Fishing in False Bay

[Originally published in the November 2021 issue of Ski-Boat]
By Rob Naysmith

FOLLOWING on from the outstanding example the KwaZulu-Natal anglers have set in sharing their wealth of knowledge and expertise of their coastline, we jump hastily to Cape Town.
Not that there is any pecking order, but there is only one summer a year, a summer that will be upon us by the time you read this article… Unlike the areas up our east coast, the Western Cape is basically a summer fishing venue for most of our species. As a major holiday destination, many anglers arrive with huge dreams of superb fishing but leave empty handed; we’re about to change that. And for all the guys new to fishing down here and keen to learn, this is for you too.
The first thing you will notice when fishing in Cape Town is that there are considerably fewer species to catch than further up the east coast. However, that’s made up for in the quantity of fish. The other notable aspect is that the fish species are more numerous during the summer months while the number dwindles down to a mere two or three that one can target with any measure of success during winter.
We will start the Western Cape with what is undoubtably the most popular fishing venue — False Bay. It offers safe launch sites, numerous boat clubs and generally calmer seas than out in the Atlantic Ocean.

Cape Point in the west and Cape Hangklip to the east define the entrance to False Bay. The ‘bay’ itself can be envisioned as a big rectangle with Muizenberg in the north western corner and Gordon’s Bay to the north east. The fishing changes quite considerably from the entrance points to that inside, between the two towns, so much so, in fact, that seldom does one find the same species in both areas.
False Bay is the last refuge where one still experiences the final warmth of the Agulhas current close to land. As an example, the sea temperature can be a relatively warm 20°C in False Bay while it’s an icy 8°C on the Atlantic side of the peninsula.
This warmth difference is due to an eddy of Agulhas current being swept into False Bay by the dominant summer south easterly wind — the Cape Doctor. With it come a few fish species usually only found on the east coast. However, these are strays and invariably have no way to get home before the winter comes.
The dominant target species are as follows depending on the season.
Summer (October to April): yellowtail, yellowfin tuna, katonkel, kob, geelbek and chokka (squid).
Winter (May to September): snoek, yellowtail and katonkel.
For the sake of our resident reef species and their susceptibility to over-fishing, I will exclude information on where or how to target them. I’m sure you’ll understand.

There are two important ingredients to fishing in False Bay — wind and bait. Follow the wind and you’ll find the bait, find the bait and you’ll find the fish; it’s just that simple.
The Atlantic upwelling of nutrients and plankton is the lifeblood of the vast pilchard, anchovy, mackerel, red eye sardine and maasbanker shoals that attract our popular target fish species. These shoals are prolific outside False Bay and, with the help of the SE wind and Agulhas currents, some shoals round Cape Point and move into the sheltered waters of the bay. That said, due to the prevailing SE winds in summer, the bait shoals are more likely to be found on the west side of the bay, from Cape Point to Muizenberg and Rocky Bank to Macassar.
During winter, the dominant north wind blowing out of the bay causes a cold upwelling resulting in a change of target species. Some that do stay, such as the shoals of young first- and second year yellowtail, get grumpy and go off the feed until they acclimatise.

Unlike when fishing on the east coast, in False Bay we seldom use livebait except for when we’re targeting kob and geelbek. Our pelagic baitfish shoals are continually on the move, so the secret is to locate a shoal in the area where you’ll be fishing. That’s also where the bigger fish will be. Catching livebait, which send out panic-stricken vibrations on your line, will help attract the bigger fish.
Most harbours such as Simon’s Town and Gordon’s Bay will hold small congregations of baitfish most of the time so it’s always worth a look around there on your way out if you want some fresh bait. Just drop a number 4, 6 or 8 hook Sabiki Jig with six or so dropper flies into the shoal you see on your echo sounder and in minutes your bucket should be full. If the shoals are mackerel, make sure you put an extra heavy sinker at the bottom; this stops the fish lifting the trace and tangling it.
Adding some finely squashed pilchard chum in the water will help to keep the shoal around your boat.

Time of year: Year-round, but over a wider area in the summer months.
Main areas:
Summer — Cape Point to Rooikraans, SW Reefs, Bellows Rock, Anvil, Rocky Bank, Dias Beach, Smitswinkel Bay, Simon’s Town to Fish Hoek, Seal Island.
Winter — Front of Cape Point lighthouse, SW Reefs, Bellows Rock, Anvil, Rocky Bank, The Wreck.
Lures: Yamashita plastic squid, bulb squid, skirts. 4- to 6 inch. Hot pink, green/yellow, black/red, blue/white.
Diving hard baits such as Rapala, Storm, Halco, Williamson. 12- to 14cm. Same colours as the plastics.
Spoons, jigs and poppers. 4- to 6 inch. Tin or brass spinners, lumo jigs, white, blue or green poppers.
Bait: Fresh chokka (squid) strips and pilchard chunks on the drift.
Depth: Feeding shoals will be on the surface with hunting shoals mid-water (10- to 20m). Sulking or waiting shoals will be a few metres off the reef; they don’t wait over sand.
Water temp: 15°C and above
Size: 1.5kg to 14kg; smaller fish on the top and bigger fish down below.

Undoubtably the most popular summer fish species in the Cape, yellowtail are fun to catch, hard fighting and great eating. Although they are present all year round, their migration into False Bay takes place in the summer with the strong SE winds. Outside of Cape Point the best indication of feeding yellowtail is the presence of sea birds (especially the little tern or sterretjie) staying in an area. The tip movement of their wings will show you where the shoals are.
Trolling is the most productive method of locating the shoals. Set a trolling speed of around 5- to 6 knots with your lures close to the edge of your boat’s wake, about 6- to 8m back. You can also troll a spoon or spinner 10- to 20m back, but watch out for other boats as they won’t expect a lure that far out.
A selection of surface and diving lures is a good place to start, although this limits your strike rate to one or two fish per strike. When the fish are on the feed, it’s best to remove the diving lures and just troll surface lures. This will increase the number of fish per strike.
Yellowtail are extremely susceptible to noise and commotion, so if they are breaking the surface, troll around the edges, not through the middle. Cat hulls make more banging noise on the water which can work against you a lot of the time if you’re trying to sneak up on yellowtail. In these cases it is better to stop trolling and rather cast spoons in the area.
While we’re talking about the noise factor, I’m not sure who started this “up and charge” idea of racing across the ocean at top speed to be the first boat to a surface shoal, but it’s a really bad idea when you understand yellowtail. Sure, you may be lucky and get a fish, but if you’d trolled up to it then a lot more boats could enjoy the shoal and your catch rate would sky-rocket.
Yellowtail will not move far from a feeding area, so if you have patience and work the area the results will surprise you. While you troll around, keep an eye on the echo sounder for shoals sitting between 10- and 20m deep. If they don’t come up and eat, stop and drop jigs and spoons. While drifting it’s a good idea to put out a bait line with a strip of chokka or piece of pilchard to catch that extra fish.
Once you move into False Bay itself the yellowtail habits change and they follow more of a migratory path. You will seldom see them breaking the surface, but if you look carefully you can see the shoals swimming along. They tend to swim from Cape Point towards Muizenberg, from just off the kelp shoreline to about a mile off. They often stop on their route and mull around an area for a while, and this is when they can be caught on drift baits.
Your best plan of action inside the bay is to troll along the coast. Generally they prefer a smaller size deep diving lure and the occasional surface popper. Drifting off one of the many rocky points is a good place to wait for the shoals of yellowtail to swim past. Once you see them approaching, cast your spoons or poppers in front of the shoal, not into it, and retrieve fairly fast just below or skimming the surface.

Time of year: Winter months (August to October)
Main areas: Groendam, Rocky Bank, Anvil, Old Snoek Grounds, Sout Gat, Buffels Bay, Smitswinkel Bay, Millers Point.
Lures: Dollies — A coloured lead weight with a plastic skirt and 12/0 snoek hook.
Chrome and coloured snoek spinners.
Bait: Pilchard and pike (Jap mackerel) — whole, halves and chunks.
Depth: 20- to 60m
Size: 2kg to 8kg

The Cape snoek is a completely different species to the queen mackerel snoek found on the east coast. Traditionally caught on handlines by commercial fishermen, as they have been for centuries, snoek is the staple fish of the Cape. They’re usually found in huge shoals of many thousands of fish. Commercial ski-boat catches are measured in numbers of fish per man, and over 100 fish per man is fairly common. When one watches the ease with which these fish are landed by commercials, it’s easy to believe that snoek do not fight very hard. However, the reality is quite the opposite; on a rod and reel these fish are formidable fighters ranking among the top few.

Handlines with snoek spinners, dollie [bottom] and bait line.
Most Cape anglers carry a set of thick handlines for catching snoek as they land the fish quickly, preserve the fish flesh from spoiling due to a long fight, stow away easily and can be lots of fun to use. However, for the purposes of this article I will refer to rod and reel angling.
Lightning fast, devastating predators with a set of teeth to scare a piranha, the snoek is a great sporting fish. They eagerly take a chunk of pilchard or pike on a weighted or drifted line. When using a rod and reel, the use of a wire bite trace is an absolute necessity unless you own a hook factory, as snoek have a large mouth which, although soft on the inside, is pure bone and teeth. A hook size of 8/0 and upwards is recommended. When caught with bait on rod and reel, the hook is usually buried inside the soft flesh or throat, so the chance of it pulling out is minimal.
Snoek absolutely love anything that shines and readily take a spinner. I suggest a hard chrome spinner as the snoek can bury its teeth into a tin spoon and hold on, preventing the hook from setting. But there again, when one fish jumps off, just keep winding and another will jump on. There’s no need to cast for snoek as they tend to shoal under the boat, usually starting deep and rising as you catch them, until they can be seen swimming around the boat.
The easiest way to locate a shoal of snoek is to find the commercial fleet and do whatever they are doing. Don’t anchor your boat if they are drifting, and don’t anchor or drift where you interfere with them; they are earning a living. You’ll certainly know if you’ve messed up, because commercials have a uniquely colourful way of insulting your character, your mother, your ancestry and your anatomy, in a way that you’ll never forget.
If there are no commercial boats in the area you will need to locate the shoals on your own. Diving birds are about the only visual indicators, but for the most part I suggest sounding around in the locations mentioned above.
Snoek are seldom found in water less than 20 metres deep and, because of their voracious appetites, they’re usually always in the vicinity of bait shoals. Snoek show up like a mass of worms on the echo sounder and are easily identified. Simply stop on a shoal and drop a spinner; you’ll soon know if they want to feed. While drifting or anchored, an indicator of feeding snoek is when you see big bubbles bursting on the surface around your boat.
Once you land a snoek you need to dispatch it as quickly as possible to save the flesh from spoiling and to minimise the risk of getting a nasty bite that won’t stop bleeding. The common way is to hold the fish behind the gills and, with your hand under the jaw, snap its head back to break the neck.
Snoek basted with apricot jam, cooked on the braai is real Cape food.

Time of year: Summer months (October to April)
Main areas: Strandfontein, Kalk Bay, Swartklip, Cliffs, Broken Road, Macassar, Strand, Gordon’s Bay.
Bait: Pilchards, chokka, mackerel, maasbanker, mullet and livebait.
Water temp: 18- to 21°C
Depth: 3- to 30m
Size: 2kg to 25kg

The prime fishing time for kob in False Bay is during or just after the south easterly gales slow down. The seabed would have been churned up, giving the water a greenish milky colour along the coast. Find the water and you’ll find the bait that attracts the kob.
The winds play the most important part in understanding the best areas to search. Where the wind blows directly onto the shore is where the most likely area will be. For example, a true SE wind will push the kob to the area from Kalk Bay to Strandfontein, a southerly wind will move the fish to the area from Strandfontein to Macassar, and a westerly wind will send them to Strand and Gordon’s Bay.
It’s difficult to locate shoals of kob on the echo sounder, so rather look for the baitfish and features that kob prefer. Kob like to feed over sand and on the edge of reefs and gullies, so you need to be able to read the ground topography and currents well to anchor accurately. A good sand feature is a faint wisp of what looks like dust blowing over a dip; that’s food and baitfish.
It’s best to anchor and chum if you want any measure of success in catching kob. These fish move closer to the shallows as the tide rises and can sometimes be almost in the breakers, but don’t venture there; it’s not worth it. Monohull boats do better in shallow water than cats do as they make much less noise; kob don’t like to be near banging boats.
The trace I suggest should be made of mono, not wire, up to about 55kg. Use a single hook of 5/0 to 10/0 on either a sliding or fixed sinker line. There is seldom any current to speak of in False Bay, so use the lightest weight required to get the bait down. Once anchored, chum the area using good quality bait, not all your old stuff from an age gone by. Why would anything want to eat that?
From there on patience is the name of the game, but once they find your boat the game really begins. A shoal can carry fish that vary in size from 1kg to 20kg which makes kob fishing very exciting.
Please return all your small kob to the water unharmed and cared for in the best possible way. Keep only what you can eat, and remember there is a bag and size limit on silver kob.

Time of year: Summer months (November to March)
Main areas: Cape Point, Buffels Bay, Whittle Rock, Millers Point, Swartklip to Macassar, Strand, Gordon’s Bay, Steenbras River, Pringle Bay, Rooi Els
Bait: Pilchard, chokka strips, mackerel, maasbanker, & octopus leg
Water temp: 18- to 21°C
Depth: 5- to 50m
Size: 3kg to 10kg

Geelbek are one of False Bay’s most exciting fish to catch, but one needs to know exactly where and when to look for them. Geelbek want warm, preferably blue, oceanic water with lots of anchovy and sardine shoals around. Prolific night feeders in the shallows, geelbek can also be caught in deep water during the day.
They love wind and turbulent conditions, so fishing during a gale force wind can be most productive, although it’s not recommended. After a strong wind geelbek will move into the kelp and can be found just on the edge or in the shallow little clearings. In these areas it’s best to use a drift line with no sinker.
There are seldom any tell-tale signs that geelbek are in the area except at night when they swirl up the phosphorescence with the green luminescent glows giving them away. The most common way to find the shoals is with your echo sounder. Geelbek show up as a big red block due to the nature of their shoaling habits. These fish feed over structure, so make sure you are looking for the shoals on a rocky seabed or sunken wreck. Unlike kob, you will seldom find geelbek shoaling over a sandy ground, and if you do, they will be migrating.
Their favourite baits are fresh pilchards, mackerel and chokka, with the number one bait being a combination of them. Geelbek have a large mouth with a hard bony jaw, so it’s best to use at least an 8/0 to 10/0 hook with a wide gape such as a Kendal Round. A trace with a 40- to 60kg hook line and a long sinker line off a three-way swivel in best as geelbek do not feed right on the ground.
Ideally one should anchor rather than drift over the shoal because drifting breaks up the shoal by dragging it with you as geelbek like to play follow-my-leader.
Remember, apart from a size limit, there is also a bag limit of two geelbek per recreational angler per day. And don’t think that by fishing at night you can convince the authorities that you caught two fish before midnight and two afterwards.

Time of year: Year-round but more prolific during the summer months.
Main areas: Buffels Bay, Simon’s Town to Fish Hoek, Kalk Bay, Strandfontein, Strand, Gordon’s Bay.
Lures: Squid (chokka) jigs,
Water temp: 15- to 18°C
Depth: 5- to 50m

Catching chokka has become the favourite pastime of many False Bay anglers. One doesn’t need a big boat or expensive equipment, although the best jigs are no longer cheap. Chokka bite throughout the day although dawn and sunset can be the optimum times. Night fishing is great fun though you will need to use lumo jigs for the most success. A super bright light shining on the water helps to attract them at night.
Chokka are mostly found over a weed bottom which is where they lay their eggs. These are called nests, and if one fishes on a nest, the chokka will attack the jigs more aggressively, resulting in better catches. It is always better to anchor on a chokka patch for more regular catches as they rise up the water column the more you catch. Drifting only serves to pull them away from where they want to be so you’ll soon run out of bites.
Simon’s Town has become the most popular spot for chokka with Buffels Bay and Fish Hoek a close second. These spots have the required ground features that the chokka like. The best way to locate them is to sound around until you find a shoal; they do not appear very big, and will be lying almost on the bottom. One can drift until bites are felt, then put the anchor down.
Chokka have a unique bite, unlike a fish, and one which anglers need to experience to learn. For daytime fishing, drop your jig to the ground and slowly move it around, raising it a few metres before dropping it again. The chokka will hang on the jig and a heavier weight will be felt. At times they will knock the jig hard, especially when they are aggressive, yet at other times they are barely felt. It’s all about feeling the weight change.
Once you’ve hooked one, retrieve slowly and gently or you’ll pull the hooks out. When you get it to the surface, quickly lift the chokka into the boat, but watch out for the squirt becasue black ink can be messy.
Chokka are not only excellent bait but also make a prime meal. There are many preparation methods bandied around and I suggest you fish often and try them all.
Remember that there are two closed seasons per year for chokka and a daily bag limit of 20 per angler. You also need a separate permit for catching chokka in addition to the angling permit; they are both on the same form.

Time of year: Summer months (late October to February)
Main areas: Ammo dumping grounds, Bellows Rock, Cape Point and Rooikrans.
Lures: Rapalas, surface lures, poppers and spinners.
Bait: These yellowfin don’t respond to baiting techniques.
Depth: 20- to 200m
Water temp: 18- to 20°C and preferably clean water.
Size: 15- to 100kg with the average around 45kg

This yellowfin tuna fishery is approached differently to that found in the deep grounds off the coast. These fish are highly energetic due to the nature of their feeding. They move into the Cape Point area to feed on the masses of pilchards and anchovies found at this time of year, and focus their attention on hunting and devastating shoals of these little fish.
This constant hunt keeps the yellowfin shoals moving at speed until they find a baitball. This is probably the reason why baiting does not produce results in this area. Trolling is the best method of locating the yellowfin. Anglers must constantly keep an eye out for a feeding shoal where you can throw a popper at them.
Unlike yellowtail, yellowfin move on in search of more food once the action is over, so it’s no good hanging around; rather get back on the troll. Often a yellowfin will eat a lure while you’re fishing for yellowtail, but if you are not correctly equipped, the fight will be a short one.
For some reason these yellowfin are not early risers, with shoals usually making their appearance around mid-morning. This could have its basis in the angle of the sun and its ability to better silhouette the bait shoals.
These yellowfin can be found almost anywhere from Millers Point to ten miles outside of Cape Point during their season. Popular False Bay spots include Rooikrans, where some anglers catch them from the ledges, to the Point itself, and out to Bellows Rock.
Enjoy fishing around the False Bay area, but please make sure you take note of the marine reserves and obey all rules regarding bag limits and other pertinent restrictions.

Queries on this article can be directed to <> or 083 235 9550. Alternatively you can find him at his boat shop, Down South Marine, in Diep River, Cape Town.

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