The climbing perch (Anabas testudineus) is a small fish notable for its ability to survive out of water for quite a long amount of time. They are also known as walking perch. A member of the climbing gourami family, this fish can and does actually travel over land to find other waterways.
The common name of the climbing perch comes from the somewhat widespread idea that these fish can actually climb trees. That seems unlikely however, and we are unaware of any actual research or scientific proof that the climbing perch actually climbs. It is not actually perch either. Still the fish are interesting and common across much of Southeast Asia.
Climbing perch are a popular food fish in some areas. They are actively sought out and captured to make meals for many people. While nets are probably the most common method used to catch climbing perch, they are also caught on a hook and line.
Climbing Perch Identification
Climbing perch are bronze colored fish with elongated bodies. Their bodies can be speckled, striped or have an almost washed out depending on the fish. They range from two to perhaps five inches on average. They are not thought to get longer than ten inches (25 cm) even in the best conditions.
Climbing perch have sharp dorsal and anal rays. In addition they have sharp points on their gill covers. If you thought bluegill could stick you, you haven’t seen anything. Still it is quite possible to handle climbing perch with some care.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, further research is needed into the biology and taxonomy of these fish. It may be that there are actually several species of climbing perch. For now, all climbing perch are grouped under the scientific name Anabas testudineus.
Climbing Perch Range and habitat
Climbing perch are native to Southeast Asia. They can be found in swamps, ponds, rivers and streams from India to Indonesia. They’re common in Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Laos and Vietnam. They have also been introduced to the Philippines. There is a fear that they may become introduced and established in Australia.
These are very tolerant fish. Their ability to breathe air probably helps them cope with a variety of conditions. We’ve found them in clear flowing rivers as well as in stagnant polluted ponds. Even in poor water they seem to thrive.
The climbing perch certainly prefers standing or at least slow water to fast flows. They can survive in moving water but they tend towards places that lack current. Even in rivers and streams they are most commonly found in the margins or slow pools.
Fishing for climbing perch
Climbing perch make themselves obvious even when they inhabit stained or muddied waters. They constantly dart to the top of the water and break the surface. The mere presence of climbing perch does not guarantee a catch however. While the climbing perch might resemble other fish like bluegill that are eager feeders, there are times when it seems like the climbing perch simply “aren’t biting.” That can even be true in totally unpressured waters where the fish have likely never seen a hook in their lives.
Micro fishing gear gives you the best chance of catching climbing perch. We’ve had consistent success catching climbing perch on Owner Tanago hooks under Owner microfishing floats. Using this rig, we’ve regularly caught climbing perch using baits ranging from live red worms to Gulp! Earthworm and Pink Gulp! Maggots. We’ve also caught these fish on doughball meant for striped catfish and carp.
It is also quite possible to catch climbing perch on regular fishing tackle. The standard approach in Southeast Asia is to use a cane rod with a length of line rigged with a size 10 to 12 hook under a foam float. Ant eggs or worms are the usual baits. We’ve used this method and caught fish. It isn’t as effective as specialized micro fishing gear, but it gets the job done.
Climbing perch are somewhat aggressive fish but their small size means they aren’t a great species to target with a lure. We have occasionally caught large climbing perch on lures like the Ryuki Spearhead 45S in Pearl Ayu color. That said, it seems quite rare to catch climbing perch of this or any other lures.