Part 1: Ski-boat fishing in central KZN

[Originally published in the July 2021 issue of Ski-Boat magazine]

By Justin Paynter

DURBAN can arguably be referred to as the place where offshore fishing from small craft started in South Africa. That was back in 1945, post the Second World War. The sport has seen spectacular growth during the 76 years since then, and now extends to the entire South African coastline as well as most of Africa’s gamefish areas.
Thanks to the mobility of the offshore fishing craft we colloquially call ski-boats, a huge number of inland boat owners tow their craft to fishing destinations from Namibia in the west right around the coastline of South Africa to Vilanculos on the central Moçambican coast. This trend leads to various sportfishing opportunities and exciting destinations where boat owners can pursue their sport recreationally as well as competitively, whilst at the same time enjoying varied holidays with family and friends.
However, these “nomadic” ski-boaters often arrive at a proclaimed hot spot, launch their craft and then face the perplexing decision: “Where do I start fishing and for what?”
As an example, a visiting ski-boater to Durban may launch his craft from Vetch’s PWC, survey the 180° vista of open sea and be confronted with the daunting task of finding a good fishing spot and knowing what to target there. Inevitably it’s generally a follow-the-herd instinct that takes over, as well as much trial and error, which may — with a huge amount of luck — result in him actually catching some fish.
Most, if not all, boat owners, new or old, will experience this conundrum at least once in their boating lives. Any time one launches at a destination they haven’t fished before, no matter how much research one has undertaken, they will be faced with this extremely vexing question: “Where do I now go?”
We at SKI-BOAT magazine have also faced this mental torment many times, so we have come up with a concept that will provide visiting skippers with some fairly basic information that will give them a good starting point at least.
The simplified nautical chart on this page shows the Durban area from Isipingo to Tongaat river mouth, and has been embellished with GPS waypoints showing where to target baitfish in this part of the ocean. On the subsequent pages you’ll find a chart of the same stretch of coastline with waypoints showing where various gamefish can be targeted.
Justin Paynter, one of the most astute and successful ski-boat skippers and anglers of the modern era, fishes from his home base of the Durban Ski-Boat Club, and has agreed to help us develop this series. In time we hope we will be able to cover the entire South African coastline in the same way as we’re doing this small stretch. This mammoth task requires input from leading sports skippers in each area, but hopefully it will end up providing historical data that will provide advice projecting well into the future.
As Justin pointed out during our deliberations on achieving this goal, the area to target specifically migratory pelagic gamefish cannot be depicted by one simple waypoint. However, by using two waypoints — the rough start and end of an area — one can create one’s own trolling/drifting pattern within an area which Justin highlights as being historically productive for each specific species shown.
The generous sharing of this “private” information will enable an upcountry skipper, for example, to go to Umdloti and then work the areas between the GPS waypoints in the knowledge that he is fishing in the right place at the right time.

South: The Pipe, South Break Wall, South Pier Wreck

We are blessed with an abundance of bait and bait options in Durban. When arriving at a bait spot, you need to sound around and locate the bait showing. I generally use both green- and red bead Sibiki’s to see what the fish want on that particular day. I prefer using a heavier sinker like an 8 ounce because if you locate the mackerel they tend to swim up the line and you end up bringing up a ball of mackerel. The heavier sinker normally prevents this from happening.
The bait spots I’ve shown above are also known to produce good yellowfin tuna (all year round), queenfish (March to June) and dorado (November to March).

King mackerel (aka ’cuda)
Time of year: December to end of June
South: Cutting, Whaling Station, Fence
North: Number 1, Umdloti, Seabelle, Stud Rock, Mid Reef
Bait: Livebait — Mackerel, mozzie, razor belly, bonnie or seapike
Dead bait — Bonnie, walla walla, mackerel
Trolling speed: Slow trolled (boat just in gear)
Depth: 10–40m (personal favourite is 18–22m)

’Cuda, one of the most sought after species along this coastline, is targeted during the months of December through to June. December sees the arrival of these silver speedsters, and usually we are blessed with a few decent fish in the early stage of the season. As the season progresses and we move into the months of February through to the end of March, the shoalsize fish of 6-10kg are caught. The bigger fish are few and far between. As April draws near, the bigger fish tend to make their way into the shallows and it’s very common to be boating fish over 20kg in the above mentioned areas.
Most anglers’ fatal mistake when fishing for these fish is a lack of patience. When you decide to fish for a ’cuda, you need to realise that you have dedicated the day to this type of fishing. You cannot arrive at your chosen spot, fish it for an hour and then call it a day. ’Cuda fishing can be extremely boring, but when that reel takes off and you can hear the fish changing from ine gear to the next as your spool gets smaller and smaller, the time you’ve put in is well worth it.
I believe these fish tend to swim on a depth line, so I arrive at the area I want to fish and work different depths to find where the showings are, then work that particular line/depth.

Queen mackerel (aka snoek)

Time of Year: April to July
South: Cutting, Fence
North: Umgeni, Pick ’n Pay, Glenashley, Peace Cottage, Umdloti
Bait: Livebait — Redeye
Dead bait — fillet of sardine or red eye on a strip bait
Artificial — small Halco/Rapala/spoon
Trolling Speed:
Livebait: Just in gear
Dead Bait: 4–7 km/h
Artificial: 7–12 km/h
Depth: 4–14m

The snoek can be an exceptionally exciting fish to catch. When targeting these fish, you normally troll strip baits while your crew will tend to throw a spoon. Generally when these fish are around you can have multiple strikes at a time.
The trick is to locate the fish and then work that area. They tend to congregate near river mouths and rips. Snoek love hunting along a colour line which they use as camouflage to attack unsuspecting prey. They are aggressive hunters but have extremely soft mouths, so a soft drag is recommended. Once hooked up, you can proceed to tighten up.
The best time to target these fish is sunrise and sunset.

Yellowfin tuna and dorado
Time of Year: October to June
South: 60–100m line, bait marks, or a bycatch while fishing for ’cuda
North: Bait marks, Number 1, ships, 60–100m line
Bait: Livebait — Mackerel, mozzie
Artificial — Halco 160s, Williamson Speedpro 130s, Bite Me Tuna Candys
Trolling speed:
Livebait: Just in gear
Artificial:10–20 km/h

Anglers normally target these fish early in the morning or on the way back from their chosen spot for the day. Number 1 will produce some quality fish first thing in the morning until around 7:30am on artificial lures. If the bite slows down, it is advisable to switch over to livebait.
The bait marks will work during the entire day, but if there are too many boats on the bait marks the fish tend to move off. If you are the only boat on one of the marks then you stand a good chance of success. The bait marks are not far apart, so it is a good idea to move from one to another until you locate the fish. One might work better than the others on a particular day .
Helpful tip: If the westerly wind is blowing in Durban, the bait marks are an excellent option.
I have an app called Ship Finder Lite, and I use it to locate the ships that have been off Durban the longest, then I head to them first thing in the morning. Good numbers of dorado can be caught on the ship’s anchor chain by pitching a bait at it. If you have not managed a pull at that stage, then drift down the side of the ship where you tend to find the yellowfin to the aft end of the vessel.
Happy fishing!

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