By Mark Brewitt
IN the first part of this series (see July/August 2021 issue of SKI-BOAT) we focused on fishing in central KwaZulu-Natal. This time we move further down the coast …
FOR many years the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast has been viewed as a great all-round venue for offshore fishing. There is an abundance of registered launch sites, and access to excellent fishing grounds within a short distance makes it a popular destination for a wide range of offshore anglers.
The area from Sea Park (just north of Port Shepstone), down to the Sikombe River on the boundary of the Pondoland Marine Protected Area (just south of Port Edward) is one of the most versatile fisheries on the entire KZN coastline, particularly from a gamefish perspective.
As with most areas, visitors are sometimes unsure of where to start, which areas to fish and which techniques to use when they get there. The aim of this article is to touch briefly on each main target species and to show which areas are most likely to produce and when.
In general, these areas can be accessed easiest from launch sites such as Shelly Beach (Sonny Evans Small Craft Harbour), Ramsgate Ski Boat Club, Glenmore and Port Edward Ski Boat Club. The basic waypoints shown on the maps on these pages will guide anglers on where to find bait and which areas to target in general. To make it easier to explain, start and end points will be provided for each area and depth lines mentioned. These areas will give an angler the best chance of success and are based on historical catches over many seasons.
Live bait spots
North: Kapenta Hotel, Umzimkulu River mouth, Umtentweni nets, Sea Park
South: Glenmore, Port Edward Nets, Port Edward Lighthouse, Casino Bay
Live bait is fairly abundant year-round on the south coast, with certain areas being bait hotspots. In particular the area just north of Port Shepstone (from the Umzimkulu river mouth to the Umtentweni shark nets and Sea Park) and south of the Port Edward launch, site are very reliable. The main species that are targeted include maasbanker (mozzies), mackerel, shad (elf), red-eye sardines, bonnies (eastern little tuna), frigates and sea pike.
These bait shoals hold in certain areas for extended periods of time during stable weather conditions but can be dissipated during heavy seas, sudden temperature drops and periods when heavy rainfall dirties the water inshore. In general, the bait holds on certain depth lines, usually in the 14–18m region in calmer clean water, 20–25m if the water is colder, and even in the 32–35m depth range in summer when the inshore water is dirty and colour lines form.
A good rule of thumb is to head to well-known bait spots and sound the area thoroughly, looking for bait showings in the lower water column. Another good sign of bait in the autumn and winter months is shoals of red-eyes moving around on the surface, usually holding mackerel just below them.
Once a good showing or bait ball is located, they can be caught using Sabiki/Yo-Zuri bait jigs with at least a 6 oz or 8 oz sinker on a light spinning rig. It is usually a good idea to use two different coloured bait jigs (red head, glow head or green head) to work out which is working best.
For mozzies and mackerel it is not usually necessary to tip the hooks with bait, but if shad are your target species then using a bait jig with larger hooks tipped with small chunks of pilchard works like a charm.
To catch small bonnies or frigates, keep a look out for small surface splashes/chases and then troll a daisy chain (small clear or pink squids) through the area. These bonnies and frigates can also be caught using small spoons such as the Sebile Fast Cast, Bite Me and Kingfisher Sprat in the 16–21g size.
Always remember to take good care of your live bait. It’s often a good idea to rig a bait right where you are catching bait, as most of these bait spots hold fish such as yellowfin tuna, ’cuda and dorado, and you’ll often get a fish early just by taking the chance.
Time of year: All year, however autumn and winter are the peak seasons
Areas to target: Protea Banks, Diepgat
Lures: Hard plastic trolling lures such as Halco Laser Pro 160, Williamson Speed Pro 160/180, Rapala X Rap 20, King Fisher Rattler
Bait: Live baits including mozzies and mackerel, dead baits such as whole sardine or block baited sardine (chum)
Depths: 25m to 80m
Without a doubt one of the best areas for visiting anglers to reliably target yellowfin tuna is the Protea Banks area just off Shelly Beach. This area is a prime ecosystem and a popular dive site very similar to Aliwal Shoal further north. The area is such an important ecosystem that it was recently incorporated into the Protea Banks Marine Protected Area.
The zonation of this MPA still allows ample room for the recreational angler, and tuna can be targeted in both the Controlled Zone and Controlled Pelagic Zone on Protea Banks. This allows both lure angling (trolling) as well as drift fishing with bait, targeting pelagic fish. These two techniques yield the best results for recreational anglers.
Generally, trolling hard plastics such as Halco 160s, Speed Pro 160s and Rapala X Raps from first light for an hour or two on the main reef between the Northern and Southern Pinnacles, as well as the Playground and 50m ledge, will result in decent tuna year-round.
Setting up a drift line starting just north of the Northern Pinnacle and drifting down to the Southern Pinnacle with a mixture of live- and dead baits is another proven method of catching tuna.
Live mackerel and mozzies are the preferred live baits and the use of cut bait (a sardine chunk on a single circle hook or J-hook) along with chum is also a firm favourite. A good rule of thumb is to drift until you find the shoal and then shorten your drifts over that area, working the chum to bring the fish in to the bait spread.
This technique also works very well in winter on Diepgat which lies slightly deeper than Protea and yields good sized tuna. On Diepgat, the average drift will be in the 80m–90m zone and downrigging your baits will result in more pulls.
The tuna range in size from 4- to 12kg in the summer months, right through to 18- to 28kg specimens in the autumn and winter months. These fish pull extremely hard for their size, and a 30kg fish is considered a trophy for this area. Protea Banks is well known for its resident shark population, and to limit the tax paid it is usually recommended that shorter stand-up style rods, 30-size multiplier reels and line in the 15–18kg class be used.
For anglers looking to concentrate on shallower areas, some good-sized yellowfin are caught each season by anglers fishing the backline near the main bait spots in water from 16- to 25m deep.
The secton from Umzimkulu River mouth to Sea Park, as well as the area from the Port Edward shark nets down to the lighthouse and casino areas in 25–30m are good options, especially if you are fishing with live bait.
Several yellowfin are also caught inshore during the summer months when anglers are trolling for dorado on the colour lines off the main river mouth areas, so always be prepared!
Time of year: Summer season November to March
North: Umzimkulu River mouth, Umtentweni, Sea Park, Protea Banks
South: Glenmore, Port Edward nets, Lighthouse Point, Casino
Lures: smaller soft plastic trolling lures in the 100–200mm size category (colours: pink/white, blue/silver, black/purple), hard body trolling lures in the 130mm size
Bait: Live baits including small mozzies and mackerel, dead baits such as whole sardine, Jap mackerel and red-eyes
Depths: 20m to 50m
These popular summer gamefish usually make an appearance here slightly later than they do in Durban, arriving with the warmer summer water that pushes down the coast. Most seasons usually start around late November with the odd fish coming out in the deeper areas such as Protea Banks first. Mid-December is known as the real start of the dorado season on the South Coast, with larger shoals moving into the area and moving shallower.
Productive areas to try are usually in the shallows from the Umzimkulu River mouth past the ’Tweni bait marks up to Sea Park in 15–30m deep water, as well as straight off the Port Edward shark nets down to the casino.
At this time of year most of the estuaries and rivers are running brown from the summer rains, and colour lines form where muddy river water meets denser sea water resulting in a defined line. These lines move north and south depending on changes in current and wind. The dorado shoals use these colour lines as hunting areas, feeding on baitfish and sea life that congregates along the line.
A good system is to catch live bait early and then pull small konas and feathers along the colour line until the fish are located, then switch over to bait. For bait fishing, slow trolling live mozzies or small mackerel (one motor in gear) on a circle- or J-hook with fluorocarbon is a productive method of targeting them. Another popular method is to troll dead sardines or Jap macks, either skipping them on the surface or using chin weights/bait swimmers. Both techniques work well if fished with a light drag. Remember to keep moving once you’re hooked-up, as double and triple hook-ups are always possible.
If there is no sign of a colour line, then working the bait marks in productive areas from 15–30m depths is a great system and often pays off.
Whilst pulling baits on the slow-troll, it is always a great idea to have someone throwing a small popper or stick bait as this will often trigger a strike and also bring fish into the spread. The dorado are usually in the 5–8kg range, but later in the season some decent double figure specimens are around.
Time of year: March to June
North: Umzimkulu River mouth, Umtenweni Bait Marks, Sea Park
South: Nyameni, Red Sands, Sikombe
Bait: Live- and dead baits including large mozzies, mackerel, shad, sea pike, bonnies and walla-walla
Depths: 14m to 25m
These sought after gamefish usually arrive at the end of summer, with the Easter holiday period marking the traditional start of the lower South Coast ’cuda season.
One thing to note in this area is the overall absence of smaller shoal-size ’cuda. This is croc country, and every year the majority of cuda caught are above 20kg with several 30kg+ specimens coming out, especially down at the Red Sands and Sikombe areas south of Port Edward. It is thought that these larger specimens are breeding stock that stay in the area and then migrate north with the sardine run. Either way, targeting ’cuda on the lower South Coast involves planning to tussle much bigger specimens.
In the northern part of this area, the best bet is to get good quality live bait, preferably mackerel, shad and sea pike. Rig these baits on standard ’cuda traces using good quality hooks and #6 and #7 wire. Dusters are a matter of personal preference, but generally ice blue, pearl or pink are the best options — or just a plain green glow bead.
Mix your spread up with two baits on the surface and two down-rigged at different depths, and slow troll the 15– 25m lines going over the bait marks from Umzimkulu mouth past ’Tweni nets up to Sea Park. Your pulls will usually be on the surface baits in the early morning and on the deeper baits as the sun moves higher.
There is great reef structure in this area and there’s a chance of catching bycatch such as tuna, giant kingfish, prodigal son and even sailfish.
For real trophy-sized cuda it is worth trying the area south of Port Edward into the Wild Coast. This beautiful piece of coastline is unspoilt and holds some of the best croc ’cuda fishing potential on the entire coast. As above, good quality bait is key, and filling up with a good number of mackerel, shad and sea pike at the Port Edward nets or casino bay will be vital to success.
The style of angling used most commonly down there involves finding a section of good reef structure in the 14–24m depth range and then setting up the vessel on anchor just above this reef section. It is important that there is a north-south current for this technique to work effectively. Once the anchor is set, deploy two live baits on balloons and stagger them at around 30m and 60m behind the boat. Deploy two more baits on flat lines, down-rigged to different depths to cover the water column. The use of a chum bag and flasher/teaser increases your chances of success.
Terminal tackle for this area is usually a lot heavier, and it is common to use #7 and #8 wire for these bigger fish, particularly if the water is dirty. These big ’cuda can take a lot of line on their first run, so be prepared to buoy-off from your anchor line to chase the fish.
Areas such as Nyameni and Red Sands have several good reef areas to anchor, however it is important to remember that when anchoring at Sikombe you must stay out of the Pondoland Marine Protected Area which starts on the south bank of the Sikombe River (there is a white marker pole indicating the boundary). ’Cuda fishing is a patience game, particularly when targeting these larger fish, so prepare correctly, get the right baits and stick it out — you may get yourself a new personal best!