[Originally published in the January 2022 issue of Ski-Boat magazine]
By Justin Paynter
KING mackerel, aka ’cuda are here, and it’s going to be a cracker of a season. The hunt for these fish excites any gamefisherman along our coastline, and the last couple of seasons have been something special. If the start of this season is anything to go by, we should see some good numbers being boated and new PBs being set in the months ahead.
Just picture the scene: throttles down heading off to your selected spot, either with a tank full of bait or carefully selected dead bait in the anticipation of having your rod double over, while listening to the aggressive acceleration as it changes gears from zero to hero in a couple of seconds, and hoping that your preparation is going to pay off.
In this article, I am going to look at all the aspects of ’cuda fishing including bait, traces, tackle and the two most important aspects — preparation and patience.
Probably the biggest key ingredient of any successful fishing trip is preparation. This starts with selecting the craft you will be fishing on, the area you will be fishing, whether you’ll use dead or live bait, the traces you’ll use, and your rod and reel selection. Let’s dive in …
This may sound silly, but you need to know what sort of platform you will be fishing on. Will it be a paddleski, a jetski, a tiller arm rubber duck, or a 21ft ski-boat with multiple livebait tanks?
The important thing to remember is that each one has its advantages and disadvantages. The most important thing you need to check is whether it has a live well and appropriate rod holders. The answer to this will have a ripple effect to the plan for the day.
No live well would mean you would need to ensure you have the appropriate dead bait traces to suit the dead bait you have either caught prior to this trip or that you have purchased at your local fishing shop.
Rod holders are vital, and I’m speaking from experience when I say that. Last season a very good mate of mine, Justin Collins, and I were fishing off Sea Belle. The ’cuda were boiling and, instead of re-doing a leader on my trolling rod, I took my grinder and tied a ’cuda trace on and placed it in a stand-up holder. The rod went off, the butt slipped through the slit in the holder, and a magnificent air bubble trail was left behind as the rod disappeared into the water. We were very lucky to catch the whole thing on GoPro and it made for some entertaining viewing.
So, getting back to the point, taking ten rods out with you and only have place to put two rods is not the best idea. On both of my fishing platforms I like to have two flat rods that lie out to the side of the boat, and then I have one standing vertically. I generally don’t fish more than four rods at a time as it can cause chaos if you have inexperienced anglers on the boat.
• Ensure you have appropriate rod holders and that they are correctly spaced out.
• Keep a spare live well pump on the boat. You never know when the pump may go. There is nothing worse than having to try and keep your bait alive using a bucket.
• Ensure your dead bait is kept in a proper cooler box with ice. This will ensure it stays fresh even for the next trip.
• A decent fishfinder/GPS is vital. So many ski-boaters make the fatal mistake of not spending money on a decent unit. Remember, this unit is your eyes under the water.
As the “Where to Fish” series of articles continues in this magazine, you will have a better idea of where to fish and at what times of the year. I have said this before, but it’s really a good idea to go onto social media and follow as many fishing pages as you possibly can. Follow some of South Africa’s influential anglers and guys that are fishing on a regular basis. You will soon get a better idea of what is coming out where.
As fishermen we all like to see a good picture and like to let everyone know that we caught a monster, right? The best way to show this off is on the social media platforms.
If you are planning a fishing trip, do your homework, phone around or try to make contact with a local charter company to get a better understanding of where the fish have been coming out.
Locals are often very reluctant to pass on information if the fishing has been good, and this is understandable. If you are going to an area that you don’t normally fish, just be respectful towards the locals and their club and you shouldn’t have a problem. Buying a beer or five for a local in the pub is a sure way of getting better insight.
• Work an area. You can’t just put a bait in the water and expect ’cuda to jump in your boat. This type of fishing can be highly frustrating and, on a slow day, boring. But the rewards of hooking one of these fish is worth it, time and time again.
• You need to locate the fish. This means find the depth/line at which they are eating and then work that area. Often an angler will get a pull, boat the fish and then troll away from where he/she hooked it. If you get a pull, stay there and be patient.
• If you are fishing an area that you don’t normally fish, and you can see a group of paddle skis or boats working nearby, make your way over there and try to follow the line that they are working. You can’t beat local knowledge.
DEAD BAIT VS LIVE BAIT
It’s a coin toss. Do you run to get live bait early in the morning or do you run to your favourite spot and be the first one there with dead bait?
Over the past season I have fished a lot with dead bait, and it has proved to be very effective. I’m not taking anything away from a live shad, mackerel or bonnie, as that is always first prize, but a dead bait rigged correctly is just as effective.
Sometimes being the first one on the spot in the morning with nobody else around is first prize, and you can normally be back on the beach in a couple of hours with some fish in the hatch. As soon as more boats start arriving and they are pulling live baits around you, your chances with a dead bait decrease. Well, that’s my opinion anyway.
When you’re hunting these fish, it is important to cover the entire water column to ensure all your bases are covered.
Scenario 1: four rods with live bait
Rod one — live shad/mackerel on the bottom using a Scotty downrigger. If you don’t have a downrigger put it on either an 8- or 10-ounce sinker. Let the sinker hit the bottom and wind it up four to six times. Rod two — live shad/mackerel on a 6-ounce. Rod three — either a mackerel or mozzie with a 2- to 3-ounce. Rod four — a mozzie on the top super far out; this is normally called a “Hong Kong”. The Hong Kong rod is normally placed in the T-top or standing vertically. When you think you have let it out far enough, let it out another 10m and then it’s ready.
Scenario 2: three rods with dead bait
Rod one — dead mackerel/bonnie/
walla walla on the bottom using an 8- to10-ounce sinker. Rod two — dead mackerel/Japanese mackerel/walla walla on a 4- to 6-ounce. Rod three —either a mackerel or bonnie on the Hong Kong rod.
• Ensure your live or dead bait is swimming correctly. If you look at it and tilt your head a bit, bring it in and sort it out.
• Check your baits regularly. Often a bait will get chomped in half and you will only realise it when you bring it in. I like to check my baits every 30 minutes.
• Checking your baits also allows you to see what’s happening in the different water columns. One example is checking for dirt on the line, also known as gorilla snot. Feel your sinker to see if the water is warm or ice cold at the depth you had it at, and adjust the level if necessary.
• Christmas is coming up, so ask for a Scotty downrigger. This is one piece of equipment that you will have forever and which will be worth its weight in gold. Use your finder to locate the depth of the fish, then you can literally let your bait down to that depth using the built-in depth range on the downrigger.
• Use thin elastics to connect your sinker to the leader/line as it’s easier to snap off when you have a fish on.
• Don’t place your sinker too close to the baits. Distances vary, but to be safe, maybe 3- to 6m away. This depends on the angler and their preference.
• My leader will never be more than 40 lb when fishing for ’cuda. Sometimes, I don’t even fish a leader, depending on the type of line I am using.
• Vary your trolling speeds. I firmly believe that the paddleski anglers are so successful because they are at the spot before we get there and because of their paddling action. They vary their speeds, which allows their baits to flutter up and down and drop a little deeper when they are having a rest. On a boat, keep clicking your engines in and out of gear to mimic this fluttering action. Live baits must be pulled just in gear, whereas dead baits, you can pull a little faster. Just remember that speed varies on each boat as well.
We can debate this aspect till the cows come home. Every ’cuda angler has their own special ’cuda rod which has either been passed down from generation to generation, been re-done about five times and is one fish away from breaking, or is the standard rod we buy at our local tackle shop.
When it comes to choosing a rod, it all comes down to preference. I like a rod with a soft tip. The reason for this is that it allows the bait to have a more natural action in the water. I am currently using the Kingfisher Poseidon Couta Lite and the Daiwa Grandwave boat 701 rod.
I have them paired with the Daiwa Saltist Blue 40 H. I used to use the 50 H but just find that the 40 H combined with those rods is really well balanced. Again, it all depends on how deep your pockets go and your preference in brands. These have worked for me, they are robust and hard wearing, and I will continue to use them for many years to come.
I generally like to fish 10kg line, as that is our normal line class for competitive angling, with no more than a 40 lb leader. However, if I am going to places like Zinkwazi and St Lucia or am fishing deeper waters, I’ll fish anywhere from 12- to 15kg line class. I would then opt not to fish with a leader, obviously water condition dependent.
If the bite is slow, and you scale right down on your leader and ’cuda trace, you will find you have a better chance of getting a bite. Just remember, these aren’t stupid fish, and if you don’t take time with your preparation in terms of knots and bait presentation, you will not get a pull.
I am going to run you through one of my standard ’cuda traces. As you progress in your techniques, you will try some new things which might work for you and not others. Again, that’s fishing; you must be confident in what you put in the water. If you see something working for someone else, don’t be shy to ask what he is doing or just steal with your eyes and try it out for yourself.
Once again, this is the way I fish for them; you might prefer a different technique. I like to go as light and stealthy as possible, whereas other guys like big hooks, thick wire and big swivels. That works for them, so who is to judge. My preference is the following:
I use No 3 Malin wire in the front. The length is normally between 30- and 50cm from swivel to first hook. I like to use a very small swivel, but again, it’s all down to preference and how good your eyesight is to tie the knot on the boat. I use Malin because you get more for your buck.
I use No 5 wire between the hooks. Length depends on the size of the bait you are using.
Some guys will go heavier because a ’cuda has sharp teeth and they reckon it’s harder to bite through, but I believe that the thinner wire is less likely to kink and will be less likely to snap.
No matter what size wire you use, if a ’cuda chomps that bait and gets that wire between its teeth, you are history.
HOOKS — LIVEBAIT
My setup has a No 2 in the nose and a No 3 or 4 in the back. I was using the Taman hooks by Gamakatsu, but I have recently moved over to the VMC Octopus/Dynamic live bait hooks and have been extremely happy with them.
I use one single No 1 or 2 in the nose and a No 6 VMC Black Nickel in the back
I don’t tend to fish with more than two hooks unless I am fishing a bonnie or a walla walla. This is to ensure that I have covered the surface area of the bait and the fish doesn’t miss the hooks when it strikes.
HOOKS — DEAD BAIT
Pulsator makes an outstanding chin weight that has been very successful. The size of the chin weight you use will depend on the size of the bait.
The chin weight comes with a single hook embedded in it, then I use a No 6 VMC Black Nickel in the back.
A green bead is a must, and whatever the rest of the setup, I will always have a bait out with a green bead.
Everyone has their own special colour that works for them, but I like the pink Yamashita. Anything from the 1,5 to 2,5. There are cheaper makes on the market, but I don’t think they’re as successful.
The dusters I use are the Pulsator HO33, HO13 and HO65. These are smaller dusters that don’t tend to drown your live bait and have been very effective.
The flasher pictured above has been very successful for me and others. It is placed into the spread of baits while slow trolling and is made by well-known Zululand angler Johan Dejager, aka Patat.
I hope this gives you a bit of insight into ’cuda fishing along our coastline. Remember, be prepared and have patience. I wish you screaming reels and silver slabs lying on your deck!