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The Golden Days

Words and images by John Cahill
The start of spring spells the
end of the Murray cod season, allowing the big green fish to do what nature demands
in peace.  For many native fish anglers,
this is a great time to step back from fishing for a while, winding down and gearing
up, awaiting ‘cod opening’.  For others
it’s a chance to shift gears and zone in on another native species that shares
a similar habitat; the highly anticipated spring run of golden perch.  Golden perch, yellas, yellow belly, callop,
whatever you call them are a prolific freshwater species that have a massive
distribution in South Australia, Victoria, New South wales and Southern
Queensland that have an important place in recreational fishing.  They are 
a lot easier to catch than cod and provide great sport on light to
medium tackle.  I personally love spring
for the yella run and highly anticipate the bite that will hopefully come.  It really is a change of pace from winter cod
fishing and in some cases change of location enabling a more finessed approach
to native freshwater fishing compared with the big lure, sometimes maximum noise and
presence of the modern cod scene.

For backwaters it’s very hard to beat a slow cranked spinnerbait.  This chunky Vic yella nailed a Megabass V9 with a Hazdong Shad trailer, one of several caught on a hot afternoon when the fish were very active
Emerging from the dead of winter
Goldens are a very temperature
sensitive fish and there is no doubt that the dead (or dread) of winter slows
down their metabolism and the need to feed often is reduced significantly.  Don’t get me wrong goldens will eat in cold
water, however it seems a lot more selective and it is a lot less likely that
they will chase down a lure with enthusiasm; more likely to casually give it a
lure a peck than inhale it kind of thing.   
Added to the difficulty of getting goldens to eat in winter, they often
suspend mid water on large flats or in standing timber to find the right
temperature and can be tricky to find.  Deepwater
impoundments are not a natural habitat for golden perch so they are basically
looking for more lowland river conditions which can be tough on the poor golden
just looking to keep warm!  I am telling
you all this because when you first start to look for these nuggets in
September this still might be the exact situation depending upon your local
waterway and the water temp.  It’s not
all doom and gloom though, as the water warms the need to feed kicks in and
slowly the yellas start to resemble their normal aggressive selves as they
fatten up prior to the eventual spring spawn. 
As the days lengthen and water warms above 12-14 degrees the fish start
to move and school up, by 16 degrees they are firing and by 20 plus degrees
they should spawn.  Once waters really
warm post spawn yellas can get a bit more difficult but are accessible all
summer long.  mentioning specific temps is a tricky thing as triggers for Eildon for example are different to dams further north, the trick is to know your own waterway.

In early spring Chuan nailed this chunky yella in Copeton Dam from fish sounded up hanging in stranding timber

 The spawning event

Spawning is pivotal to spring
yella fishing.  The behavior they show can be
quite interesting.  As the females become ready they will be harassed by a
number of usually smaller male suitors who compete for the chance to be ‘the
one’ and the numbers that surround her can vary from a few to lots!  I have seen it in Victoria’s Lake Eildon,
usually in late November or December where you can get a scenario where what
you might think is a couple of carp slurping on the surface, on closer
inspection reveals to be a ball of goldens doing their thing on the surface,
it’s a crazy sight.  There have been plenty
of documented cases where a hooked female can be netted along with all her male
friends, so occupied with proceedings they don’t seem to notice the people, boat or the net scooping them up!  What is almost as interesting is that in
these circumstances that it’s not uncommon to get a fish to stop and eat (or attack) a lure,
surely a territorial strike for the little fish to stay away? who knows but
it’s pretty cool.  Fisheries sources tell me that while spawning events
occur in impoundments every year it sees that largely they are unsuccessful
save of some locations where specific requirements are met, crucially, they
require running water.
Lyds scored this Eildon golden whilst in ‘search mode’ using a Megabass Dive Elbo.  Shoreline searching in early spring is a great way to find the schooling fish
The gear
In rivers I like to use smaller low
profile baitcast outfits as accuracy is paramount in the confines of a tight
waterway and casts are relatively short, flicking under overhead cover, landing between logs and precisely controlling cast depth. 
Six to seven-foot rods capable of casting ¼ to ½ ounce lures and run
8-15 lbs line suited to smaller spinnerbaits, small crankbaits and lipless
crankbaits.  Rivers see me often run
15lbs braid or similar and a 20lbs leader. 
A chance meeting with an out of season cod can always be on the cards
and I would sooner see it quickly boated and released than a drawn-out fight
especially when we want that fish back guarding it’s eggs. 
In the lakes I like to use spin
gear for longer, easy casts with no fuss. 
2500 sized threadlines are perfect for goldens.  Here I use 4 to 8lbs braid mainline with 1.5
to to 2m of 8 to 12lbs lbs fluro leader. 
My rod will usually be a 6’8” to 7’4” graphite rod with a medium
action.  As I will use a variety of lures
there will likely be a few options in my arsenal each a match to the lure types
I intend to use.  I tend to be a tad
light on my drag settings for goldens in lakes as it’s not uncommon to get
either lip hooked fish pulling hooks, or rampaging fish bending open fine hooks
and I find a more moderate setting gets more fish to the net.
The small but telescopic nature of a goldens mouth lends them to slender profile lures
Lures and how to use them
There are many lures that will
catch you a slab of gold, but some are better than others.  In the last year we have had goldens hit
massive cod spinner and chatter baits, top water paddlers and surface
swimbaits, but I would not recommend them!
Lipless crankbaits – my all-time favorite
yella lure are lipless crankbaits, they are pretty much fool proof straight out
of the packet.  Whilst not being snag
proof, I believe that they can be nursed through most situations with the
angled head good for hopping over a lot of underwater obstacles.  I like to fish my lipless cranks with a
hopping retrieve with plenty of time dedicated to the pause.  In rivers or the more shallow margins of
lakes a very slow roll and no sink time can easily see the lure work well in
water as shallow as 1.5 meters, perfect to work over the top of a lot of weed
There are a lot of cheap lipless
cranks out there but not all are made equal, some need to be worked far too
fast to be effective so be careful where you spend your money.  My favorites include Megabass Vibration X,
Mazzy Vibes, Jackall TN 40’s and 60’s are also good as well as many other
options out there but be warned some of the cheap options may not deliver
satisfaction.  Most lipless cranks come
in rattle and non-rattle versions.  I use
both, but more reach for the noisy versions when fishing deeper, the water is
dirty or nothing else is getting a bite. 
Spinnerbaits – in rivers I have
caught more goldens on spinnerbaits than any other style.  I like smaller profile fine gauge wire baits
with medium to light gauge hooks with a small trailing soft plastic tail and
willow blades get the nod from me. 
Usually 3/8 to ½ oz do the trick and quality counts where the blades
turn at the slowest speed which is dynamite on river fish.  As these lures generally, won’t run that deep
they are not a big part of my approach in lakes most of the time unless I am
working shallow weed beds.  The finest
lure I have found that fits the bill is the Megabass V9 simply by virtue of how
slow you can work it and the blades still turn, Japanese quality.  TT Lures Vortex and Striker, Gan Craft
Killers Bait, Outlaw, Yella Magnets and OSP High Pitchers are all
good and proven.
Soft plastics are dynamite in
lakes and rivers and have a special place when goldens are mouthing hard lures
and spitting them out just as fast. 
Fished quite similar to the lipless crankbaits (hopped or slow rolled)
they can be a game changer on a slow day. 
I always have a good supply of 1/16 to 1/2oz jig heads with a hook of size
2 to 1/0 depending on the plastic I am using, I love using Hayabusa FPJ960 jig heads for their compact size, strength to wire diameter ratio and sharpness.  Grubbing tree’s is the domain of the soft
plastic but that would be a whole other article!  80-120mm Squidgy Wrigglers, Berkley 3-inch
Gulp Jigging Grubs, 2.5 inch Atomic Prongs and 3 inch Megabass Hazdong Shads
are all great choices.
Crankbaits or hardbodies
(everyone has a different name for them) are awesome on yellas! In rivers more goldens
are probably caught as cod bycatch on crankbaits than any other type of lure.  It is also my go to lure when trolling lake
edges when I am searching for schools.  I
prefer to down size and go for slimmer profiles when specifically targeting
yellas, it certainly helps with the hook-up rate as the yella doesn’t quite have the
bucket mouth a cod does.    Megabass Dive Elbo, is my absolute go-to with its slim
profile and tight vibration that for some reason seems to get smashed over many others.  Kuttafurra Therapy and the 75mm
Mudhoney and the smaller Stump Jumpers are all good.  

Super sharp and fine hooks allow some missed hits into hookups
Where (locations)
Pretty much any river, backwater,
large dam or billabong north of the great divide up into southern Queensland
will have a great chance of holding a population of goldens, some of these are
local gems that need not be written about but are best discovered by your own adventures.  Well known and extremely popular hotspots include  Windamere, Hume, Eildon, and Blowering.
Where (spots)
In impoundments, as a rule I like
to target the windward side of the lake especially if the water is not quite
optimum temperature yet as it will usually be warmer.  My favourite area’s are rocky points as these
spots seem to hold warmth first, next best being weed bed areas and standing
timber on the western (sunny) side of a lake in sub 10 meters.  My little secret it to target windswept
points in particular, as these usually create a milky or silty slick that the
fish often can be found right in the middle of! 
Another hot zone are freshly covered grassy banks.  The worms and critters that come out of these
locations create a feeding zone that the perch cannot resist and are synonymous
with spring rains and rising dam levels. 
In rivers and creeks in spring I like to work the deeper pools
especially if there are backwaters present. 
Weed beds and laydown timber are of course worth prospective casts as
well as my favourite area in rivers with goldens, undercut banks where multiple
fish can often be right under your feet; these spots are actually best fished
from the bank.  

Golden’s thrive in shallow water and deeper impoundments, but wherever you find them they are temperature sensitive fish
Finding the fish
In the impoundments I see three
main ways of finding the schooled-up fish and I use all three.  Firstly, when it’s early season and I do not
have a fix on where they might be, I head to likely banks with a mindset on
covering ground.  I slow troll a couple
of crankbaits close to the bank in 3 to 8 meters and actively search for them.  I keep a very close eye on my sonar and of
course I am looking for bites as I go, usually this is done on the petrol motor
to cover ground.  Down and side imaging
is awesome for searching for schools and they will stick out like a sore thumb
on some of the more exposed banks that I search on.  If I get a hook up or locate a school on
sonar down goes the electric and it’s time to start casting.
Secondly, I will try and work my
favorite area’s where I have caught yellas before, either historically or
perhaps last time I was out.  I always
plot wherever I have caught fish before and it doesn’t take long for rough
patterns to emerge.  Cruising slowly on
the electric, prospect casting as I go. 
If they have taken up residence there is an excellent chance I will be among it, if not I will be pretty much wasting my time. 
Finally, I will bank hop from
point to point, only working the most obvious and best spots and cherry pick,
this will not get you many friends if the points are busy and you appear to be
dropping in so be aware and cruise in on electric motor rather than at speed.
In rivers it’s more of a case of
using sonar to locate the deeper pools and weed, usually there are a lot more
signals above water in rivers more so than you get in lakes.  
A final word on sonar, the advent
of down scan technology and upsells like Lowrance’s Fish Reveal are a god send
for yella anglers, enabling amazing target separation between timber and fish, amazing
for when goldens are hung up in trees mid water.
The authors Lowrance HS9 lights up with a few yellas ripe for the picking in 35 feet (10 meters) in Victoria’s Lake Eildon
Gentleman’s hours
Possibly the best thing about
golden perch in spring is that there is absolutely no point to getting up
early!  You do not hear that in fishing
too often do you!  I find especially
‘early season’ that the fish seem to respond best as the sun is well up and the
water is warming as the day gets longer and late afternoon sessions in bright
sun can be quite amazing.  As spring
wanes into summer early mornings do start to become the way to go however and
night sessions can be amazing as the bait soakers will attest.  I find that following the same concepts as
spring but a tad deeper can work, but just look a bit deeper – 15 even 20m when
it’s truly hot.  Nothing beats the spring
sessions where you can sleep in, the fish are shallow and are truly on the job.
Catch and release or keep
Goldens in impoundments,
especially relatively clear water ones are magnificent eating especially the
smaller models.  Larger trophy goldens
are not to my taste as they get a high degree of gelatinous fat that sits along
the gut cavity and backbone, I find it pretty poor.  You should not however feel bad about taking
a couple for a feed as there are plenty of them and fisheries seem to have them
as a priority stocking species assuring good future numbers.  This is a stark contrast to many years ago.  Whilst goldens are a great catch and release
species, It is a bit of an unknown truth that golden perch are really a low
land shallow water species and their success as a stocked impoundment species
is a little at odds with this.  No
problems so far until you learn that they can suffer the effects of barotrauma from
being caught out of deeper water.  NSW
Fisheries conducted studies which found that goldens were susceptible in waters
in deeper than 10 meters, in fact fish angled from 20 meters had an almost 20%
mortality rate within three days of capture. 
This figure can be significantly reduced by using a release weight, or
by limiting catch and release in water that deep.  There is no point releasing them to their

Don’t be afraid to keep a feed of golden perch, the smaller fish are sensational eating

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