Jungle perch Kuhlia Rupestris are a superb sport species native to north Queensland within Australia which are high on many anglers wish list to tackle with. They are not monstrous fish only growing to around 50cm or 3kg but what they lack in size they make up for in aggression and eagerness to take an artificial offering. In many ways they are very similar to Australian bass and can be targeted with very similar methods. JP’s are a freshwater species that can be found as far up stream as the water course will allow them to travel. Commonly large waterfalls will be the upper limits and fish can be found in numbers at the rivers end so to speak. Typically JP’s like to hunt in back washes, under overhanging trees and amongst river timber. JP’s have large eyes and rely mainly on sight when sourcing food. They are an opportunistic predator that is more likely to attack by reaction or ambush than seek a particular prey and hunt it down. The upper water column is where the majority of their food source comes from hence targeting them with surface lures or flies is a very effective method of attack. In fact, I would go as far to say it is the most effective and consistent method of targeting them. As with any surface fishing the visuals make for an exhilarating experience, add a sensational backdrop of remote pristine rainforest and you’re in angling heaven. Fishing for these feisty water warriors can become an obsession and landing a fish over the 50cm mark is the ultimate reward, one which I have never been lucky enough to achieve after countless trips hunting them. There is a 1 take limit on jungle Perch although they are not considered a good table fish and in my opinion are way too special to be taken for consumption.
Whenever I have the opportunity to chase JP’s it is hard to go past surface fishing. Despite the obvious rewards of surface fishing they are simply one of the most consistent surface fishable species that I have ever encountered and will take a surface lure at just about any time of the day with the exception of night when placed in the correct areas. In low light scenarios a JP may attack a surface lure in just about any part of its habitat. Some of the tight streams they are found in are constantly shaded and provide the low light hours required for a great surface session thoughout the day. Progressing towards the middle of the day in more open water courses accurate casts will have to be placed under shaded overhangs or behind shading large boulders. Fast flowing water with backwashes and eddies fish well throughout the day as fish pounce on passing prey by reaction alone. Without these reaction strikes many potential meals would be missed. I often preach that when surface fishing using a heavy leader has no disadvantage however with jungle perch leaders should still be kept as light as practical, their sight really is amazing.
Plastics, subsurface flies or shallow diving hardbodies work well although are fished best in the top half of the water column for optimum results and as with surface fishing most strikes are likely to come from backwashes, snags and ambush points as the lure first appears within the fish’s line of sight. Quite often a JP will hit the lure as it lands on the water and I’ve seen them rise to a fly as it is being pre cast into an area which to me confirms their reliance on sight when hunting. Constantly moving cranking lures and plastics tends to work best as pauses often give the fish time to determine that the food source is not real particularly in the crystal clear water in which they are most commonly found.
Just about every substantial freshwater stream or river on the east coast north of Townsville holds numbers of jungle perch. They prefer clean fast flowing water with lots of obstacles like boulders and timber they can shelter amongst waiting in ambush. Best captures are usually taken far up river in the remote areas that are uneasily accessed which sometimes includes long hikes or pushing up past obstacles in punts or yaks. In these remote areas there is still a real threat from saltwater crocs living far upstream so most local anglers prefer to use punts instead of yak’s for obvious reasons. In built up areas like Freshwater creek for instance in the outer suburbs of Cairns JP’s can still be caught in reasonable numbers however their size is generally lacklustre and the fish are somewhat wiser than those residing in remote locations. Some of the better rivers I have fished for JP’s that are quite easily accessible are the Tully, Mulgrave, Mossman and Russel rivers.
Distribution: JP’s are found east of the Great Dividing Range in northern Queensland. Although patchy they can be found as far south as Fraser Island and on Palm Island but are most prolific north to the tip of Cape York. They do not inhabit the western side of the Cape nor are they found in any of the Gulfs river systems. Jungle Perch are also found in other countries like Fiji.
Within its original range the jungle perch’s distribution has been substantially reduced by agricultural practices over the past 100 years. The Queensland sugar cane industry has been identified as one of the major culprits here. In particular the practice of clearing right to the water’s edge has severely impacted this species and also over fertilising fields for allowance of rain run off. I have fished many rivers from Townsville to Cooktown for JP’s and areas that had severe clearing to the bank were generally poorer producing areas.
Recent research has confirmed that jungle perch migrate downstream to the lower estuaries to spawn in a similar manner to Australian bass although it has been well know for a long time amongst the astute local anglers that have spent many hours targeting them. When the first big rains of the wet season come pouring down JP’s migrate downstream to the lower river reaches to breed in slightly saline or brackish water. They only stay down in the lower reaches for a short period of time and head back upstream as the swollen waterways slowly subside. Many years ago a young gun from Cairns (Nathan Ruth) took me chasing JP’s on one of these occurrences and explained to me why we were catching so many. Throughout his childhood any many hours fishing for JP’s he had worked out the patterns of their migration which he suspected was for breeding. When targeting JP’s on this migration, timing is of the essence and a day late or early will result in a huge difference in numbers landed. JP’s also migrate downstream with consequent flooding however the first big flood is when mass migration and breeding is mainly executed. I have experienced many trips around these floods with double digits caught in a relatively small area. JP’s are no where near as heavily fished as bass and a closure would not be warranted or necessary. A lot of residence who have lived their whole lives in FNQ started fishing for JP’s in their childhood at the local creek and take them for granted in adult hood preferring to tackle larger sport species like barra. Recently jungle perch have been breed successfully in captivity and it will be interesting to see if stocking these feisty predators will occur and if so where they will be stocked. I’m sure many SEQ anglers would welcome JP’s in their local dams.
Jungle perch are omnivorous although primarily a carnivore feeding on other fish, crustaceans, insects and small animals. JP’s have also been known to eat such diverse foods as and figs and berries.
As jungle perch do not grow to any substantial size they can be targeted with light tackle. The average fish is around 30cm and rarely are they caught over 50cm. Any fish captured in the 40’s is a capture worth boasting about. An ideal spin set up would be a 1-3 kg rod, 1000-2000 size reel, 3-6 lb braid and a fluorocarbon leader from to 6-20lb. I prefer to use a crisp shorter rod up to 6 feet when chasing JP’s as often you find yourself in tight situations trying to get a cast into ridiculous areas. Shorter rods also have obvious advantages when hiking through dense rain forest.
A 6 wt fly rod, small capacity reel, floating line and 6-20lb tapered leader will be ample if you’re into throwing fluff. The disadvantage of throwing flies is the tightness of areas the fish can be found in. Most fly rods are typically 9 feet in length however there are smaller versions that can be obtained for the serious tight water JP angler. It is possible to go down in rod weight however casting flies with a large surface area will not punch through the air as easily as there are no “bones” in the rod to compete with the resulting wind resistance.
Now 20lb may seem a little extreme when choosing a leader and in fact it’s an over kill and can be a disadvantage however jungle perch are found in north Queensland where many other more sizable predators are realistic bi-catch. The majority of bi-catch being tarpon, sooties, archer fish, barramundi and the odd jack. Ultimately if it is JP’s you are specifically targeting and you don’t mind loosing the larger bi-catch keep your leaders as light as possible for optimum results.
When selecting lures I generally use poppers, walkers, bibbed crank baits and plastics intended for targeting bream. The tackle market has such a great range of lures specifically made for bream however in north Queensland the enormous variety of small tackle is a little harder to come by as the need for it is not in such demand. A note for southerners who head that way is to take your bream lollies with you. FNQ isn’t all about barramundi and a common mistake for travelling anglers is to pack heavy gear only. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to cast a 1 inch popper with a 20lb loaded bait caster.
When it comes to fly selection surface offerings such as dahlberg divers and other small flies made of deer hair work a treat. These types of porous flies do become water logged to an extent though and tend to loose their buoyancy so need to be dried occasionally or constantly coated with a water retardant. Small foam poppers, realistic foam insect imitations and crease flies tied on a size 1–1o hook are a hassle free option which stay dry and maintain buoyancy unless damaged. Weed guards are not a necessity as most fishing will be in fast flowing water free of lilies and the like.
If the opportunity arises any keen angler would be crazy not to have a crack at these magnificent piscatorial predators. They are commonly overlooked when heading north but are well worth devoting a few hours to. On occasions in the past I specifically targeted JP’s due to demand whilst chartering in FNQ by boat and on foot and never had a disgruntled customer even when the fish weren’t so cooperative.