Perch – Perca fluviatilis – Redfin Perch Introduced freshwater fish

Redfin Perch – Perca fluviatilis
Redfin Perch – Perca fluviatilis.

Perch – Perca fluviatilis – introduced freshwater fish

Perch are a European freshwater fish species first introduced into New Zealand waterways in the 1860s. Those early introductions coming from Europe via Tasmania, Australia.

Although they are present throughout New Zealand they are found only in small pockets from Northland down to Southland. They are found from Auckland to the Waikato, and in quite a few waterways in the lower North Island.

A fine specimen freshwater perch – Perca fluviatilis.
A fine specimen freshwater perch – Perca fluviatilis.

In the South Island perch are found in mid-Canterbury in Lake Ellesmere and its tributaries, Lake Forsyth, and Lake Emma. There is a small population near Hokitika, and they are in many waterways in Otago and Southland. They favour still or slow-moving waters. Populations are isolated to such an extent that many New Zealand anglers would have never seen a freshwater perch. You are much more likely to encounter them in Southland and many parts of Otago. The lower Clutha River, for example, is known for its population of large perch.

According to the NIWA website perch have been shown to reduce the numbers of common bullies in lakes. They also reduce the numbers of whitebait, smelt (silveries) and crayfish in lakes where they are present.

This species is easily recognised. It is a dark greenish grey on its back. Lighter on the sides, and tending white to silver underneath. The most obvious sign it is a perch is the six of more dark verticle bars on either side. Another telltale sign of this species is the bright reddish-orange edge to the pelvic and anal fins, along with the lower edge of the tail. There is a noticeable hump on their back starting behind the head. The scales are thick and not easily dislodged. Overall the fish is deep-bodied and solid.

Perch have been known to grow quite large in New Zealand with some specimens exceeding 600mm. Most are much smaller than this typically being less than 400mm and reaching less than 2kg. Some populations are made up of small fish less than 150mm (6 inches) long, most probably as a result of their large numbers, limited range, and food supply. Perch eat many forms of aquatic insects while larger specimens readily eat small fish.

Redfin Perch Recipe

Unlike most course fish species found in New Zealand, redfin is an excellent table fish having firm white great tasting fillets. A good quick method of cooking the fillets is to coat them in whisked egg and dip them in bread crumbs before frying in hot vegetable or olive oil. If you have the oil quite hot the crumb mixture will stick to the fish better instead of coming off and sticking to the pan. You can buy various crumb mixtures for coating fish at the supermarket and use this method for any sort of fish.

With a little tartare sauce to tip them into and salt and pepper to taste, they make a very good meal. You can use this simple cooking method to make a great tasting lunch on the riverbank or lakeshore.   

Small redfin perch.
Small redfin perch.

Baits and Spinners

It is also a good fish to target from an angling perspective as it readily takes spinners and natural baits like worms and maggots. They will also take a feathered lure or nymph. Many believe that red lures are most effective. Popular spinners for these hard fighting fish include small blade spinners like Mepps and Jensen, small Rapalas, and small Zed spinners.

Some anglers regularly target perch. You must have a freshwater fishing license from Fish & Game New Zealand if you want to catch them.

Perch from Lake Emma. Photograph courtesy of Paul Spicer.
Perch from Lake Emma. Photograph courtesy of Paul Spicer.

More on the Redfin Perch

The English Redfin or Perch is, without a doubt, our most underrated of all freshwater species. It is a fine fighter, is firm fleshed and absolutely superb eating. Perhaps its rather localised distribution and subsequent lack of exposure is responsible for its diminutive popularity, or perhaps it is the fact that juvenile Perch are ridiculously easy to catch and in the wrong environment multiply rapidly resulting in an abundance of stunted fish all eager to line up for worm, spinner or fly. I am pleased to say large Perch is a different proposition altogether.

Although aggressive to tackle most flies or spinners, no matter how gaudy, the biggest of Perch is no fool. Clearwater conditions, heavy footfalls and bumbling anglers seldom ever find the real Perch anglers quarry. How absurd it seems that here in the South Island of New Zealand this magnificent species grows to world-class size yet it remains little known and much less fished for.

Three pound perch. Perch - Perca fluviatilis - introduced freshwater fish
Three-pound freshwater perch.

Catches of 3lb plus specimens are not uncommon and occasionally, from some of our best waters, catches of several such fish in one day have been known to take place. For most English and European anglers, a single 3lb specimen is a lifelong ambition. Amazing really when you consider the recent capture of the current South Island record fish of 5lb by local angler Brian Taylor.

Perhaps the real beauty of the perch lies with its striking appearance. Its large head, bold black stripes, bright orange-red fins and an aggressively humped back. There is no doubt the Perch is a beautiful fish. Striking it may be, but ironically it is also well camouflaged!

The Perch, you see, grows best in waters abundant with rushes and elodea or common pondweed. When the perch are in this “ideal” habitat the stripes look for all the world like the stands of weeds and rushes, concealing it from its enemy, the Black Shag and the Perchs’ prey, any living thing small enough to be engulfed in its capacious mouth. The Perch is a voracious predator.

They hunt in packs like wolves, always on the move searching for shoals of fry, bullies or smelt. Often surrounding shoals of small fish, cornering them and taking turns to dive in to feed on the panicking victims. The size of each perch shoal is dependant on the size of each individual. Perch tend to shoal on groups of fish the same size and age. Younger shoals of six-inch fish may number in the hundreds, while the two pounders will rarely be seen in groups of more than half a dozen. Three pounders plus are definitely solitary specimens.

Perch are most readily caught on light spinning tackle. The experienced angler roving from place to place seeking out weedy backwaters, undercut banks and floating rafts of river debris that may harbour Perch waiting to ambush their prey.

The wet fly or feathered lure is also productive, but both these methods are limited in their application, particularly in the event of our favourite perch stream being heavily weeded or snaggy. In such cases, there is one supreme method “The Float.”

Although float fishing lacks the capacity to cover water as rapidly as either the fly or spinner the float is superb for delicately presenting a wriggling worm over the top or between the channels of weed and in the smallest openings, between overhanging willows.

Whatever fishing method you choose you are sure to enjoy some classic sport.

This redfin was taken in a Southland Lake in September 2020 on a dark coloured soft bait - jig head combo. Perch are great fighters and good eating. Judging by the colour of the water most anglers would regard this as low-probability trout water. Photograph courtesy of Roland Brunner.
This redfin perch was taken in a Southland Lake during September 2020 on a dark coloured soft bait – jig head combo. Perch are great fighters and good eating. Judging by the murky colour of the water most anglers would regard this as low-probability trout water. Photograph courtesy of Roland Brunner.
 

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