Ssogari Fishing in South Korea’s Tamjin River
By Bertrand Ngim, Ph.D. | July 2017
Commonly known as golden mandarin fish or leopard mandarin fish, the ssogari (Siniperca scherzeri), as it’s called in South Korea, is a species of temperate perch native to eastern Asian countries such as Korea, China, Vietnam and parts of eastern Russia.
Ssogari are found in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs where non-native largemouth bass are also found in South Korea, and this is often cited as a fantastic example of the coexistence of two species of predatory fish with similar biological characteristics under similar ecological conditions.
Ssogari in South Korea typically ranges from 1 to 4lbs and aren’t to be confused with a related species called mandarin fish or Chinese perch (Siniperca chuatsi) that can reach 22lbs in weight.
Just like largemouths, ssogari are typically ambush hunters that relate to cover. Unlike largemouths, however, ssogari tend to gravitate towards cover primarily along the bottom of the water column, whether it’s deep or shallow water so to speak.
Unlike bass, ssogari are rarely found suspended in mid-water column. They are predators that have evolved to stay locked to the bottom. Ssogari, however, share several behavioral characteristics with smallmouths, especially its willingness to chase prey in strong current.
Ssogari is one of the most popular sport fish in South Korea. Tournaments are regularly held all over the country, usually during fall and spring. Besides its qualities as a popular sport fish, ssogari is also a highly sought after table fish and it’s a delicacy in South Korean and Chinese cuisine.
Ssogari can be caught in the Han River basin in the Seoul Capital Area. Other popular areas include the Hantan River, Namhan River, Nakdong River and basically all over South Korea.
However, enthusiast ssogari anglers who seek more than just average size fish rarely rely on run-of-the-mill information, and that was exactly what we had set out to do, to fish for anything but average size ssogari off the beaten trail.
In order to do that, we teamed up with local angler-cum-college senior, Shin Hyeon Min of Mokpo Science College for a trip to one of his honey holes in the picturesque Jangheung County where we were scheduled to hit some high-percentage areas along the Tamjin River, of which is a clear water river with rocky bottom. Shin is a multispecies angler who fishes for inshore seabass, ssogari and bass in the Mokpo area.
Largely unknown outside South Korea, Jangheung County is also considered to be the mecca for ssogari and multispecies angling such as bass, northern snakehead (Channa argus), ayu (Plecoglossus altivelis), various trout species and others.
Tamjin River has a baitfish-dominant forage base. Our primary baits were small profile minnow jerkbaits and the most effective way to work this bait is the bass fishing approach.
You locate high-percentage spots and make long casts just as you would a spybait. You work the bait to the desired depth by imparting twitches and pausing in between on a controlled slack line.
Just like jerkbait fishing for bass, the tempo of your twitches and pauses depends on the activity of the fish of the day. You might need to experiment with different retrieve cadences in order to determine the best presentation style.
Many crossover techniques exist in ssogari and bass fishing. In fact, the jerkbait fishing approach which we utilized heavily in the Tamjin River mirrors that of jerkbait fishing for bass in comparable conditions.
In my opinion, however, ssogari bites are easier to pattern, especially during summer, because of their strong inclination for areas with rocky bottom and current breaks. I believe one of the biggest keys to realize when targeting trophy ssogari is to keep your bait lower in the water column.
The equipment of choice of ssogari anglers in South Korea starts with a light or medium light spinning rod that is paired with a Shimano or Daiwa 2000-size spinning reel.
I was using PE1.5 braided line, although I think 6lb or 8lb-test fluorocarbon lines or even 10lb-test on baitcasting setup may be more appropriate for ssogari fishing in predominantly rocky conditions, especially if you’re targeting big fish.
The bait of choice is usually small to ultralight suspending minnow jerkbaits. I prefer 80mm or 90mm size baits because I strongly believe bigger baits trigger bigger bites. Ssogari, like largemouths, are opportunists and won’t pass on a big meal swimming within their sights.
We caught a good number of solid fish and even 5lb’ers on suspending Luckycraft Pointer, Flash Minnow, B’Freeze jerkbaits, as well as on Evergreen Sidestep 95SP.
Just a fun fact to share, I was actually ill-prepared for the fishing conditions in the Tamjin River. If I was to do this again, I would go with a medium light baitcasting setup instead
I paid a heavy price for fishing too light. I lost two big ssogari, possibly 4lb’ers, back-to-back due to line breakage. Though ssogari don’t usually pull as hard as largemouths, they tend to dig hard and where there’re rocks, that’s a scenario that calls for fluorocarbon lines.
All in all, I had a blast in the Tamjin River and look forward to making it back to catch some monster ssogari.
Do you want to fish for ssogari and bass in South Korea?
Kang Hohyeong is a doctorate student at Kyonggi University’s graduate school. He majored in outdoor sports and angling sciences. He’s a semi-professional angling guide and does bass and multispecies fishing trips, both shore and boat fishing, all over South Korea. He runs a 17’ Tracker Pro Team 175 bass boat and fishes for ssogari and bass regularly.
He is also a field staff for JS Rods and the South Korean distributorship of Huddleston swimbaits and an experienced guide. He speaks fluent Korean and decent English. I encourage you to check out his Facebook profile and get in touch with him for more details about his guided trips in South Korea https://www.facebook.com/hohyeong.kang.