Most anglers have a special fish that lights up their eyes every time they catch it. I have a couple of favourites but my soft spot is for the pearl perch.
Pearlies are special and I love catching them. They don’t grow as big as a thumping great snapper. Nor do they fight like a jumping mahi mahi. No, the excitement of pearl perch comes because it is one of the best eating fish in the ocean.
Pearl perch (Glaucosoma Scapulare) is right up there with coral trout in terms of texture and flavour. A pearlie’s flesh is white in colour, and even whiter when captured fish are bled. The fillets are thick-shouldered with a delicate and sweet flavour. This fish tends to carry ribbons of fat in its gut cavity, so I assume the omega 3 content of the flesh is high.
The pearl perch gets its name from the mauve and white bony shield to the rear of the gill cover, which has a pearl look to it.
It’s a solid but short fish with a silvery body and bronzed spots on the scales. Any fish over three kilos is considered big and they max out around six kilos.
Pearlies are a bottom dwelling reef fish that inhabit reef systems between central Queensland (around Rockhampton) to the north and down to about Port Macquarie on the mid north coast of NSW to the south. They prefer deepish water, and you’re most likely to find them in 40-90 metres.
Occasionally they venture closer to shore, coming into water as shallow as 25 metres but only when water temperature reaches annual minimums.
So how do you catch them?
Your best bet on the pearlies is to target them in deeper water. They prefer rough reef if they can get it and they show an affinity to sunken man-made debris such as sunken boats.
Quality electronics and the expertise to use this equipment efficiently is very important. Pearlies form tight little schools and tend to stack one on top of each other. If you think of a human pyramid as opposed to a scrum, you’ll have the picture.
Pearlie schools can be so stacked that the sounder reads a thickened vertical line, but more often it’s a narrow triangle.
Teraglin schools appear similar in shape, but can be massive so there’s no other option than to pull up and fish each school until you find pearlies but given that these mini-jewfish also taste pretty good, that’s not a huge problem to have.
If you’re a skilled boatie, one who can put your boat right over a small school of fish or knob of reef in deep water, then by all means drop the pick. Many people prefer the easier drift method. By tracking drifts on a GPS unit you can target specific structures with a high degree of accuracy, as well as being able to prospect a wider area if no fish are visible on the sounder.
Bait fishing is the most popular method of targeting pearl perch and it is the two–hook paternoster rig that is the most commonly seen. Current, wind strength and wind direction are the factors that determine how effectively the deep water can be fished. At times the current runs upwards of three knots, making effective fishing very difficult at best or even impossible. At other times it’s a total lack of current that puts fish off the bite; a gentle flow is the go, with a little movement going a long way.
Because pearl perch are opportunistic feeders, waiting for prey to come to them, as opposed to tearing all over the place to run it down, it is crucial for the angler to put baits (and lures) in front of the fish’s nose.
Circle hooks are the go for pearlies (as well as most deep water species) as the fish tend to hook themselves without needing the angler to strike. Simply bait up your hooks, drop the rig to the bottom and lift it by a metre and you’re done.
After a few spirited lunges towards the bottom you’ll have the pearlie coming up, although they tend to open their cavernous gobs, making the job of winding them up more difficult than it should be.
Although small live baits are a very effective option, anglers generally fish for pearlies with pilchards, flesh strips and squid. Soft plastics of the shad or grub variety have also been known to work particularly in the white or blue colours and a heavy jig head – about one to two ounces is required.
I hope this helps you bring home a tasty feed for your family and friends.
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