FISHING With Alex Julius
BARRA’S BIG COUSIN
I don’t think any serious barra angler hasn’t at some stage yearned to go and have a crack at a Nile perch.
This massive freshwater fish is almost a spitting image of the barramundi, or at least it is before closer examination.
It grows to more than 2m and is believed to reach a whopping 200kg.
On the other hand, barramundi attain a maximum length of about 1.5m and can probably reach a weight of about 50kg. So that’s a serious size difference.
The Nile perch is easily discernible from a barra because it has much smaller scales, even though it’s a much bigger fish. Both fish come from the same genus of lates perches: Lates niloticus (Nile perch) and Lates calcarifer (barramundi).
The quest for a big Nile perch was at its peak for the decade about 15-25 years ago when many Aussies – including keen Territorians – travelled to Lake Victoria which is the source of the Nile River.
However, Nile perch are not native to Lake Victoria; they were introduced there in the 1950s.
A ferocious predator, the Nile perch caused the extinction of more than 200 native species in Lake Victoria.
Notwithstanding the massive ecological damage Nile perch did to Lake Victoria, the species thrived there and through the ‘80s and ‘90s a vibrant sport fishery developed.
However, the Nile perch is not too bad on the chew, and so a widespread commercial gillnet fishery also flourished, thus achieving the primary reason the species was introduced in the first place.
With the new millennium, stories of exciting Nile perch adventures on Lake Victoria dried up, replaced by reports of failed fishing trips without even one perch encountered.
There could only be two reasons for the decline of this popular sport fishery: the Nile perch had been seriously overfished commercially and, with all the species the perch ate to extinction, there just wasn’t enough food to sustain viable sport fishing numbers of this voracious predator.
Soon enough, Australian anglers just stopped going to Africa Nile perch fishing.
The idea certainly went off my radar; but I still wanted to go to Africa and check out the wildlife so, when the opportunity arose several years later to lead a group tigerfishing in Zambia with my mate Matt Collins of Tourica Tours, it was a no brainer.
For three years in a row, I led groups tigerfishing on the Zambeze River; they were fabulous trips with amazing game viewing as well.
It was on the last trip in Zambia a couple of years ago that I got into a conversation with a German tour guide at the Lodge we were staying at.
I’m not sure how the conversation turned to Nile perch but she started telling me stories of huge perch getting caught regularly at Murchison Falls in Uganda.
She’d actually seen massive fish hauled aboard small boats while she was playing hostess on river cruises up to the falls.
Well didn’t that set off a chain of events?
A bit of research sorted out the fishing tour operator with the most runs on the board, and an exploratory trip for a small group took place in August last year.
How did it go? Well, we caught perch all right – up to 51kg – and a couple of weeks earlier there was a 92kg fish caught.
The guides were all local lads and had the experience and the knowledge.
It helped having Paul Goldring there whose business it is; his knowledge of Nile perch and the area he operates in was invaluable.
Murchison Falls on the Nile River is the farthest upstream domain of the wild Nile perch.
Big perch inhabit these waters within the Murchison Falls National Park, and are protected.
There is no commercial fishing and, by regulation, all perch caught must be released.
More importantly, boats are not allowed to operate on the water after dark, which pretty well eliminates poaching.
Dead, floating aquatic vegetation coming down from the falls can be a pain at times, and makes trolling impossible.
However, lure casting is fine in plenty of locations.
Much of the fishing is with huge live baits, and that seems to catch most of the truly big Nile perch. However, we also caught big fish lure casting.
Nile perch fight similarly to a barra but the really big ones find it hard to get more than half a body out of the water.
It’s an awesome sight though to see a head the size of a plastic garbage bin come out with gills flared like an open umbrella, and shaking from side to size. It leaves one hell of a hole in the water.
It must be said that Nile perch fishing in Murchison Falls National Park is not about numbers; it’s about catching one or two trophy fish in an amazing untouched African environment where you are seeing incredibly varied wildlife every day.
Yes, you might catch half a dozen in a session, but it’s that one huge fish that makes it.
On that first exploratory trip, we established that January/February is the best for perch fishing, and Tourica Tours has put together an amazing trip, once again hosted by yours truly, on 28 January to 7 February next year.
We’ll be staying at Baker’s Lodge on the banks of the Nile, and the trip will involve a couple of days of awesome game viewing in the Murchison Falls National Park.
There are still spots available, so anyone interested in more information can email me at or phone 89831738 (BH).
1. Based on a chart that gives approximate weight based on the combined length and girth measurements, Paul Eather’s Nile perch weighed 51kg. The next trip is late January next year.
2. AJ’s Nile perch nudged 40kg, not surprising given the Murray “cod’ish” girth of this fat girl.
3. Murchison Falls on the Nile River is the farthest upstream domain of the wild Nile perch. Big perch inhabit these waters within the Murchison Falls National Park, and are protected.