EP Persistence

Mick Fletoridis hunts estuary perch with Dave Longin

Dave Longin worked his fly along the edge of a weedbed, clearly visible in the murky flow. The tide had turned and was forming swirling eddies along a muddy bank littered with dead timber. To my eyes, the timber looked more inviting, but getting in regular, good casts wasn’t easy due to a lack of recent practice. Many landed short, or worse, far into the fly-grabbing foliage. It was a different story for my mate at the bow who was having little trouble covering the likely hotspots with his ridiculously long rod. A muffled grunt signalled a bite and the 13-footer took on a nice curve as a strong fish ran for the weeds. Dave soon turned the battler out towards open water, and then back to me with the landing net. It was a handsome fish — a chunky 40-cm plus silver sheened estuary perch, or ‘EP’ as most anglers know them. While not in the 50-cm bucket-mouth class Dave had previously hooked along that stretch, it was a welcome catch on a summer’s day punctuated by spells of heavy rain, strong wind and burning sun. As Dave re-tied his extra-long leader, I jumped at the chance of some untouched water further upstream. First cast with my kayak-friendly Ross 6-weight and homegrown ‘prawny’ fly near the green leaves of a newly fallen gum got a flashy response. A couple of short strips and the perch hit the fly and bolted for cover. A couple of metres of line shot through my fingers before the hook unfortunately pulled. That all quickly got Dave back in action and connected to a zippy yellowfin bream that whacked his fly on splashdown. Typical of the bream we’d hooked so far that morning, it put on a show by running most of Dave’s fly-line out into the channel where it darted around for a while before surrendering to the long stick. A bream next hit my fly. It also fought impressively and while a nice sized fish, I was disappointed it wasn’t my first EP on fly. Having caught quite a few over the years on spin tackle, there never seemed to be a fly rod at the ready when stumbling across a bunch of EPs on the job. Having a reputation as an enigmatic species that turns up when least expected, it’s not always possible to specifically target them. Longin, however, had been doing just that recently with great success. A little further upstream he kindly gave me first crack at a tree that he’d pulled a good perch from the previous day. First cast, I watched through polarised lenses as the fly fluttered down into the shade of branches swaying in the current. Two fast strips brought a darting flash out from under the main trunk. In typical EP style the fish rolled on the fly and ate it. The hook bit home and line again shot through my fingers. A little luck and some well-timed side pressure turned the fish out to the safety of open water. Several anxious moments later a perch of around 40 cm flapped into the net. After that near thing, it wasn’t difficult imagining a less happy ending if a bigger EP had been involved — they pull hard! Either way it was great to finally nab one on fly. And as so often happens, the second came only minutes later. BREAM, BASS & PERCH Chasing bream on fly is nothing new, and the abundance of yellowfin and black varieties provides endless opportunities for anglers in estuaries around Australia, from Queensland down to Tassie and around to WA. Estuary perch on the other hand tend to be targeted less by fly fishers, as they can be tricky to find consistently, unless you are very familiar with their known hangouts. The good thing is they’ll often hit flies intended for bream or bass. A close relative of the latter, EPs share the same tidal river systems. While bass travel long distances downstream in winter to spawn in salt water, EPs also procreate in the salt, but unlike bass, spend most of their lives in the lower reaches of river systems. Once abundant from northern New South Wales to South Australia’s Murray River, EP numbers have declined due to commercial fishing, land development and habitat destruction. While similar in appearance to bass, EPs are distinguished by a concave head profile (convex in bass), and a narrower and deeper body. Other obvious differences include a lower jaw that protrudes further forward. Interestingly, scientists have verified the existence of bass/EP hybrids, suggesting some interbreeding occurs. After reaching maturity at a few years old, EPs are slow growing and known to live more than 40 years. The species has been recorded to more than 75 cm in length and 10 kg. Much like flathead and barramundi, large EPs tend to be females. During spawning time it’s not uncommon to find them in large open waterways — anglers in Sydney Harbour often catch big EPs during winter. Like bass, the estuary perch is subject to a four-month rec fishing winter closed season in NSW from May 1, but is available to anglers year-round in Victoria, the species’ other known stronghold. LIKELY SPOTS Once a patch of EPs is located the action can be fast and furious, especially as they are found in numbers from a few up to healthy schools with fish ranging from 20 cm or so to trophy size. When schooled fish are on the job it can be a task getting a presentation past the smaller ones, which can be almost suicidal at times. When targeting snags a good first cast often gets the bite and a hooked fish’s struggle will draw others out. While small EPs may hit a fly several times, bigger fish tend to be wary and quickly disappear after a missed take. Hooked close to cover, a 40-cm-plus fish will straighten out any kinks in your line. Being ready for the take is crucial if you hope to keep your fly-line out of the snags after a hookup. As mentioned, EPs are commonly found near structure, both natural and man-made. Bridges, especially well illuminated ones, can be real hotspots for finding EPs in numbers. Under the cover of darkness, they are generally stationed near pylons where they happily feed on prawns, shrimps and baitfish attracted to the artificial light. Bite times will vary depending on tides, with periods of current flow generally preferable for finding EPs out on the hunt. These fish also gravitate to natural cover in the form of fallen trees or overhanging brush that provides shade and shelter. Toppled trees that protrude well out into the water can be prime hotspots, often for years to come. Such cover can provide spawning sites for these fish in the winter months. Look for newly fallen trees still sporting green leaves, as these can be EP magnets. Also, look for jittery crustaceans leaping from the water or rippling the surface, as they are usually a sign of predators nearby and somewhere you want to be working your fly. Like bass, EPs usually pounce on a presentation within the first couple of casts, provided you are getting your fly close enough. And despite your best efforts, some great looking snags can, for whatever reason, produce nothing — such is the mystery of these great sportfish. GEARING UP FlyLife regulars will have read of Canberra-based Dave Longin (see ‘Bream on the Rebound’ FL#82, ‘The Long Rod Saga’ FL#86). Dave is a rare form of angler who, apart from a brief foray into lure fishing as a kid, has only ever thrown flies. If someone else on his boat is whacking fish on soft plastic or hard-body lures or, heaven forbid — bait! — it only inspires him to improve his technique and the innovative fly patterns he spends countless hours perfecting. While his flies are constantly ‘a work in progress’ and can be in or out of favour week by week, they often catch fish when nothing else does. And while he’s generous in offering his experimental flies to anyone he fishes with, Dave’s not keen on them ‘going mainstream’ — not just yet anyway. In some of the hard fished water he frequents any trick up your sleeve is worth keeping, he reckons. That said, if you research proven fly patterns for bream and bass you’re generally on the right track for an EP fly. Something that can be worked enticingly via short line strips, or made to dart from side to side, will get takes. Shrimp or prawn patterns, Clousers, Bendbacks, Deceivers and bass style surface flies to imitate terrestrial insects or skittish crustaceans can all get you in the game. Incorporating small stinger hooks can be worthwhile on bigger flies as is tying ‘weedless’ to avoid hang-ups on trees and branches. Recent estuary trips with Dave have highlighted quite a contrast in our gear. For his favourite waters in southern NSW and Gippsland, Dave these days only travels with a quiver of the long double-handed rods he designed with his good mate Bushy (see FL#86). These he uses with great efficiency on EPs and bream and all manner of saltwater species as well as lake trout in the Snowy Mountains. In Dave’s hands his custom rods and modified 4 or 5-weight shooting heads cover most waters as efficiently as any angler armed with lures. Although rigging up my 7'11" Ross never ceases to get a laugh from the bloke whose ‘short rods’ now only catch dust, for close casting to gnarly snags I find it perfect. Like most things in fly fishing, there are different ways of connecting to fish, which ultimately is the main aim. Whatever you use, if you’re after a challenging fly rod species close to home, the estuary perch won’t disappoint. If you do some research in your local area, and put in the time, you’ll find them. Persistence is the key to catching EPs!

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