(Originally published in the January 2020 issue of Ski-Boat)
By Donavan Cole
IF you ask any Cape Town angler they will all agree that yellowtail fishing around Cape Point can be some of the most exciting or most frustrating fishing you’ll ever encounter. One day you will have them eating out of your hand and the next you will be pulling your hair out while they swim around any and every lure you present to them. However, the days when they do bite make all the mombak (no fish) days worthwhile!
The average size of yellowtail encountered around False Bay is usually between 2- and 5kg; bigger fish up to 12kg are not uncommon, though, and a few specimens up to 20kg have been caught over the years. I have not landed one over 12kg despite fishing around the bay for more than 20 years, but I have had many big fish reef or run me off over the years.
WHEN AND WHERE TO CATCH
Around False Bay the yellowtail generally prefer warmer water of 15°C and upwards, but there are times when the fish can be caught in water as cold as 13°C. The fish will usually go off the bite with a sudden drop in water temp, but if there is a gradual drop in temperature over a few days then they can be caught in these colder waters.
The colour of the water is also a big factor and we will usually find that the best catches will be made when it’s clean and blue. Catches will decline from little to nothing as the water turns green and then to dirty brown.
A westerly wind is the favoured wind for catching them around the point as it will usually warm the water and make it nice and blue. During these times there is also a very good chance of encountering yellowfin tuna which usually results in the unsuspecting angler getting a hiding and a story of the big one that got away. I have, however, seen many large yellowfin landed on yellowtail tackle, so it doesn’t have to end badly.
Having said all that, though, yellowtail fishing is still unpredictable. There are times when we will have perfect conditions with no baitfish around and not a sign of a yellowtail, and other days when the conditions will be terrible with large areas of baitfish and we will make good catches. Nothing is written in stone, so any day out there when the weather allows is worth a look.
There are a few areas around Cape point where we regularly get good catches:
• South west reefs a mile or two south west of Cape Point. The fish are usually caught on the edge of the kelp line.
• Bellows Rock — an exposed rock around two miles south of Cape point, with deep water all around.
• The Anvil — around a mile to the east of Cape Point. It’s a very shallow pinnacle that usually breaks when the swell picks up.
• Rocky Bank — a large rocky area around five miles south east of Cape Point.
The strong south easterly wind that usually prevails over the summer months will cool the waters around Cape Point and make the water rather dirty, but at the same time it will warm up the water inside the bay. We will then go and look for the ’tail inside the point, from under the lighthouse all along the kelp beds past Rooikrantz and into Buffels Bay. You generally don’t find massive concentrations of birds inside the point like you do on the outside, so keep a good eye out for one or two sterretjies and if you find them feeding you will be sure to get a yellowtail under them. If that doesn’t work your best bet is to troll lures.
The strong SE winds will also push the fish deep inside the bay and catches can be made from Simonstown, Glencairn, Fish Hoek Bay and towards Muizenberg. The fish are quite skittish in these areas, though, and they can be very hard to catch, especially since they are not found under feeding birds like they are around Cape Point.
This wind unfortunately pushes the shoals very close inshore along this stretch where the beach seine net fishermen will catch countless tons with their nets that are rowed out at Long Beach (Simonstown), Fish Hoek, Muizenberg and Strandfontein. As destructive as this method of fishing might appear, it has been going on for more than 100 years and little has changed since then with regard to their gear and methods used.
Earlier is usually better when targeting yellowtail, and our day will start with us getting to Cape Point at sunrise. We will then have a look for birds actively feeding on the surface as an indication of where the fish are.
The best birds to look for are terns or “sterretjies” — Afrikaans name comes from the way they look like twinking stars when they are seen hovering over baitfish with their rapidly flapping wings. When you find them feeding this is usually a good indication that the yellowtail are feeding underneath. Your best bet would then be to approach these birds and, depending on your favoured method of targeting them, get a lure in as quickly as possible.
There are times when these birds will feed over splashing yellowtail for ages, and other times you will be running around between groups of birds as they drop down to feed for mere seconds and then frustratingly fly off again. Other times there will be a mass of terns, gannets, cormorants and gulls feeding on masses of bait as far as the eye can see.
These feeding birds will usually disperse mid morning and the fish will go off the bite. When that happens tactics change and you need to use your echo sounder to find the schools, stop on them and try dropping your spinners or jigs down to where they are.
Spinning is by far the most exciting way to catch yellowtail as the chase and hookup is quite visual and there are many times when the whole school will chase after your lure just to have one of them grab it right at your feet.
When you’re casting at surface feeding fish it’s always best not to cast into them if possible, but rather cast over the school and then pull your lure straight through the frenzy.
Before spinning reels became so durable and popular the spinning setup of choice would be a Shimano Speedmaster or Daiwa SL50 Multiplier loaded with monofilament on a Purglas Tiger Special rod. It was quite challenging casting these multipliers when the fish were splashing on the surface as the excitement would usually result in a massive overwind. Those setups are also not ideal for casting small lighter lures.
These days most guys are using grinders/spinning reels from 2500 to 8000 sizes loaded with braid, meaning they can fish with much thinner lines than before and not run the risk of overwinds. The smaller/lighter lures can thus be thrown much further with pin point accuracy.
There is a wide range of rods out there and guys will use anything from 5ft to 10ft rods depending on reels and lures to be cast. Using the smallest, lightest setup will usually result in the most action and fun, but it can be impractical as you often need to bully the fish away from the reef and kelp, and then there are the seals that want to take your fish. My setup of choice is a Shimano Stradic 5000 or 6000 loaded with 30 or 50 lb braid on a 10ft Exage rod.
Anglers use a wide variety of spinners and surface lures in different sizes, but the lure that most closely mimics what the fish are feeding on naturally will always get the most action.
When the fish are very fussy we shake out a few fish’s stomach contents and, depending on what we find, we will change lures accordingly.
On days when they’re feeding on large sardines you can catch them on most lures, but on days when they’re feeding on tiny lantern fish or maasbankers you will need to throw the smallest lure your tackle can handle. There are, however, days when you will find the fish feeding ferociously on the surface and you change to every single lure you have in your box only to find they will take one specific lure and nothing else.
Plastic surface poppers/plugs will also get a lot of action when targeting surface feeding fish. You get them in a wide range of sizes, shapes and colours, but my favourite is white or green in a long thin shape.
Trolling is the favoured method for targeting yellowtail around Cape Point as you’re able to cover a lot of ground. This method is usually most successful when there is not much bird action around and you rely on getting blind strikes.
We generally troll multiple lures and a mix of deep diving lipped-lures and surface running squids and jet heads, at speeds between 5- and 6.5 knots. I like to run the deep divers on the port and starboard quarters and have them swimming just on the edge of the prop wash. My squids will run in the wake and I’ll run them in a V-formation with the shortest lines just outside the propeller wash and the longer lines out at around 20m.
I usually run deep divers when the fish are not feeding hungrily as they are often the first lures to get a strike. When the fish really start biting I will remove these lures and just run surface lures as the lipped lures often don’t play well with other lures, resulting in tangles.
You also can’t troll these treble-hooked lures through the kelp for obvious reasons.
Treble-hook lures are generally pretty dangerous and many anglers have had to head home early with a treble embedded in their hands or legs. Handling a lively yellowtail with trebles swinging around from its mouth is an accident waiting to happen
Over the last few years seals have become more and more of a nuisance and some days we will not be able to get a single yellowtail out as the seals follow the boat around like puppies and pounce on every fish that is hooked. This results in a lot of lost fish as well as lost and/or damaged tackle.
To get around this problem we sometimes run bungees (a length of surgical rubber attached to a trace and lure) and short sticks similar to what the commercial boats use. This may seem unsportsmanlike for a recreational fisherman, but some days this is the only way that we can land a fish quick enough so that the seals don’t take them. We pull these heavy lines in by hand and lift the fish over the side without gaffing them.
Catching yellowtail on bait is not a common practice among recreational fishermen around the Point, but the commercial boats use bait very successfully when the shoals move deeper beyond their trolled lures. The favoured bait for them is squid/chokka, while commercial linefish boats do very well using pike cut into blocks.
The setup for bait fishing is pretty straightforward; I usually use a 9/0 hook on a trace around 1m long with a small power swivel between the leader and hook trace. When there is a bit of current we add a small sinker accordingly, but you want to fish with as little weight as possible so that the bait drifts slowly through the water column.
The bite can be anything from a mad rush as the yellowtail swallows the bait, to a slight bite that you might think is a small reef fish.
I also like to fish with a float, and I make the trace as long as possible to be cast with a large float which will keep it on the surface. It can be pretty exciting watching and waiting for the float to be pulled under when the yellowtail takes the bait which is quite reminiscent of my experiences catching mullet as a kid.
Yellowtail fever can run pretty high when the fish are around, especially when there are birds all over and fish splashing under them. It is not uncommon to have more than 50 craft from kayaks and small rubber ducks to large commercial linefish boats in a small area all trying to get a piece of the action.
Tension can run pretty high during these times and you need to keep a good eye out for collisions as you will have some boats trolling and others drifting and spinning. Common sense quite often does not prevail and you will find guys trolling over each other’s lines or charging right through shoals of fish.
The commercial linefish boats will usually be catching fish on the “steam”, meaning they will be trolling a bunch of lines and when they get into a school of feeding fish they will do donuts on the school, hauling the fish in while the boat is travelling at trolling speeds. This is quite something to behold, but it is best to give these guys a wide berth as their movements can be quite erratic and if you have a run in with their heavy tackle you will usually lose whatever lures you have entangled with them, not to mention the verbal abuse that will follow. They are also trying their best to make a living from what they catch, so it is always best to try and give them space to work.
When you’re trolling inside Cape Point take a wide berth around Rooikrantz ledges and Bortjiesdrif ledges as there will usually be guys spinning off the rocks. This is one of the few places around Cape Town where yellowtail can be caught from the shore, and as boat fishermen we have more than enough water to fish in without hindering these shore fishermen.
When you encounter commercials on anchor or drifting and catching fish on bait it is best to not troll too close to them, especially across their sterns, as their bait lines will usually be drifting behind them in the current. If you’re going to anchor near them it’s also best not to anchor directly behind them.
If you’re keen to target yellowtail around Cape Point then contact Donavan on <fishing@oceanlife
charters.co.za>, phone 082 443 0476 or visit <www.oceanlifecharters.co.za>.