Trolling tactics for ’cuda

[Originally published in the March 2023 issue of SKI-BOAT magazine]

By Justin Paynter

GAMEFISH anglers eagerly looking out for the arrival of ’cuda are like young, over-excited children on a long car journey, asking every five minutes: “Are we there yet? Are we there yet, Dad?” The anticipation of the arrival of probably one of the most exciting fish to catch is almost unbearable.
Designed like a sniper’s bullet, ’cuda get the heart pumping at a rate of knots when they take your bait and your reel explodes into song. The only way to explain the sound is like an F1 car changing gears as it accelerates out of a corner into the home straight. Not much will beat a ’cuda pull.
This article is a two-part story detailing how to target these speedsters off a fishing platform using different techniques like drifting, trolling and fishing on anchor. I will also refer back to other articles where we’ve already covered other aspects like traces etc.

Each fishing platform has its pros and cons, but you need to ensure that whichever platform you use works for you and that it is well equipped.
So, what do we need? Well, firstly, we need a powered seaworthy vessel.  These range from a paddleski, small boat (either a rubber duck or ski-vee big enough for you and a mate) or jetski up to a ski-boat where you can take on multiply crew members.
Your chosen vessel should be fitted with a fishfinder, GPS, autopilot, rod holders and, if space allows, a livewell but that’s not compulsory. Most anglers underestimate how important the fishfinder and GPS are on a boat.  Going fishing — especially gamefishing — without a proper unit is like going fishing without fishing rods.
Human beings amaze me, often spending money on the wrong things.  For example, we will buy the cheapest bed even though we spend half our life on it, or the cheapest tyres on our car even though they are what keeps us on the road. The same goes for fishfinders and GPS units.
Next time you go to the washbay, have a look — there will be boats with multiple rod and reel setups worth thousands upon thousands, but they will have a three-inch black and white fishfinder that looks like an old Nintendo Game Boy. It’s all well and good having the rods and reels, but without a proper unit, you are wasting your time.
I have been fortunate to fish with many outstanding anglers, and the one thing I have taken away from them is the importance of a good fishfinder and GPS. Byron Kane and Robbie Loumeau are two guys who use their Lowrance machines to their full potential, and the proof is in the pudding.
Auto pilot is a must if you can afford it, because it allows you to ensure you are able to successfully troll over your selected waypoints. It also allows you to set baits and clear lines while your crew member is fighting his fish as the boat continues to steer itself. It’s an absolute game changer. Just remember that an autopilot can only be used on a vessel with a fixed steering system.
Rod holders are just as important as fishfinders. I know this from first-hand experience, as I lost a rod and reel off Seabelle on the KZN north coast when I placed the wrong rod in the wrong holder. Don’t underestimate the power of insurance either. Thank goodness, I was insured by Club Marine, and they ensured my claim was handled swiftly.
Situating rod holders at different angles on a vessel has different advantages. Time and time again I go back to to paddleski fishing where the guys tend to get good quality fish consistently. If you have a look at their trolling rod holder positions, they sit at a 50-degree angle. I believe that their paddle stroke and the upright position of the rod allows the baits to flutter up and down in the water, creating activity for inquisitive ’cuda to investigate. I have tried this theory out on my rubber duck, and I have had huge success.
I also like to have a 90 degree stand up rod holder with a bait far out.
Traditionally on ski-boats guys used to lay their rods down at a 90-degree angle from the boat so that they almost looked like wings on an airplane. This was obviously very successful, and the old salts would insist that was the only position to fish for ’cuda, but again, what works for some doesn’t work for others.
In an ideal world, when trolling for these fish, I would suggest having two flat lines, one in the T-Top or stand-up holder, and another two in an angled rod holder at 50 degree.
And finally, the livebait well.
Anyone who owns a boat will say it’s a necessity, but dead bait works just as well as livebait. If you know how to rig a dead bait properly using those deadly Pulsator chin weights, I wouldn’t even waste my time catching livebait — I would run straight to Umdloti and be the first boat there.

When trolling for these speed bream, there are many helpful tips that can assist your hook up rate.

What is the correct trolling speed? That depends on the vessel or fishing platform you are fishing on.
When trolling livebait, I like to pull the baits at between 1.5 and 2.5 km/h. This is tricky, though, as current and wind are huge factors.
Your rule of thumb is to ensure that your baits swim perfectly next to the boat before you drop them down to your desired depth. They must be able to move freely and not look like they are being dragged. If this is the case, you will end up drowning your baits. If you put a livebait in the water and it spins or starts to pop out on the surface, you are trolling too fast.
To ensure that you get the desired speed, you can try the following:
• Put one motor just in gear, and the other engine switched off).
• If you have new engines, some have a function (troll mode) that allows you to drop your revs to ensure a slower trolling speed.
• If you are trolling too fast, you might have to change the pitch of your props as your props are incorrect (normally the case).
• You can also play with your trim and tilt.
• If you still aren’t winning, click the boat into gear and then out. This will allow you to maintain a certain speed but also allow your baits to drop and then flutter up once you engage your engine again. This normally entices a bite, as it mimics a fishing ski action.
• You can also run up to the top of your marks and drift down.

Where to troll?
All the recent “Where to Fish” articles in the last few issues of SKI-BOAT will give you a good starting point in most parts of the country, so choose the areas you want to fish. For the purposes of this article I am going to refer to Umdloti.
When I set out ’cuda fishing I will arrive at Umdloti and look at the water colour and quality. I will also check the water temperature; a temp of 23°C is good, but anything from 24 upwards and you’re really in the game.
A good sign is also to see where the fishing skis are congregated.
Once I’m in the area I will stop the boat and see which way the current is moving.
I judge that by watching my GPS and the direction in which I am drifting. This will give me a good indication of where my starting point should be — either at “Selections” or the big bricks “chain pool”.
Once I have determined where I’ll be starting, I then start to get my rods ready. I like to start about 600m from my first mark. This gives me more than enough time to set the rods and get ready for action.

Rod setup and bait setup
I like to fish with four rods. This gives me the opportunity to fish all the different depths and maximise the opportunity of a screaming reel.

Rod 1:
• T-Top rod (standing upright)
• Bait choice would be a live mozzie or a dead mackerel with a green bead trace
• 50 m behind the boat.
• This is always the first rod I put out, because once it’s out, it’s out the way and you are then able to place your downrigged baits.

Rod 2:
• Flat line left (like an airplane wing)
• Bait choice would be a live mozzie/ mackerel/shad or a dead mackerel with a pink Pulsator duster.
• I will use a number 8 or 10 sinker.  While the boat is in gear, I will let the sinker hit the bottom and then wind up five times.
The heavy sinker is to keep the bait as close to the bottom as possible.
• Don’t put the sinker too close to the bait; I would place it about 5- to 7m from the bait.
• Use a thin elastic to attach the sinker, as it is easier to break.

Rod 3:
• Flat line right (like an airplane wing)
• Bait choice would be a live mozzie/ mackerel/bonnie/shad or a dead mackerel/bonnie with a live glow Pulsator duster.
• Again I will use a number 8 or 10 sinker with the same proviso as above.

Rod 4:
• Rod placed between the engines, either positioned at a 45-degree angle or flat.
• Bait choice would be a dead walla walla with a number 3 or 4 sinker.
• The sinker on this bait should be positioned 10m from the bait.

Secret weapon: Flasher
Flashers were first used by spearfishermen who used to drop them to entice the gamefish to come closer to see what was happening before they shot the fish.
Deep-sea anglers have cottoned on to this and now flashers, like the one below, are a must on any boat. A well known Zululand angler, Patat De Jager, makes a deadly flasher called “teasers flasher”.
A flasher is normally used out the back of the boat, about 10m out, placed in between the engines or on the downrigger. I guarantee that your “pull” rate will increase if you use one of these, but getting the fish past the sharks and landing it is another story.

Not having a downrigger is like owning a bakkie without a tow hitch; a downrigger is a must. If you see a boat arriving at the washbay with a downrigger on, you know he means business and 9/10 he knows what he’s doing.
This piece of equipment is not cheap, but it allows you to get your baits into the zone. Your fishfinder shows you where the fish are sitting, and the downrigger has a depth counter on it, so you lower it down to the desired depth and hope there’s a hungry ’cuda waiting.

How to troll:
So, we have it all ready — the rig, the best baits, downrigger, a teaser flasher, and we’re at Umdloti — now what?
1. Determine your starting point. I love the 18m line off Umdloti and I tend to troll parallel to the land along the 18m line and then, when I make my turn and head back, I tend to go on the 22m line.
2. Always go with the current to start with.
3. Set the rods.
4. Put your boat in gear, and head towards your marks.
5. Watch the finder for showings, and if you see lots of showings hit the MOB (Man Over Board) sign and ensure you go over that mark on your way back up.
6. As stated earlier, I usually fish the line parallel to the shore, following the contour lines and the marks I have. If you don’t have any success that way, try zigzagging across the different depths. This means going shallow (towards land) to around 16m, and then going (out to sea) to around 26m.
7. These fish eat at a certain depth, so once you have located them, then stay on that depth, working the area.
8. ’Cuda also tend to only eat one way— either into the current or against it. You need to pay careful attention to depth and the direction in which you were travelling when you get a strike. Often a boat will get a pull and then move off from the area. Remember, you are hunting, so figure out the pattern and, once you have, rather do sharper turns and move over the area where the fish are located than travelling hundreds of metres away and pulling your baits in a dead zone.
As I always say, time on the water, being in the right place at the right time, and ensuring your tackle is 100% ready will increase your chances of catching. However, what works for me, might not work for another angler, so be prepared to try your own variations on these tactics in your favourite hunting grounds.
In the next issue I’ll share tips on fishing for ’cuda while drifting or on anchor.

For further info on ’cuda fishing look at Justin’s articles in the July 2021, January 2022, March 2022 and May 2022 issues of SKI-BOAT.

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