my retrieve I saw what I’d been waiting for, when a lovely perch peeled out from under its log in hot pursuit of my fly. I kept it moving to keep the grunters at bay, and the JP just barrelled through the middle of them and tucked in behind the fly. After six feet or so of following, it kicked hard and belted the fly, and to my surprise it connected! A spirited little fight and some photos ensued, then sheer happiness. This was the fish I had come all this way for — my dream had become reality. Little did I know of the mayhem that was to follow… I took a back seat for a short while after that fish, and even had a cast with the spin rod. As we continued up the creek, big JPs, barely a fish under 35 cm, came flying out of every shady pocket or snag with reckless abandon, eating lures and cartwheeling out of the water. It certainly was a sight to behold, with big jungle perch tearing across shallow sandbanks, knocking other fish out of the way to eat our offerings. It didn’t take long till I had the fly rod back in my hand, looking to go even better than that last fish. When we rounded a nice deep bend, with a rock face on the steep side, it just screamed big fish. And that’s exactly what was there. My bigger foam Gurgler was sent flying up into the shadows, and three strips later it was slurped by a fish that didn’t give up so easily. A 42 cm perch is a cracking fish on any tackle, but to land that on a fly, I didn’t think things could get any better. Content, and feeling as though we were indeed having ‘one of those days’, I tied on that little Articulated Bird fly that I had packed just in case. Further up the creek, I cast the Bird to a nice looking log, and halfway back a big JP appeared from a crack in the rocks and slid in behind the fly. I kept the fly moving, because we’d learned throughout the day that once the fly stops, so do the perch. Almost out of water now, the fish finally committed, taking a big swipe and the hook found its mark. A good clean fight followed and we landed the fish of the day — a 44 cm jungle perch on an Articulated Bird fly. I am not sure I will ever be able to top that fish! Day 2 – That’s fishing On the drive home after one of the most unbelievable days fishing I’ve ever had, I rang my mate Jimmy who lives in Cairns. I told him to get down here for a few beers and to catch these fish — it was just too good! Reid and I had a cruisy session chasing jacks the following morning while we waited for Jim to arrive, ready to hit the sweet water again for the afternoon. We hatched a plan to walk back into the creek where we’d left it yesterday, and to make our way even further upstream. We would be fishing clean water, so surely we could at least go half as well as the day before. I took my 3-weight this time, thinking I’d try to have a little fun, although casting big deer-hair bugs wasn’t easy. We started pretty well too: I managed a little perch in the first pool on a deer-hair Frog, and Jimmy caught a nice fish in the next. That turned out to be it, despite the creek continuing to look incredibly fishy. After an hour or so we did a U-turn and went overland back to where we had found so many fish merely 24 hours before, but even down there we drew a blank. If we had not been there the day before, I could have sworn there were no big jungle perch in the creek. We picked up a few small sooties, and the boys on spin gear a couple of middling perch, but the fish we’d seen and caught yesterday had vanished. We checked the weather data — cloud cover, wind, temperature, barometer — but there was no difference of any consequence. I guess the age-old saying ‘you should have been here yesterday’ still rings true. Safe to say, I’m over the moon I was actually there yesterday. We all have our reasons for fishing, and for fly fishing in particular. For me it’s the places it takes me, the people I get to do it with, setting and achieving goals, and, most of all, because it’s a bloody good time when it all comes together! In just one short weekend I managed to do all these things in spades. We experienced the absolute highs of smashing long-set goals, while working hard through a challenging day on the back of that. I had a heap of laughs with mates I don’t see often enough, while spending time in a stunning location that very few people would ever get to see. Does it get any better than that? I’m not sure it does. For more background on jungle perch see FL#4, #71, #86.

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