Targeting Perch – a Top Sportsfish and Succulent Eating

Thanks to the Fishing Website
by Allan Burgess

The freshwater perch at Lake Forsyth, which is only 45 minutes from my home, offer a fun late winter and early spring fishery. Perch thrive in this lake, averaging about 1.5 kilograms.  As the lake’s waters warm up, the fish become a lot more active and shoals can be encountered along the rock wall on the lake’s easily accessible western side where a walking track runs the lake’s length.  Casting out soft-baits is generally the most effective way to catch them, although I will put on a small spinner, which can be cast further out, to cover extra water. Perch will often hit the lures hard, as they open their mouths and create a vacuum that violently sucks the soft-bait in.  A few solid head shakes and then a characteristic run or two are the hallmarks of fighting perch. They can be stubborn fighters and I like to target them on ultra-light tackle using a 4lb braid mainline and a 5lb mono trace.  The key with perch fishing is to realise that they are often in shoals, especially in early spring, and working the water more intensively once you have hooked one up is often a successful strategy.  For me, fishing locally at Lake Forsyth (Wairewa) is always fun as the lake is often uncrowded. It sits in a large valley with native forest and gives a feeling of escape from the city, despite being so close to home.
Perch are, in fact, widespread throughout New Zealand and are present in many suburban settings, notably around Invercargill, Dunedin, Hokitika, Christchurch, Wellington and Hamilton, as well as Auckland.  They are very widespread in lowland areas and can often survive in small gravel pits, lakes, reservoirs and in slow flowing streams and backwater.


In many ways, your local perch fishery is a good gateway for getting young anglers into fishing as they are certainly a manageable fish. As mentioned, they give a decent strike, but are also a very attractive fish to look at with their bright orange fins, vertical stripes and cryptic olively green colour, along with some dramatic spikes on their dorsal fins.  Your local Fish and Game office will be able to tell you where the nearest perch fishery is and its season as all the perch fisheries in NZ are recorded on a database.

Minimal gear is required for perch fishing but a lightweight and sensitive spin rod with light braid is best and will allow maximum enjoyment when you hook up. Perch love soft-baits and a slow retrieve, and jigging along a steep bank will also often produce a strike. Unlike trout, perch are quite bold and if you miss them on the first strike, they will often have a second go at the lure. Keep soft-baits as light as possible so that they slowly flutter in the water and provoke a strike. It is worth having heavier jig heads for getting long casts out on lakes and to cover the water, and also for when you’re fishing the edges of larger rivers such as the Clutha and the Waikato. Covering the water with a kayak is also a fun way to target perch and allows you to fish over more water. A soft-bait cast from a slowly drifting kayak is highly effective.

Perch love structure such as steep banks, overhanging trees and deep scour holes in rivers, but are also happy out in the open over weed beds, so taking some time to prospect is important. They also love the deep water along the edge of raupo and reed beds.

Freshwater perch are also a top eating fish and yield a firm and tasty white fillet (they’re nicknamed “freshwater tarakihi”). Generally, fish over 0.5kg are worth keeping. In New Zealand perch have been known to grow over 3kg. The fish at Lake Forsyth, averaging around 1.5kg, are an ideal size to fillet.

Good sized perch also thrive in other large shallow lakes such as Lake Waihola just south of Dunedin. In some areas there are no limits on the number of perch that can be taken, such as on the South Island’s West Coast and catching and filleting large numbers of fish is encouraged (perch are highly predatory on a range of native fish such as whitebait and also juvenile trout). Freshwater perch also freeze very well and are great for grilling and deep frying.

Perch are certainly one of the fish I love targeting in the spring when the fish are most active, and are definitely an underrated fish in our spectrum of freshwater fishing opportunities.

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5 Responses to Targeting Perch – a Top Sportsfish and Succulent Eating

  1. George C Scott says:

    I started my freshwater fishing life long journey fishing for perch. They are a fun fish to catch and great for youngsters.

  2. Charlie Williams says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Allan Burgess that perch are very underrated.

  3. "Pommy Kiwi" says:

    Perch are rubbished by some. Why even local councils call them a pest fish which is quite wrong and utterly ignorant. Research shows they are not out of place in New Zealand. For edxample a study at Otago’s Lake Maherangi.
    Perch fry are eagerly eaten by native shags, kingfishers, eels. Trout will feed on them. It’s just part of the food chain.
    In their own right, perch are a wonderful sporting fish.

  4. IAN DOIG says:

    I totally agree.They are a great fish to catch.I remember back in the early 1960’s learning to fly fish with my grandfather at Lake Camp catching a perch was so much fun.After all these years i still remember the smile on my grandfathers face when i caught my first fish on the fly rod…THE HUMBLE PERCH…By the way i still consider my self as a fly fisherman and still fish today.

  5. Rex N. Gibson says:

    As usual Allan is right. Well done Allan in highlighting on of the nicest eating fish. For big fish consider Lake Forsyth/Wairewa near Christchurch or Lake Emma (Ashburton Lakes). Retrieve slowly with virtually any feather lure.

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