By Jono Booysen
RICHARDS Bay is a very popular fishing destination, and for good reason. This area has a bit of a reputation for being a difficult place to find fish, but when you do find them, they are often of trophy size.
I agree with this sentiment, even after calling the area home for nearly my whole life. One of the difficulties is that the area is vast, and fishing spots are not in close proximity to one another. This is where a well thought out gameplan is essential for the day to be successful.
Focusing not only on the target species, but also on the area I intend to hone in on, significantly improves my success rate. By having a good idea of what “Plan A” is, you can have a few contingency plans for backup.
Other things to consider when looking at where to fish off Richards Bay might seem obvious, but are really important…
• Check weather forecasts, as there is nothing worse than running 40km north only to get caught in a 30 knot south-westerly buster.
• Try to find out what the current is doing. You can ask around, check a few apps or simply look at which directions the ships are lying at anchor (if there is not too much wind affecting this).
• Water colour can affect my decision of where to fish, so if there has been a lot of rain or the north-easterly wind has blown for a while, ask the regulars what they have seen.
Once you have done your homework on conditions, you need to make a call on where to go.
Regardless of what area I decide to fish, I always first look for a good supply of live bait. To me a reliable bait spot is way more important than any fishing spot. Often these bait spots are themselves some of the best fishing spots but are overlooked by those solely focused on bait fishing.
1 Mapelane Pinnacle
2 Mapelane Ledge
3 Dingos, Scavenger, Potatoe, Buddies
5 50m Ledge [north] 6 Nhlabane Pinnacle
11 South Pier
12 Arm Mans
14 Small High Point
18 Danies, Edwards, Pats, Gerries
19 Marlin Ledge
20 High Point
Lighthouse Ledge 2828600 03247000
Scavenger 2828900 03227300
Mapelane Pinnacle South 2830600 03224700
Buddies 2836300 03223700
Hlobane Pinnacle 2840700 03216000
Scavenger 2841200 03233200
Kasteel North 2842500 03220300
Groenkop Snoek 2844900 03210900
Groenkop Snoek 2845000 03210900
DRUKGANG 2845600 03224600
Kasteel South 2846000 03218100
Pipeline 2848600 03207900
Pipeline 2848700 03208100
Pipeline 2848700 03208200
Pipeline 2848800 03208700
Arm mans 2852600 03203500
Len 2854000 03207400
Patingo 2857700 03202300
Sml High Point 2858000 03209500
32m 2859700 03202000
32m 2859900 03203700
Danies 2902500 03201300
High Point 2909300 03202900
Pats 2904300 03147500
Edwards 2904800 03146100
Gerries 2905400 03144600
My go-to bait spots are mostly close to the harbour. This allows me to get bait and then decide if I am going north, south or east. On the northern side of the harbour entrance, just off the short pier, there is a yellow marker buoy indicating the presence of an old wreck. This buoy often holds bait. Failing that, a few hundred metres outside the harbour, just to the south, there is a wave rider buoy that yields great results on its day.
The most popular bait area has to be the “pipe”. This is the effluent/sewer line running out off the coast. As with most underwater structures, it is a magnet for bait. I find the best area is at the end of the pipe. Just sound around until you find the showings or head to the small clusters of boats that have already found the bait. Not only is the pipe a great bait spot, it is also THE place to be when the daga salmon make an appearance in winter months. The size of these fish gives the Breede River a run for its money, with many 45kg-plus daga landed there.
Other good bait spots include “Len” which is in the middle of the ship waiting area, about 8km east of the harbour in roughly 40m of water. Most shallow reefs will have some kind of small fish species that can be used as bait, so don’t be shy to send a sabiki down whenever you see a good showing.
Now that the livebait is sorted, we can focus on something a bit more substantial.
As mentioned before, the fishing spots are a fair distance apart, so it’s better to make a call whether to go north or south and stick to that decision. I will be mentioning a few good areas between Mapelane lighthouse in the north and Mtunzini in the south.
Mapelane Lighthouse is roughly 40km north of the Richards Bay harbour. In the shallows, from Lighthouse Bay to the Jolly Rubino wreck, the Natal snoek (queen mackerel) can often be found in plague proportions. Mixed in with them are the usual backline species such as GTs, blacktip kingfish and the odd queenfish or prodigal son. I’ve also managed to catch quite a few silkies (wolf herring) in this area which are dynamite big baits for fishing the deeper water in the same area.
The “Mapelane pinnacle” has been regarded as one of THE gamefish destinations in this area for anglers and spearos alike. This pinnacle comes up from 30m to 11m and is home to good numbers of ’cuda, which are the main focus on this reef.
You never know what you might encounter in this area as good hauls of tuna species (yellowfin and kawa kawa), wahoo and sailfish occur regularly. Unfortunately, the sharks have also become privy to this spot, and it can be near impossible to get your fish out whole when the sharks are hungry.
If the pinnacle is not producing, there is an option to head out deeper to one of my favourite deep water gamefish spots: the ledge.
The name refers to the ridge in roughly 50m of water that runs along the entire Natal coastline. To find it, travel east until you see the depth come up from ±55m to 47m and then back to deeper water. This ledge runs roughly north to south, so it’s relatively easy to find.
Fish use this ledge as a highway to travel along. Littered along the ledge are a few high spots that are popular areas to fish and I will mention a few of them in the Richards Bay reaches.
The ledge near Mapelane includes places such as “Scavenger”, “Dingo’s”, “Potato” and “Buddy’s”. Many large ’cuda have been taken on these marks and the area remains a very special place to fish.
Other species such as dorado, sailfish, wahoo, tuna and marlin also patrol this ledge, not to mention the good number of bottomfish. Please note that there is a green zone from Mapelane Lighthouse heading north where bottomfishing is prohibited, so make sure you don’t fish illegally.
For the marlin fishermen, in the 1 000m deep area, there’s a spot known as “The Kitchen”. It is known for having produced good numbers of blue- and striped marlin as well as some of the large yellowfin tuna that sporadically make an appearance.
Hlobane and Dawsons are about 30km north of the harbour. Here you will find the water colour changes to become a lot cleaner due to the prevailing currents. Again, the 50m ledge is a go-to spot for dorado, wahoo and black marlin, with the odd sailfish in the mix.
Hlobane pinnacle, in 23m of water, used to be a great spot but lost popularity for some unknown reason. I have had some success there with ’cuda and queenfish. The spearos also get good mixed bags here when the clean water moves over the pinnacle.
During the winter months into early spring, the backline can be a great place to fish. GTs, Natal snoek and garrick move into the shallows chasing baitfish. Look for rips and current/plankton lines that will hold the baitfish. If you see large, surface-feeding fish in the scum lines, they are most probably milkfish (Chanos chanos) so don’t get too despondent when they don’t eat the lures you throw at them.
Also off this area is the well knows marlin area called the “Drukgang”. It is the area found between Dawsons and south of Hlobane in about 500- to 600m. The 180m to 250m depth drop off Hlobane is quite steep, so it’s worth spending some time there pulling lures for marlin.
As a result of the good structure, the deep water bottomfishing is also really good if the current is not too strong.
Roughly 15km north of the harbour, we start getting into the big Natal snoek territory. This landmark is known as “Groenkop”, named after the highest vegetated dune in the area. Every year the small baitfish gather here and attract Natal snoek, ’cuda and tuna. Look for the birds and clusters of boats between 10m and 25m and you should find the fish.
If the shallows are not producing, again, the ledge is a great alternative. The high spot off this section of the coast is called “Kasteel”. It is, in my opinion, an underrated spot and has produced many ’cuda, yellowfin tuna, dorado, wahoo and sailfish. For some or other reason, the average size of the ’cuda on this section of the ledge tends to be less than 15kg.
Groenkop is often used as a final “Plan Z” on the way home from a fruitless day’s marlin fishing but has, on several occasions, delivered the goods with a black marlin or sailfish. I have also had some great bottomfishing off the deeper edge of the reef.
The last area that is worth a mentioning here lies just north of the harbour. It’s a great marlin fishing area with a steep dropoff from 200m to 450m. Commonly known by locals as “Jackpot”, it produces blues and stripeys that are attracted to the upwelling caused by the dog-leg shape of the contours.
The closest, and probably the most popular fishing spot is the harbour itself. More specifically, the south side of the channel, up to and including the South Pier, produces some of the best garrick fishing on the KZN north coast. Several world records have been caught within a stone’s throw of the harbour wall.
One of my favourite little spots is “Small Highpoint”. It’s a single pinnacle on the 50m ledge just deeper than the ships’ waiting area. Being so isolated, it acts like an oasis for baitfish, which in turn attracts predatory fish. The pinnacle often teems with small jube-jubes, and rigging them live produces wahoo, ’cuda, amberjack and GTs. As with most pinnacles that hold jube-jubes, the marlin are never far behind.
During the winter months this is a great place to stock up on bait to target big Richards Bay ’cuda.
The bottomfishing in this area can also be great, especially when the geelbek stack up there.
The map alongside this article shows three deep-water pinnacles in over 1 000m of water. This area is known as “The Berge” and has produced many big tuna and blue marlin.
When I’m in the area and am fishing for marlin, I personally prefer fishing for marlin a bit shallower than that and tend to concentrate on the steep dropoff from 200 to 400m that runs for several kilometres to the south. For the old school marlin anglers who still fish live bait, it’s a great option to get liveys off Small Highpoint and then work that ledge.
Heading south, we enter the zone of the infamous “crocodile” (aka 30kg-plus ’cuda). The area from New Mouth/Mhlatuze Lagoon all the way past Mtunzini has produced countless trophy fish.
The first spot, “Arm mans” or “Callies Reef” was made popular by Callie Peens who caught a 39kg and 43kg ’cuda there over the years. It is still a great area to fish for bottomfish and put out a trapstick on the surface.
Patingo wreck is probably the most well-known spot in this area for big ’cuda. Lying 18km south of the harbour, it has been responsible for the vast majority of 30kg-plus crocodiles caught around here. As with most of this region, it fishes best in the week or late afternoon when most boats head home. It is a small area, so it gets crowded quickly, especially when one boat puts the anchor down.
If the water conditions are not great or if there is too much boat traffic, 4km to the south-east is an area called “32m”. It refers to a large zone with scattered reef in 30- to 34m depths. The 32m area stretches south towards Mtunzini and includes well known reefs such as “Danies”, “Gerries”, “Pats” and “Edwards”. These are great places to anchor up and fish for bottomfish. At the same time, put your ’cuda baits out as you stand a great chance of getting a pull from a proper ’cuda.
The last spot that has to be mentioned is the Mtunzini High Point, 44km from the harbour. This is one of those magical spots on the 50m ledge that is a gamefisherman’s dream when the conditions are right. It is also the one deep water location where the big ’cuda like to hang out.
Similar to “Small Highpoint”, the jube-jubes are abundant and rigging one live is a sure-fire way of getting connected to any number of big gamefish that abound there.
In summary, Richards Bay has good reason for being a popular fishing destination. It has all the onshore amenities as well as excellent fishing all year round, offering anglers access to everything from 1 000 lb billfish to trophy size gamefish and bottomfish. There is also that great feeling of satisfaction when you return to port with a good haul knowing that you have managed to figure out some of the secrets of this great location.