The Daga Dance

Where and how to catch dusky kob

[Originally published in the July/August 2022 issue of Ski-Boat magazine]

By Craig Stubbs
WHEN it comes to these beautiful silver-sided slabs, aka daga, we have two distinct fisheries on the east coast of South Africa for the large growing, and strikingly beautiful dusky kob. The first is the inshore (rock and surf) and estuarine fishery, and the second, and the one we are going to focus on here, is the deep sea offshore/ski-boat fishery.
The daga salmon is a migratory species that makes its way into our local waters at the onset of winter and stays here until late in spring, peaking in abundance rather inconsistently during that period.
Like most fish species that we target from our ski-boats, there are periods when they feed strongly and with vigour, and there are days/nights when, for no apparent reason, either the fish simple aren’t there or they refuse to feed.
You will notice that I said “day/night”, and if you are familiar with the offshore daga fishery, you will know that the majority of daga are caught in the hours of darkness off our coast. This doesn’t mean that they cannot be caught during the day, but the night is when the daga really wake up and feed aggressively.
This means you have one of two options — you can either upgrade your vessel and skipper’s ticket to one that gives you a night rating, or make friends with a fellow angler/skipper who has the required vessel and operator’s certificate. Fortunately a lot of skippers who are night rated are often looking for reliable crew, so if you want to try your hand at catching a daga at night, put the word out at your local club. If you do get an invite, I have two pieces of advice — dress warmly and offer to share costs as fishing and running a boat is fast becoming a very expensive exercise.
If you are confined to only fishing in the day for them, fear not, as they can be caught relatively consistently during daylight hours, it just requires a little more perseverance and patience.

Craig Stubbs with a daga which ate a live mackerel on the first drop of the day.

Let’s take a look at where we find daga, and this applies to both day time and night time fishing. They are extremely structure-orientated fish, and love caves, rocky overhangs, wrecks and man-made structure such as deep water pipe work etc, in water of between 20- and 38 fathoms deep (40- to 70m). They use these caves and big structures to hide out, often in large schools, seldom moving away from this structure unless it’s to actively feed.
It’s therefore logical that if you want to tempt a daga into feeding, you need to present your bait accurately into that area and keep it there for as long as possible. This definitely favours the angler who has the knowledge and skill to deploy and fish on anchor. I’ve previously written on familiarising one’s self with anchoring and the deployment thereof, so if you are still unsure, please refer back to that article in the January 2022 issue of SKI-BOAT and give it a go.
A friendly warning: make sure you are well familiar and rehearsed with the techniques during daylight hours before you try it at night when the darkness presents a further challenge to the process.

When it comes to targeting daga on anchor, accuracy undoubtedly equals success. If you miss your mark by only a dozen metres or so, you can end up fishless.
I’ve seen it many times before, when anglers on a boat that is on the mark consistently have their rods bending with fish, while those anchored nearby go fishless. There is little one can do in this case, as trying to re-anchor in traffic can be dangerous and cause unnecessary disturbances, so one just needs to be patient and hope the fish move along the reef and closer to your baits.
However, if you are alone on a reef and miss your mark with your first anchor drop, it’s often worth the effort to lift anchor, recalculate your drop and make sure you hit your mark as close as possible.
Sometimes it makes sense to do a “test drop” before dropping anchor. This entails having an angler on board ready with rod, reel and bait who goes down while you nudge the controls in and out of gear to hold the boat in position. If the test drop leads to a bite, then get that anchor set as soon as possible and take advantage of the feeding fish.
As they are large, shoaling fish, daga often show up relatively easily on modern fishfinder screens. When you arrive at your chosen fishing location, sound the area extensively until you locate showings.
If your sounding reveals absolutely nothing, rather take a drive to another nearby reef and sound that area too looking for signs of fish, as the shoals of daga will move from reef to reef as they seek out prey and cover.
The contra to this is if you are fishing a reef or manmade structure (pipework/wreck) that has a known, large cave or overhang. In this case you will not see the fish as they may be concealed within this structure, but you will need to be extremely accurate with your anchoring technique to drop baits as close as possible to where you expect the fish to be.

Now that we know a little above where to find these fish, what tackle and baits are best?
Tackle wise, I have two daga outfits that I rely on. The first is my standard slow to medium action glass bottom fishing rod, KP reel and 100 lb braid with a 1mm leader, and the second is a slightly lighter outfit, with 50 lb braid and a .70mm leader.
When the daga are feeding well, the standard outfit is my go-to, but when they are biting shyly, or when you are sure they are there but you are battling to tempt one, the lighter outfit is worth trying to see if you can’t convince a fish to feed.

Trace wise, keep things simple. On my standard rig I use a large three-way swivel, sinker snoot of 2- to 3m of .70mm line and a 2m hook snoot of 1mm mono straight to either a large circle or J-hook. On my lighter rig, I will step down the breaking strain of my hook snoot, sometimes as light as 0.70mm flourocarbon in an attempt to be as inconspicuous as possible and tempt that bite.
The above trace can also be configured into a sliding trace, by independently tying your hook and sinker snoots onto 2-way power swivels, and feeding your main line through the sinker line swivel and then tying your hook snoot swivel directly to the end of your main line. This allows your main line and hook free movement without the hindrance of the sinker. However, the simplicity of the three-way swivel rig, is as effective for me and remains my go to.
Without a doubt, my favourite hook for daga fishing is a 10/0 Mustad Kendal Round. The daga has a huge mouth and the wide gape of the Kendal Round hardly misses. Should you wish to fish a circle hook, just make sure that you rig your baits in a way that keeps the majority of the shank/gape of the hook free to do its work.
In terms of trace variation, I will often toy with my sinker snoot and hook snoot lengths, going as much as a 5m long sinker snoot to raise my bait higher above the reef, or a long hook snoot (particularly with a live bait) with my normal length sinker snoot to allow the bait more freedom of movement.
Just be aware of those on the boat who are fishing with you, as the longer you make your hook snoot, the more likely tangles will be. It’s best to restrict that trick to those times when you are just fishing with two anglers on board and are fishing relatively far away from one another on the boat.
Another trace variation is to try a two-hook rig, with a 1.5m sinker snoot and two 1- to 1.5m hook snoots connected via three-way swivels. This works well to deploy a dead bait along with a live bait.

Bait wise, one bait consistently outfishes the rest, and that is a live mackerel; to me it remains the king of the daga baits. Other live baits to try include shad, larger mozzies and even a seapike should you be battling to get any other liveys.
Take your time getting live baits as the extra effort can often make the difference between fish or no fish.
Should you not be able to get your hands on live baits, then Natal sardines are effective as dead baits, along with large fresh fillet baits (filleted flanks of soldier), or even a dead pinky.
As mentioned above, when fishing a two-hook rig, a mix of live- and dead bait works well, with a dead sardine on the bottom hook, and a live bait suspended above. The extra scent of the sardine can prove effective to luring the daga out of structure and onto your baits.
Daga can be incredibly sensitive feeders, with a soft and barely discernible bite as they “prick” your baits, often leaving conspicuous bite marks in your baits. This can leave you scratching your head and can test your angling skills to the limit.
In contrast, when they are feeding aggressively their bite is insane and there are times when they pull you straight down, virtually pulling the rod out of your hands.
It’s a great feeling reeling into and connecting to a good daga. They fight well, particularly close to the bottom, shaking their heads and bodies and bouncing the rod tip hard, meaning plenty of grunting and backwinding until the initial flurry is under control. Take it slow at the start of the fight and keep pressure on, because once you have turned a fish, then the battle is half over.
It’s a beautiful sight to see a large daga explode on the surface once the fight is over, and they are truly impressive denizens of the deep.

One final note: The dusky kob is under severe pressure both from angling and habitat destruction. Breeding grounds have come under huge pressure, meaning less spawning and less suitable habitat for young fish to grow and replenish stocks, so please make sure you stick to the bag limits.
Daily bag limit: One per person per day if caught from the shore and in estuaries east of Cape Agulhas. Five per person per day if caught west of Cape Agulhas or if caught anywhere from a boat offshore.
Minimum size limit: 60cm total length if caught from the shore and in estuaries east of Cape Agulhas; 40cm total length (KZN) and 50cm total length (EC & WC) if caught from a boat offshore or from the shore west of Cape Agulhas. Only one kob greater than 110cm total length may be caught per person per day regardless of area or sector.

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