By Rob Naysmith
IN this issue we move along the coast from where we left off at Cape Hangklip, and cover the area all the way down to Cape Agulhas.
Although I’ve fished this area very successfully over the years, I’ve coerced a few of the local fishing legends to assist me in this article. It was not an easy task to get them to part with such treasured knowledge, most of which has been passed down through the generations; that’s the way it works down here.
With the assistance of the most renowned statesman in the Overberg, Mr Olaf Bergh, the legends told their stories and shared their secrets, most never revealed before.
In its heyday, the area from Cape Hangklip to Cape Agulhas was a nationally renowned fishing mecca. Whether from the shore or boat, catches were incredible, unbelievable by today’s standards. Commercial fishing harbours thrived in Hermanus and Gansbaai, supporting entire towns and communities with the huge bounty of fish readily available in vast numbers.
Although a lot has changed, there is still some excitingly productive fishing to be enjoyed
As the area covers a great expanse of extremely rugged coastline, one is restricted to launching a boat from one of the few available harbours, each of which has a local fishing club.
I have had the pleasure of visiting all of these clubs, and I highly recommend the visiting angler do likewise. Not only for the local knowledge but also to enjoy some of the most hospitable and inviting people on this planet.
The launch venues from west to east are primarily:
Kleinbaai Harbour (where the great white shark boats operate)
Pearly Beach — sheltered beach launch
WHAT TO CATCH
The Agulhas current eddies keep this coast relatively warm, and the winds play their part in concentrating the shoaling fish. The Overberg fishing is less gamefish orientated and more concentrated on bottomfishing than False Bay is, making it more of a year-round fishery.
The dominant target species in summer (October to April) are yellowtail, silver kob, geelbek and Roman.
In winter (May to September) you can target yellowtail, snoek, silver kob and red stump.
A fish known locally as a silver — but it’s red (don’t ask) — is plentiful in massive shoals throughout the year. It’s great eating and is in big demand by the locals. Other common species include red steenbras, hake and gurnard amongst many others.
Tuna are present in the summer, but the distance to the shoals makes this fishery prohibitive to most boats.
As with fishing in False Bay, the main ingredients to a successful day’s fishing here are wind and bait.
Again, the lifeblood of this area is the massive shoals of anchovies and pilchards in relatively shallow waters. However, with dwindling stocks the fishery has become more concentrated towards Gansbaai than spread along the coast like it was in the past. In turn, this has made the eastern part of this coastline more productive from an angling perspective.
Time of year: Year-round
Main areas: Dyer Island; vicinity of bait shoals migrating just off the coast between Cape Agulhas and Cape Point.
Lures: Mostly diving hard baits such as Rapala in the 12- to 14cm sizes. Surface skirted lures are popular when the shoals are concentrated near baitfish.
Spoons, jigs and plugs: 4- to 6 inches. Silver spinners, green or blue jigs, white plugs.
Bait: Not as responsive to bait in this area, but pilchard chunks on the drift does work at times.
Depth: Shoals will be on the surface to mid-water in water depths usually 20m or more.
Water temperature: 15°C and above
Size:2kg to 8kg
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 spinner 10- to 20m back.
A selection of surface and diving lures is a good place to start however 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 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.
Your best plan of action when fishing blind, is to troll along the coast on the 20m contour, keeping an eye out for surface action and birds. A deep water rocky point is a good place to search for the migrating shoals of yellowtail. 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: August to October
Main areas: Around the bait shoals, Gansbaai.
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: 20m to 60m
Size: 2kg to 8kg
Cape Snoek are not as common along this stretch of coastline as they are on the west coast, but sometimes they do move into the area in huge shoals of many thousands of fish. Attracted by the aggregations of pilchards and anchovies, the snoek appear to move shoreward from the deep ocean.
This phenomenon, as opposed to coastal migration, is something I’ve witnessed a number of times where shoals of snoek suddenly appear from Cape Point and Hout Bay, all the way to Cape Agulhas on the same day. There are shoals on the west coast where one can monitor their coast-long migration, but these fish seem to move straight in from the deep and then disappear once their food source dwindles.
As I explained in the article on fishing False Bay, snoek are lightning fast devastating predators, making them awesome sporting fish. Usually eager to take a bait or spinner, they can be tide dependent in this area, either eating prolifically on only the outgoing or incoming tides. They are always associated with the shoals of baitfish, where they can be seen breaking the surface at times in their frenzy.
Hunting snoek is usually done with the fishfinder, where one looks for a tightly packed group of red “worms”. Simply drop a hard chrome spinner or jig down into the shoal and let the games begin. Snoek respond well to pilchard bait (either whole or half a fish) on nothing less that an 8/0 hook with a wire trace, if you’re not using a thick handline.
There are not as many commercial snoek boats in this area as are found elsewhere, so it is more difficult to determine where they are unless encountered the day before unloading at their harbour. As a result, finding the snoek in this area is really up to you.
Once you land a snoek, you need to dispatch it as quickly as possible to save the flesh from spoiling and to spare yourself the risk of a nasty bite that doesn’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. It’s still a great braai favourite amongst the locals of this coast, and rightly so.
The bag limit is ten snoek per day, so watch your catch; it is so easy to be way over the limit before you realise it.
Time of year: September to May
Bait: Pilchard, octopus leg, chokka, mackerel, bloodworm.
Temperature: 16°C and above
Depth: 2- to 20m
Size: 2kg to 20kg
This stretch of coast is known for its catches of silver kob in the many bays and sand gullies which make up the bottom topography of the region.
They are most prolific after the strong winds have blown onto the coast, churning up the sandy bottom, exposing the plethora of food organisms that in turn attract the small fish the kob feed on.
When fishing the shallow, near coast areas in water depths from 2- to 10m, the initial search is for an area of sandy ground scattered with patches of flat reef; this is the ideal ambush ground for kob.
Here it is best to anchor, keep noise to a minimum, and chum the water with chopped up pilchards. Keep feeding handfuls of chum into the water at regular intervals until the kob arrive under your boat.
Baits such as pilchards, octopus, chokka and mackerel are always top producers, although there are many other baits such as bloodworm, mussel and prawn that work extremely well at times. Always use the freshest bait available.
Livebait in the form of mullet and maasbanker produce the bigger fish, however it is hard to sit with a livebait in the water while the smaller kob are coming out all around you, so I find it best to use livebait in quiet times.
The other areas that will produce excellent catches of kob are those where the anchovy and pilchard shoals are congregated.
These shoals are usually pointed out by birds and often penguins. In water depths from 10- to 20m, these feeding birds drive the bait shoals down to the ground which in turn makes easy pickings for the kob.
In situations such as these it is best to drift on the bait shoals, with engines switched off. Once again the best bait to use is pilchard and mackerel — as fresh as possible
Although kob can be caught throughout the day, late afternoon and into the night tends to be the prime time. Night fishing is most productive in the shallow waters, especially when it coincides with a high tide.
Please return all your small kob to the water, unharmed and cared for in the best way possible. Keep only what you can eat, and remember there is a bag and size limit on silver kob.
Time of year: September to May
Main areas: Dyer Island, kelp-lined bays, deep water reefs and wrecks
Bait: Pilchard, mackerel, octopus leg and squid strips
Temperature: 18°C and above
Depth: 4- to 30m
Size: 3kg to 10kg
Geelbek is one of the most sought-after fish of the region, and rightly so. Large shoals move along this area of coastline, hunting food in the shallow bays at night and over the deep-water reefs during the day. Again, it is the massive shoals of pilchards and anchovies that attract them to the area.
After a strong onshore wind geelbek will move into the kelp bays that are prolific on this part of the coast. Access to these bays is either from the shore or through a gap or channel between the kelp fronds from the outside. These gaps indicate deeper water and often a sandy bottom, so you can get through without fear of damaging your props. Anchor in a bay at dusk and into the night, chum the water and wait for the fish to find you. Once they start to feed, chaos will ensue unabated until the fish lose interest, or one is injured.
During the daytime hours geelbek constantly move in the deeper waters in search of the bait shoals, so again it’s important to find these shoals. The shoals of geelbek are usually located directly below the bait shoals and will they rise to the surface during their feeding frenzy, so be sure to keep a drift bait out.
Geelbek show up as a big red block on the echo sounder due to their tightly packed and stacked shoaling habits. These fish hunt over structure, so make sure you are looking for the shoals on a rocky seabed or sunken wreck. They will sometimes manage to herd a shoal of baitfish into a shallower, kelp forested area which rises quickly from fairly deep water. There they will camp for long periods of time with the baitfish trapped in the kelp.
Their favourite bait is fresh pilchard, mackerel, anchovies, octopus leg and chokka. 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. An 80cm to 1m trace line of 40- to 60kg hook line and a metre long sinker line off a three-way swivel tends to produce more positive hook-ups in deep water. In shallow waters a drift line works best.
When fishing in or near the kelp it is best to use a heavy outfit to hold the fish from its notoriously long runs. Many of the more mature and experienced Cape anglers use handlines in these areas.
Remember there’s a size limit and also a bag limit of two fish per recreational angler per day.
RED STUMP (MISS LUCY)
Time of year: June to October
Main areas: Deeper reefs below 15m
Bait: Octopus leg, pilchard, squid, red bait, marine worms, crayfish, prawn
Depth: 15- to 30m
Although this fish species is becoming less prolific and harder to find, it is worth a mention as they are not only great sporting fish, but also excellent to eat.
The secret to catching red stumps is to know what ground you are fishing on, so you need the ability to intimately read and understand your echo sounder. You will seldom see a stump on the sounder so you need to look for the ground they like to feed over. This, accompanied with fairly light tackle, neat traces and a well-presented bait, will produce this sought-after fish.
Red stumps forage for crustaceans such as crabs and prawns, small mussels, octopus, cuttlefish and a wide variety of worms. These are found predominantly over a grass covered, sandy shale bottom, interspersed with patches of flat reef.
A 60cm long trace line of around 25kg with a 4/0 circle or J hook works well. Fishing close to but not on the ground gets the most attention from a red stump. Once hooked, they give an excellent account for themselves, fighting with their strong, head nodding power, all the way up to the boat.
This detail along with the co-ordinates I have given will certainly find you a few red stump but, please, irrespective of the law, only keep one and release the rest with minimum harm. That way we can all go back and catch a fish in the future.
Time of year: Year round
Main areas: Deeper reefs below 10m
Bait: Octopus leg, pilchard, squid, crab, marine worms, crayfish
Depth: 15- to 30m
This is another bottomfish species that is becoming less prolific and harder to find, but it is a great fish to catch and eat when done in moderation.
So often I see anglers bragging with a huge pile of Roman of all sizes, most likely destined for a freezer or a restaurant. Like any angler with respect for what the sea gives us, I find this repulsive and a portrayal of sheer ignorance and greed. These fish take decades to grow to the bigger sizes we target, so let’s all give them a chance. That said, I’ll explain how to catch that one big fish you deserve for the day.
Although Roman prefer deep water, they can be found deep in the shallow kelp beds. In water of 6m or more in depth, Roman are only found on reefs covered with fresh weed growth. This is where their food — worms, crabs, cuttlefish, octopus, prawns and a myriad of other interesting bugs and things — lives.
Romans are very resident reef dwellers, never venturing very far from their home spot which they defend with vigour from possible intruders. There is, however, always a group of younger fish that migrate in search of their own spot to live and breed. A Roman also changes sex according to age and population level; this is probably the saving grace of this voracious feeder.
Personally, I prefer to drift for Romans when conditions allow. This way you cover more ground in search of the bigger specimens and don’t remove all the fish from one area. A trace with a mono hook line of 20- to 30kg, and a 4/0 hook, fished very close to the ground tends to produce more bigger fish.
When it comes to bait, they will take just about anything you offer them, especially pilchard, chokka and particularly fresh red bait or white mussel.
Remember, Roman are on the endangered list, so watch your bag and size limit. Roman are quite resilient so if you wind them up slowly and return them to the water as quickly as possible they live to fight another day.
A word of warning when fishing in this region: the Sea Fishery Inspectors, and there are a lot of them, are on the ball in the Overberg area due to the abalone poaching pandemic that plagues the region. They show no mercy when faced with perpetrators who have caught undersized fish, are selling or fishing without a licence, or who have exceeded bag limits. There’s a real threat of them confiscating tackle, impounding boats and vehicles, and handing out fines that make grown men cry. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Tight lines and please look after our fragile fish resource.
For any further information related to this article or advice on the area, please email Rob Naysmith <email@example.com> or Whatsapp 083 235 9550. Alternatively, pop in to Down South Marine in Cape Town for a chat.