One of the most exciting, albeit also one of the most frustrating, days I experienced in an estuary took place in Maramingo Creek, an offshoot of the Genoa River. To get there, follow the Genoa River upstream from the junction with the Wallagaraugh until you come to a fork. Take the right-hand fork and you are in Maramingo Creek.
On this day, I was fishing with Clint Logan and we were after estuary perch. This fish closely resembles Australian bass, but bass is a freshwater fish, whereas estuary perch live in the saltwater estuaries.
An estuary perch in a snag is the toughest estuary fish in southern waters. I have always rated yellowtail kingfish one of the most uncompromising, hard-hitting fish I have come across. These green- backed bandits strike and then dive straight for the nearest reef in a sudden power surge. The fight is often measured in seconds between hook up and bust up. Estuary perch are in that class, albeit in a different aqua sphere. The biggest and best perch (they can grow to more than 5 kg) live among the heavier fallen timber, where they school or lay in wait to ambush their prey under the cover of waterlogged branches. The heavier the snag, the more likely you are to find them in numbers.
Our first snag was a fallen tea tree, across the river from a sea- eagle nest. This cluster of large and small branches was a haven for estuary perch, and a prospective nightmare for anglers. The snag didn’t look difficult to fish so much as impossible. Above the surface, the needle-like shrubbery made casting difficult. Lures had to be flicked under branches through tunnels of opportunity. Getting your lure into the snag was only half the battle. Once inside that shady overhang, the lure would sink through a criss-crossed maze of barnacle-encrusted branches and you needed total control and good eyesight to direct the lure away from disaster.
Clint is blessed with lightning- fast reflexes (honed over years of snake catching) and an uncanny, natural casting ability. When questioned about the snag, Clint gave a conspiratorial smile and replied with a classic drawl delivered (deliberately I suspect) at about the same speed as a constipated tortoise climbing a sand dune: ‘Don’t worry about it mate, she’ll be right’.
Clint was casting a small prawn- imitation lure. Nine times in ten casts, the lure landed in a hole bordered by a triangular cross of logs. It was a matter of being patient and persistent. ‘I know the perch are here,’ Clint assured me. ‘Sometimes you just have to keep working the lure to get a result.’
I clung to the prickly branches to hold the boat on station while Clint flicked his lure into a hole on the dark side of the overhang. Letting the lure sink, he gave it a twitch, lift and drop. ‘You have to watch your line all the time and strike as soon as the slack starts to be taken up,’ he explained. There were several misses, but no cusses. Then the hook-up came and Clint, fishing with the drag almost locked up, hauled the perch away from the tea tree badlands into open water. From here, the fight was cleaner, the fish more controllable and eventually it was steered into an Environet where the hook could be removed and the fish released unharmed: a battle won in less time than it takes some anglers to tie a knot.
One way of bringing perch out from a lair is to cast a lure with a loud rattle at the snag. Take the hooks off so you will not snag or hook up. When the perch come out chasing the lure, toss another lure or a fly in behind them so that the fish, already steamed up and aggressive, will strike this offering on their way back – the take will be in clean water away from the snag.
At night, the perch often leave the snags and can be found mooching along weed beds. This is when they are at their most vulnerable. For anglers who want a fairer fight in more open waters, this is a good option.
The problem with perch is that the more you lose, the keener you become to hook another one. Forget the cost of tackle – it’s addictive and for those anglers with masochistic bent, Maramingo Creek has much to offer. You will also hook good numbers of bream in the snags and dusky flathead along the banks near gutters.