By Craig Stubbs
THE 22km long beautiful stretch of coastline from Umkomaas to Pennington on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast has long been renowned as a holiday haven for those who love spending time on the ocean. The area is tremendously popular with divers, shark cage enthusiasts, lovers of coastal living and – most importantly for us – anglers.
From a fishing point of view, as productive as this stretch of coastline can be, and as much as it offers in terms of reef structure and fishing opportunities, it is also a piece of water that is highly affected by environmental conditions which are often a primary factor in the success of a day’s outing.
There are some big river systems in the area, the largest being the Mkomazi River at Umkomaas and the Mpambanyoni River at Scottburgh. There are also numerous smaller blind rivers which periodically open and close.
Heavy rain inland can quickly dirty the inshore waters. A large amount of silt is deposited in the shallows by these rivers, and any large swell quickly stirs up this sediment and creates a cloud of tainted water that affects fishing.
This piece of coastline is also subject to quite a lot of varying and often heavy currents, both inshore and, even more so, on the deeper reefs.
However, it’s certainly not all doom and gloom. These conditions also contribute in a positive way to a fishery which, when it’s firing, is extremely productive from a bottom- and game fishing point of view.
The popularity of this piece of coastline is highlighted by the fact that it has four launch sites along its length. Starting from the north, there’s one at Umkomaas, Scottburgh, Rocky Bay and Pennington. Each of these launch sites is overseen by well established clubs, with both Rocky Bay and Pennington having some lovely facilities and a restaurant/bar where you can enjoy a good meal and a cold beer after fishing.
Each launch has its own idiosyncrasies, so I would encourage any visitors to this area to touch base with some of the local skippers to gain insight into the prevailing conditions and to pick up relevant launching tips before pushing into the surf.
On to the fishing … The biggest and most renowned piece of structure in this area is the Aliwal Shoal. This huge reef structure lies a few kilometres offshore between Umkomaas and Scottburgh, and from a fishing point of view it can be a gamefisher’s paradise.
The summer months are the most productive when it comes to the variety of species that can be caught there. When the conditions are good you can expect to catch dorado, tuna, king mackerel, kingfish and often surprise billfish, particularly sailfish and smaller black marlin. The winter months usually see fewer species, but that’s compensated for by the arrival of wahoo and big yellowfin tuna.
The shoal and its surrounding areas are popular with divers, shark cage operations, spearfishers, ski-boaters, and even paddle ski anglers who venture far offshore. At times the ocean here can be very busy, which means fish do get “put down” with all the activity. However, when the conditions are right, even if the fishing gets slow, it can pay dividends to “stick, stay and make it pay”, because the fishing often picks up again when traffic subsides.
Pulling lures early on can result in good action from tuna species, but I prefer fishing livebaits around the shoal, particularly small live bonito (jube-jubes). At certain times of the year they are relatively abundant, and although they’re not always easily caught, when one gets a few live bonnies, it’s the closest thing to a guaranteed bite you can get.
Fishing success at the shoal depends largely on current, and this area is most productive when the current is running north to south, often the harder the better. When this north to south current streams hard and brings with it clean, warm water, the fishing can be red hot.
Don’t be scared to fish a bit further away from the shoal, as gamefish often congregate a few hundred metres away from the structure and not directly on it.
Inshore of Aliwal is Green Point/ Clansthal. The shallower reefs between Green Point and Scottburgh can be a productive fishery for king mackerel and tuna as well as quite a few “surprise” GTs which are not specifically targeted, but are a bycatch of slow trolling livebaits.
This is not an easy area to fish, and even a few kilometres offshore the water can be rather shallow, particularly as one moves closer to Scottburgh.
Many small bottomfish species quickly devour your dead- and livebaits, even those running only a few metres below the surface. I recommend that you regularly check your baits and make sure they are in good condition.
This area used to be famous for its fair share of massive winter ’cuda (king mackerel) and, in my opinion, was one of the best places to look for that 20kg-plus ’cuda, but in recent years it hasn’t really produced that quality of fish. I put this down to the extraordinary amount of late autumn/early winter rain we have had for the last three years which has created a lot of dirty water. I believe that as these seasonal patterns change, the good fishing will return.
OUTSIDE THE SHOAL
Deeper off Scottburgh and outside the line of the shoal is a long piece of reef that breaks up and re-forms along its length. This line is colloquially referred to as “19 fathom”, and runs from there, all the way to offshore of Rocky Bay, where it forms a large piece of structure known as Landers Reef.
The 19 fathom line can be extremely productive for ’cuda and tuna species, and a host of surprises awaits in the form of wahoo, GTs and billfish.
Much the same as when fishing Aliwal Shoal, a live bonnie is first prize, but many great catches have been made on traditional live- and dead baits. When the toothy species are not around, drifting or slow trolling livebaits without wire traces is the best way to go for tuna species and dorado. Although they can be caught on wire traces, these species definitely more readily take baits without the wire.
Moving back inshore, between Scottburgh and Rocky Bay there is a lot of shallow, broken and scattered reef lying in water between 12- and 20 metres deep.
In the late summer, autumn and early winter months these shallow areas can be very productive, particularly for king mackerel.
This stretch is the preferred area for local baitfish species such as maasbanker, red eye and, at times, mackerel, so it makes sense that where the food is, the predators will be too. On days when there is a lot of bait, try to fish around it for a while before racing off to further spots; you may well be surprised at how productive the fishing can be.
The final big piece of reef in this area lies offshore between Rocky Bay and Pennington and is known as Umzimai.
Sitting on a line virtually parallel to the Aliwal Shoal and rising from around 35m of water to around 22m at its shallowest, this can be a really productive spot for all the usual suspects.
Umzimai receives less pressure than some of the other areas as it is further away, which means that you can spend a good deal of time there and wait for the fish to turn on. Drifting live baits in this area can be really good for catching yellowfin tuna.
In this article, I have focused mainly on the gamefishing available in this area as they are the primary targets for most visiting anglers. However, there are also some fantastic bottomfishing spots which yield everything from good quality red- and linefish to rockcod, mussel cracker and the odd copper steenbras.
Covering individual bottomfishing areas would be an article on its own, so if you would like to get to know some of the potential that this area has to offer from a bottomfishing perspective, I recommend joining one of the clubs in the area and, over time, getting to know the spots via some local insight and time on the water.
Other articles I have written for SKI-BOAT covering specific species will give you an idea of how to target them individually.
When it comes to bottomfishing techniques, my four-part series that appeared in the July 2021, September 2021, November 2021 and January 2022 issues of SKI-BOAT covers most aspects of bottomfishing. Reading these articles may also help shorten the learning curve for you.
MARINE PROTECTED AREA
A final note on this area: As can be seen on the accompanying map, it is home to a rather large Marine Protected Area (MPA) that extends all the way from Umzimai in the south to far beyond Aliwal Shoal in the north.
This MPA has three distinct zones, namely Green, Orange and Red, each with their own set of restrictions. With the exception of Aliwal Shoal itself, gamefishing is largely unaffected, and even on Aliwal itself, if you refrain from fishing right on top of the reef, you are in the clear.
My best advice is to visit https://www.saambr.org.za/marine-protected-areas-mpas/ which has a host of information on these MPAs and even a digital map that you can download onto your smartphone and link via Google Maps.
Also bear in mind that both Umkomaas and Scottburgh launch sites fall within MPA zones that have restrictions on what tackle you may launch with. This means that from those launch sites you may not launch with bottomfishing tackle on board even if you plan to fish outside the MPA.
See you on the water!