'Cuda cowboys show how it's done

[Originally published in the May 2022 issue of SKI-BOAT magazine]

By Justin Paynter

EASTER is done and dusted, the winner of the Durban Ski-Boat Club Festival has taken their brand new boat home, and the stories of the big one that got away still linger in the air. It’s now time to put on your jacket and beanie and brave the cooler weather as the next three months will test your hunting skills, looking for the elusive crocodile ’cuda.
Getting a fish over 20kg is a commendable achievement, but if you get a fish over 30kg, well you’ll have bragging rights up and down the coastline. You will gain instant social media creditability, your follows will jump a few places, and your name will definitely make it onto your club’s brag board.
So, what’s the big deal?
Well, the only analogy that comes to mind is like watching Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton going head to head on the final race of the 2021 season. Just when you think it’s done and dusted and your trip was uneventful and a big zip is on the score sheet, all hell breaks loose.
Your rod is doubled over and your reel is screaming louder than Max’s car on the final straight. As you glance down, the spool is getting smaller and smaller (just like Lewis in Max’s rear view mirror) and 300m of line has been dumped into the Indian Ocean. Screams of “I’m getting spooled!” echo around the boat as your crew scurry to clear lines, turn the vessel and try to gain some line back.
This is the moment we live for. That moment that nothing else matters —where you zone out, the world slows down and you feel that immense weight of a fish on the end of your line. All your focus is now on ensuring that you convert that pull into an IDB (in da boat).
Hunting these big fish is not an easy task, and in most cases your tactics, preparation, traces and area will differ from your normal summer ’cuda game plan. In saying that, it is not impossible to get a 30kg fish off the fence on the Bluff or Number 1 on a standard ’cuda trace, But when you’re going out to target these monsters specifically, things do change.
Hopefully some of the tips below will increase your success rate as we move into crocodile hunting season.

North of the Durban port: Scavengers (40–50m) (Mapelane); Patinga (20–25m) (Richards Bay); Mtunzini High Points (35–50m); Zinkwazi Shallow (18–25m); Zinkwazi High Points (40– 50m); PG also known as Prince’s Grant (18–30m).
South of Durban harbour: Windy corner (16–30m); Hibberdene (16–30m); Scottburgh (18–30m); Sikombe (16–24m)
These areas are renowned for big fish during the autumn into early winter months.
These spots are well kept secrets and all information of what is coming out is kept highly confidential and well guarded by the locals. However, as soon as one decent fish is caught it goes viral on all fishing groups within minutes, and it is only a matter of time before you are able to make an educated guess of where that fish was caught and get confirmation that the bigger fish have arrived.
These areas all have their own type of fishing styles. Some you slow troll or drift over your GPS marks, others you are required to put pick and fish out the back of your boat with balloons. Guys often tend to bottomfish to create activity near their baits which is said to bring in the inquisitive crocodile ’cuda.
It is very simple to figure how to fish an area when you arrive. If most of the boats are trolling, then you really have to do the same. Throwing anchor on the trolling line of the other boats is not really the gentlemanly thing to do.
No matter which area you choose to fish, patience is key. It is highly unlikely that you going to get a fish over 30kg as soon as you arrive. Hours and hours can go by without you getting a pull, but you can lure the fish in by bottomfishing, using a flasher or a chum bag, and the next moment you’re on. You can’t get disheartened if you blank; that is the nature of this type of fishing — high effort plus patience equals high reward.

This is a fiercely debated question and one that will always give rise to different opinions. It always brings me back to the question of: “Why are the paddle ski guys so successful?” The answer is something I have tried and tested and it works — quality dead bait.
Most of the guys in the know like Paul Nixon, Roscoe Rautenbach and Adam Waites will try for livebait, but if they don’t manage, they will have quality dead bait. These dead baits include bonnies, walla walla and mackerel. The theory is simple: the bigger the bait, the bigger the fish.
Yes, livebait is great, but being able to rig a dead bait properly with a Pulsator chin weight and some decent VMC trebles down its side, will get any big fish excited. Remember, these fish are big and are just cruising looking for an easy meal. Throwing a live mackerel in the water and asking a 30kg plus ’cuda to chase it around the water might cause the fish to lose interest due to the effort that’s needed to catch that bait. However, if a nicely rigged walla walla which is doing the hula hula gets pulled slowly past its face, it’s game on!
Again, you can’t disregard livebait; you need to have a variety to ensure you have what they are looking for.
Livebait of choice: Bonnie, mackerel, shad, mozzie, razor belly and seapike.
Dead bait of choice: Bonnie, walla walla and mackerel.

Rods and reels for your normal gamefishing application or normal ’cuda fishing is perfect for this sort of fishing. My preference is the Daiwa boat rod/ Dorado Ski or ’Cuda light paired with a Saltist 40H.
The most important thing when it comes to the rod and reel combo, is to ensure you have enough line on your reel. Don’t go to a gun fight with a cap gun; you will be looking for trouble.
I have recently started using Maxima Tuna blue 10kg line and have been very impressed with it. However, I also have two reels spooled with Maxima Ultra green 12kg line. You can’t go wrong with it; it’s honestly bullet proof in my eyes. What makes it so good is the way it disappears in the water and its durability.  Some guys will fish this line straight to the swivel of their ’cuda trace with no leader. No matter what your preference, make sure you are well spooled.

Deadbait traces for mackerel and walla walla

As I mentioned in previous articles, I usually use about 3/4 size wire in front and 4/5 between the hooks when ’cuda fishing. When targeting these big fish, however, I would go 4/5 as lead wire and 5/6 between the hooks because the mouth and teeth of these fish are a lot bigger than those of a teenage ’cuda and it gives you more peace of mind.
I like to fish with as much finesse as possible, but sometimes you need to be more practical if you want to land the fish.

Bonnie dead bait trace:
No 6 swivel
4/5 wire in front
Pulsator Live Glow/Pink or Pink Yamashita duster
Pulsator chin weight 1.5 ounce or 2 ounce depending on size
5/6 wire between hooks
two VMC treble hooks
One hook should be positioned just behind the dorsal fin and the other close to the tail. Positioning of hooks can either be done on the top, side or bottom of bait; that is personal preference.
No matter where I position the hooks, I like to pin them in place to stop them from moving or falling out. I do the same with the Pulsator chin weight, and I believe this has increased my conversion rate.

Rigged walla walla bait fitted with duster, chin weight and multiple treble hooks.

Walla walla dead bait trace:
No 6 swivel
4/5 wire in front
Pulsator Live Glow/Pink or Pink Yamashita duster
Pulsator chin weight 0.5 ounce depending on size, or I will use a no 1 front hook
5/6 wire between hooks
4- 6 VMC treble hooks down the side of the bait; the number of hooks depends on the length of the bait. Because it is a thin bait, I won’t pin them into the bait.

Rigged mackerel bait fitted with duster, chin weight and multiple treble hooks.

Mackerel dead bait trace:
No 6 swivel
4/5 wire in front
Pulsator Live Glow/Pink or Pink Yamashita duster or green bead
Pulsator chin weight 0.5- to 1.5 ounce depending on size
5/6 wire between hooks
Two VMC treble hooks, one positioned just behind the dorsal fin and the other close to the tail.

Livebait trace.

Livebait trace:
No 6 swivel
4/5 wire in front
Pulsator Live Glow/Pink or Pink Yamashita duster or green bead
5 wire between hooks (I won’t go more as I want the bait to have a natural action, and the thicker the wire, the less chance there is of this.)
One No 1–3 single hook in the nostrils of the livebait.
One No 2 treble VMC or a single No 4/5. If the bait is bigger, I would use two back hooks, similar to the dead bait trace.

• Be prepared and do your homework.
• Don’t be put off by the water colour; these predators are often caught in dirty water.
• If the bite is slow, scale down on the wire or use a purple Pulsator duster.
• Have patience and persevere.
• Don’t be afraid to blank; it happens.
Thank you to one of my good mates and Vice Commodore of Durban Ski-Boat Club, Robbie Loumeau, on the boat Vaai Dalla for the pictures of Warren Jensen and Kyle Loumeau. Robbie has put in the time hunting big fish and has been rewarded with two early season fish.
Now you have all the information you require, and just need to add water and get busy catching…

• Feel free to follow Justin on Instagram: jt_paynter

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