(Originally published in the July 2019 issue of SKI-BOAT)
By Jonathan Booysen
WHEN people talk about their best day’s fishing, one immediately thinks of long, warm idyllic summer days with light breezes and calm seas. This begs the question: What about the rest of the year? Many believe that July to October are only good for boat, trailer and tackle maintenance; little is mentioned about the excellent fishing that is available during the cold days of winter and windy days of spring. Granted, the weather window is small and you need to be ready to launch at the drop of a hat, but I find that it is well worth the effort even if you only fish for a few hours. The secret, as with everything, is to be prepared when the time comes.
In June/July the annual sardine run occurs and this draws fish like a magnet. So much so that many species’ migratory patterns coincide with this phenomenon. When the sardine shoals reach their northern limits, the shoals move out to sea and disappear. All the fish that accompanied them are left behind to find alternative food sources. This means that there are a number of species that can be targeted, the most popular being Natal snoek, ’cuda, garrick, geelbek and daga salmon.
Natal snoek are probably the most temperamental species found in our water; the stars basically need to align before they really feed well. They like clean green water, often on the edge of a rip or colour line. Mid- to late afternoon is by far my favourite time of day to fish for them. When the mist lies thick over the land and the barometer has been stable for a few days, there is a good chance that they will jump.
Targeting them with a flickstick and small spoons is by far the most exciting way to fish for them, but when they are scattered, trolling whole redeye sardines or fillets is a great alternative to speeding over to the odd airborne fish. Look for birds working in an area and you are bound to find them.
Winter ’cuda fishing is highly anticipated by all anglers from ski-boaters to kayak anglers. These fish are bigger than the January/February shoalies and every year anglers set their sights on that 30kg trophy fish. Big baits are the name of the game with wala-wala and live bonnies being the favourite. The best time for these fish seems to be April and May when they are preparing for the sardine feast. The shallows around Zinkwazi and 50m ledges south of Richards Bay are great locations to target big ’cuda.
When the weather is “deurmekaar” and conditions leave a lot to be desired, with off colour water and choppy seas, solace can be found in the backline of protected bays or in and around harbour entrances.
Garrick provide anglers with many hours of enjoyment when the fair-weather folk are at home missing out on the action. Livebait is the name of the game, especially in dirty water, where garrick use their lateral line to pick up vibrations of prey. Shad, pinkies, maasbanker and mackerel are the desired baits, but anything with a pulse is likely to work including mullet, blacktail, stumpies and even small snapper salmon.
An outgoing tide which creates a rip is the best place to start looking for garrick. Slow trolling, drifting or fishing at anchor with balloons in such an area will produce results. A nylon leader of 40- to 50 lb is more than enough. Just remember to give the fish time to eat the bait before hooking up, otherwise you are bound to pull the bait out of its mouth.
The majority of big bottomfish species like daga (kob) and geelbek targeted over this “off season” are fished for at night on the anchor. Daga and ’bek are normally found around some kind of structure, be it a reef, pipeline or wreck. Again, livebait is the key to success. I like to use circle hooks on nylon leaders as this allows you to release the fish easily. When you’re fishing in deep water with heavy tackle these fish can suffer barotrauma, so try not to pull them too hard if you intend releasing them.
There are also some other winter species that fly beneath the radar, unnoticed by most anglers, but as soon as you start targeting them the results can be great. My favourites among these are wahoo, kingfish and sailfish.
If you speak to the spearos who operate on the north coast, they will tell you that July to September are their favourite months for big wahoo. Thought to be a summer species, more and more wahoo are being caught during winter and spring by anglers specifically targeting them.
Bad weather conditions can make wahoo fishing very uncomfortable as these fish frequent the ledges in deep water far away from the protection of the land. They are partial to lures trolled at a bit of speed and often double and triple strikes occur, so don’t stop the boat immediately after hooking the first fish. If you find a shoal of jube-jubes over a pinnacle where there is a bit of current and blue water, you are going to find a wahoo lurking nearby. In this situation, a live jube-jube is a great bait if you can catch some and keep them alive.
The biggest craze over the past few years has undoubtedly been catching giant kingfish, aka GTs. Anglers have travelled far and wide in search of these extremely powerful fish, spending incredible amounts of money for the chance to hook one. It is a pity that the kingfish fishery of the KZN coast istotally overlooked because winter months provide anglers with excellent opportunities to catch big GTs.
As mentioned above, large bait shoals are abundant at this time of year and these draw the GTs like a magnet. The majority of large reef structures will have at least a few GTs patrolling it, hoping to snack on the passing shoals of bonito, mackerel or maasbanker. Vertical jigging and live baiting are surefire ways of getting connected with one, especially if there is a large showing on the sounder. Light tackle is not recommended, especially in water deeper than 40m.
I strongly recommend releasing these fish. Tagging results have shown that they are resident and I have personally recaptured fish that were tagged on the same reef a year prior.
Every year during this season, anglers find themselves hooked up to sailfish that have eaten one of the small baits intended for snoek. This is loads of fun on the light tackle. The abundance of baitfish including sardines, anchovies, mackerel and maasbanker from July to September doesn’t only attract snoek, but also sailfish which herd shoals together to feed on. From my experience, the best conditions to catch sailfish are in a north to south current with a south-westerly wind blowing — conditions which are common at that time of year.
Trolling a sailfish spread of lures and dead baits is very effective, especially when combined with the use of dredge teasers. An alternative to fast trolling is live baiting. This is done by trolling live bait in a similar fashion to how you would for garrick, but bump up the leader size to 80 lb and you should be good to go. The odd wahoo might bite you off, but it’s worth the risk if you are looking for a sailfish.
Winter and spring months might not be the most comfortable for fishing as far as weather and sea conditions are concerned, but those anglers who are willing to take the punch and put to sea will have plenty of new stories of their best day’s fishing.