[Originally published in the May 2022 issue of Ski-Boat magazine]
By John Luef and Fred Clarke
THE Eastern Cape around East London has quite an extensive coastline with many offshore areas to fish from a boat. In this article we are going to cover the entire area from the Nyara River which is the southern boundary of the Kei Marine Protected Area (MPA), down to the northern boundary of the Gxulu MPA.
There are three extensive MPAs in this area and all skippers angling here are reminded to ensure they have the coordinates and are aware of all regulations pertaining to the MPAs.
East London boasts a great diversity of species that can be caught from shallow reefs all the way out to and beyond the continental shelf, up to and over 100 metres of water depth. Fishing has generally improved in this area over the last number of years, with an abundance of species. This can be attributed mainly to the following things:
a) The effectiveness of the MPAs, whereby, over the years, they have become overpopulated and many fish are migrating out of them.
b) Bag and size limits that were implemented years ago are now showing their effectiveness.
c) Recreational fishermen being far more responsible due to awareness and protection measures created by organisations such as clubs and associations.
This area is also well known for very rough offshore seas and extremely difficult fishing conditions due to the notorious Agulhas current which predominantly runs down the coast off KwaZulu-Natal to Cape Town. At times, the water can move at more than 10km/h, making it almost impossible to keep a sinker and bait in the strike zone on the seabed.
The area covered in this article has four registered clubs where vessels can launch from and proceed to sea to partake in recreational angling. Visitors to the area can contact the clubs (information below) to enquire about launch permits, costs, and any other relevant information for that site.
• Cintsa East (Beach Launch) Mark Steinhobel 060 505 8653; Alt. Guy Swart 082 655 2739
• Kwelera Ski-Boat Club (River Launch) John Luef 082 898 2316.
• Gonubie Marine Club (River Launch) Grant Keth 083 279 0260.
• East London Ski-Boat Club (Harbour Launch) Graham Kingsley-Wilken 083 417 3920
SPECIES TO CATCH
When fishing in the shallow reefs up to approximately 50m depths, the more common species to expect are kob, black steenbras/musselcracker, Scotsman, dageraad, santer (soldier), Roman, Englishman, yellowbelly rockcod and moustache rockcod. The rarer species are German bream, white musselcracker, bank steenbras, baardman, John Dory and catface rockcod amongst others.
The deeper reefs will produce red steenbras, Miss Lucy (red stump), carpenter (dogs), seventy-four, yellowtail, butterfish and geelbek. Although these are predominantly deeper water fish, they have also at times been landed in relatively shallow waters.
Gamefish are rare to our area, but usually bonito, marlin and yellowfin can be caught from around November to March each year.
In this area, anglers mostly use the “Scarborough” fishing reel, which generally gives a great feel of one-to-one on any fish, but anglers can use whatever they are most comfortable with.
In the shallow waters, to reap the most fun out of the experience, any light tackle rod up to around 10kg is perfect with a 7” Scarborough reel and nylon line or braid, whichever you prefer. Generally, an 8- to 12 ounce sinker is sufficient.
On the deeper reefs, a heavier rod with an 8” Scarborough is the most used. Braid is a must due to the strong currents. Because it is thinner than line, it can cut through the water and give you a better chance of keeping your bait on the seabed and a better chance of feeling the bites due to the depths at which we’re fishing. Nylon line has a lot of stretch so you don’t feel the bites as well.
Here you rarely get away with a light sinker and generally a 16- to 32 ounce sinker is required. The old argument between circle or J hooks will forever continue, so I suggest using what you are comfortable with and adjust the size of hook depending on the species being targeted.
The bag limit is five per angler from a boat; minimum 50cm with only one above 110cm allowed. Kob are relatively scarce here compared to other coastal areas, but there are a few areas, as indicated on the maps alongside, where they can be caught.
Kob seem to like a neat bait and will readily bite on pilchard, squid and even octopus leg. Their favourite seems to be a mixed bait with a piece of squid dangling in the current. Generally, a 6/0 to 9/0 hook can be used with a relatively long hook trace as they seem to be sensitive to feeling resistance on the hook trace.
The bag limit is one per angler, minimum 40cm. Dageraad are extremely plentiful in the East London area and can be caught in all areas and depths, even on the shelf. There are currently many of this species which are just under size, which is a good sign for this species in the future.
Dageraad feed on many types of bait including but not limited to pilchard, squid and sliced fillet, but their favourite bait is a nice cleaned piece of octopus leg. A 5/0 to 6/0 hook is a good size to use for this species.
BLACK STEENBRAS AKA MUSSELCRACKER
The bag limit is one per angler, minimum 50cm. Black steenbras are abundant in the shallows and up to around 40m; there are also many juveniles of this species found in water up to 12m deep which is exciting for the future.
They will feed on most baits but prefer a big eye (Fransmadam) or steintjie flapper. They are extremely exciting to catch as they bite ferociously and fight all the way up. They are also known to head for the nearest reef to cut off your trace.
Black steenbras prefer very clear water and like areas where there are lots of smaller fish and large reef. A minimum of a 10/0 hook is ideal for this species.
The bag limit is one per angler, minimum 40cm. Scotsman were at one time a rare species for our area, but in the last few years they have become more abundant and some nice sized specimens are being caught.
This species can be caught in all depths of water but they are more common in the shallows under 30m deep. They feed on most small baits with their favourite being a couple of pieces of squid. A 5/0 hook, not bigger, is ideal for this species as they have relatively small mouths.
They are also strong fighters and give immense pleasure to light tackle anglers. They are one of the more stunning fish in the ocean with very vibrant colours.
The bag limit is two per angler, minimum 30cm. The red Roman is a beautiful bright red. For some reason, the bigger specimens are not found in our area and they generally get bigger as you go down the coast towards Cape Town. The average size here is about 1.5kg.
These fish are mostly found in shallow water under 20m where they feed on a variety of small baits like squid, octopus and pilchard. They have very small mouths and a 3/0- to 5/0 hook will be ideal.
The bag limit is five per angler, minimum 30cm. Soldiers can normally be found in the shallows under 30m of water in shoals where they will aggressively feed on just about any bait presented to them. They are extremely feisty fighters and are great fun to catch. A 5/0 hook is the ideal size for this species.
The bag limit is one per angler minimum 40cm. These fish are relatively rare for our area, but in recent times more of them are being caught in shallow waters up to 20m depth.
Like soldiers, they feed on most small baits of pilchard, squid and sliced bait, and are also ferocious fighters. It is advisable to release them to allow their stocks to multiply. They can be caught on 5/0 hooks.
The bag limit is one per angler, minimum 60cm. This fish is known to be extremely slow growing and very territorial. There are plenty of juveniles around our area and very few will make the size limit.
These fish enjoy sliced bait as well as small flapper baits. They can also be targeted on old smelly pilchards which most other species will not take. They have very large mouths and can be caught on 8/0 and larger hooks. They are known to grab a bait and head into a hole or crevice, giving the angler a hard time to get them out.
A warning to anglers: yellowbelly rockcod’s gill plates are as sharp as razor blades and have sliced open many an angler’s hands, so beware.
The bag limit is one per angler, minimum 60cm. They have a closed season for October and November each year, although clubs and associations have voluntary increased this to include September amongst their members.
Red steenbras are the iconic species of our area and are fairly abundant on the deeper reefs, although they sometimes pop up on the shallow reefs as well. This species gives anglers one of the most exciting thrills when it bites as the bite is very aggressive and exaggerated. They then go on to give you one of the most exciting fights. Generally caught in around 90m of water, the fight is long, hard and tiring, but very satisfying in the end.
This fish will feed on most baits from a mixed grill to a live smaller fish (butterfish, dikbekkie or carpenter), sliced baits, flappers and pilchard. Some have even taken small strips of squid.
Some days they can be extremely fussy and will only take on certain baits, which makes it a great challenge to the angler.
These great fish do not release very well, so it is sensible to move to other areas once you have caught your quota, as they will continue to feed. A 10/0 or larger hook can be used to catch this species.
MISS LUCY (RED STUMP)
The bag limit is one per angler, minimum 40cm. The Miss Lucy is one of the most beautiful fish to catch as they have banded shades of bright red and white which vary extensively in males and females, and have black speckles. They have huge bumps on their forehead which is more pronounced in the males. Once landed, they also have a very strong, distinctive smell.
These stunning fish are mostly caught in the deeper waters in our area but can also be caught in shallow waters. They will feed on a variety of baits including pilchard, squid, mixed baits and octopus. Their favourite is a long, thin mixed bait.
They give a very good fight especially in shallow waters, and can generally be caught on 5/0 and 6/0 hooks.
The bag limit is four per angler, minimum 35cm. Carpenters are nicknamed dogs because their teeth structure is very similar to that of a dog.
These are the most abundant species in our waters and can generally be caught in any depths from 20m and up to beyond 100m. They accumulate in very large shoals and it can become very frustrating when an angler cannot get any other species due to their abundance and continuous feeding.
They will feed and bite very aggressively on absolutely any bait. Because they have large mouths, they can be caught on 8/0 hooks.
The bag limit is five per angler, minimum 30cm. These fish are also fairly abundant, with the juveniles mostly in shallow water and adults in deeper water on the shelf.
They are also found in shoals and will feed on small baits of squid. They can be caught on a 3/0 hook with one small strip of squid and a luminous bead above the hook. They also make an excellent bait for red steenbras.
The bag limit is two per angler, minimum 60cm. Geelbek are so named because of the bright yellow colour inside their mouths. They are long streamlined fish and give a very hard fight to any angler. They have relatively soft mouths, though, and must be gently played so as not to rip the hook out of their mouths. Their bite is an unmistakable aggressive shake, and they often swim up with your bait, creating slack line.
These are probably the most unpredictable species in our waters as they are mostly caught for three to four months following the annual sardine run on the deeper reefs. However, they can often be caught on the shallower reefs as well and can also be caught sporadically in unexpected areas all year around. They usually move around in large shoals.
They will feed on pilchard, sliced bait and squid, but sometimes get “lockjaw” and although they can be seen on the fish finder, they cannot be enticed with any bait. Due to their large mouths 10/0 or bigger hooks can be used.
This is a banned species and must be released. Seventy-fours have become extremely abundant on most of the deeper reefs in our area and large specimens are caught on virtually every trip to the shelf without being targeted. They feed on any baits put down for other species. In my opinion the decision makers should unban this species.
The bag limit is ten per angler with no size limit. This species is better known in the Cape and Struisbaai area where relatively smaller ones appear in very large shoals each year. They are abundant and are even netted from the beaches. In our area this species is not often caught, but those that are are usually much bigger, over 10kg and even up to 20kg in size.
They are one of the strongest fighting fish in the sea, and when hooked, will run around the nearest reef to cut you off, so not many are landed. That is why heavy tackle is suggested. This species produces the most talk of the ones that got away when anglers are socialising over a cold beer and many stories of snapped 10/0 hooks will be heard.
They will take on any large bait like two or three pilchards hooked through the eye together, flappers, and mixed grills. A big luminous orange floating bead above the hook can attract them to your bait. A thick gauge hook, at least 10/0, can be used to try and land this very strong fish.
As mentioned earlier, gamefish usually only frequent our waters from November through to March each year. The most common species caught then are bonitos, with the odd yellowfin tuna also coming out.
Some skippers in the area have perfected the art of catching marlin and boast of quite a few being caught and released.
Generally, bonnies can be caught on any feather, daisy chain or lure trolled at around 14km/h.
Yellowfin also readily take this but are much scarcer.
Tareting marlin is a very specialised form of angling, but they seem to take slow-trolled live bonito.
Angling in the East London area is very exciting and rewarding due to the many species that are available to target and the vast areas that can be fished, from water less than 10m deep to over 100m deep.
Deep sea angling in this area will never become boring as after many years of angling there is still the chance you can improve on any of your personal best catches and, as time goes on, the angling just gets better.
To continue along this path and protect our heritage for future generations, please be responsible. The old saying comes to mind: “Limit your catch, don’t catch your limit.”