Tongaat to Tugela, KZN

[Originally published in the March/April 2024 issue of SKI-BOAT magazine]

by James and Dylan Westoby
WE are truly blessed with great fishing spots north of Durban, although our seas can be challenging at times with surf launching and the renowned big “shorey”. Unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of a sheltered or harbour launch site, so we cannot get out as much as we would like to and hence our fishing days are restricted, but the silver lining is that this restricted access is Mother Nature’s way of conserving our reefs.
We have been launching and fishing out of Tinley Manor for many years and are happy to share some of our experiences on where to fish between Tongaat and the Tugela, as well as share some advice on tactics for this area. It’s amazing how techniques can vary from one place to the next.
One always should always be mindful of conditions – surf, tides, current, water temperature, colour of water, current etc. – before deciding on the day’s plan of action. Fortunately our weather apps nowadays help us pick our preferred fishing days well in advance.
Fishing has many variables which, I guess, is what makes it so interesting as there are seldom two days which are exactly the same. Being in tune with the elements is essential, not only from a fishing point of view but also from a safety point of view. We generally try to avoid launching on a spring high tide as the shorey is such a big factor in that area. We also prefer fishing a pushing tide, so that will sometimes influence the timing of our launch.
Like with any area, you’ll target different fish at different times of the year. We have a broad spectrum of gamefish and bottomfish we can target and this can sometimes cause a lot of indecisiveness when it comes to preparing tackle ahead of a fishing trip. You have to have a gameplan the night before and be prepared to be flexible if need be.
The general perception has always been that we target pelagic gamefish in summer and bottomfish in winter, but that’s definitely not always the case. It’s usually a big point of discussion on the beach before launching and is always interesting listening to the conversations. Sometimes our plan will be to head straight out into the deep to target dorado, but then we hear that the snoek were wild inshore the previous day and we begin frantically rummaging for snoek traces and spoons in the dark.
The gamefish we generally target on this stretch of the North Coast are ’cuda (king mackerel), dorado, yellowfin tuna, Natal snoek and garrick. We also target bottomfish such as daga salmon, geelbek, musselcracker, rockcod and reds. Lately we’ve caught an unprecedented number of Cape yellowtail which is very pleasing to see. We also occasionally get billfish and wahoo, but they are generally not our target species.
The key to fishing on the KZN North Coast is, without a doubt, livebait. Unless you’re targeting Natal snoek, it’s always good to invest time in catching decent livebait, preferably mackerel.
Trolling artificial lures for hours on end is not the best form of attack in this area.
There are several good bait spots like Salt Rock nets, Tinley backline, Rusty’s, Ballito wreck, SOS and SHP. Shark nets tend to be a good spot for livebait, especially if they have drum lines which are effectively big baited hooks.
Catching livebait is sometimes the biggest challenge and is almost worthy of a separate article purely on this aspect. There are various types of bait jigs and some work well on some days and not on others; some work well for mozzies others work better for mackerel, so always have more than one type of bait jig onboard. We like to use a 4oz sinker on our rig so we can cast the bait jig if we see bait on the surface. It’s a lovely feeling seeing full strings of mackerel coming up.
One never knows how much is “enough” livebait, but you don’t want to run out, so I always try to load as much bait as possible and as quickly as possible. One obviously doesn’t want to waste too much of the early morning prime-time fishing for bait, though, so the sooner you get your bait back in the water, the better. It’s always good to have a few decent frozen baits like mackerel, bonito or walla walla as backup as well.
Once the live well is loaded with a decent number of livebait, it’s time to start fishing.
If we’re targeting ’cuda or tuna, our go-to will normally be Zetene, Jex Estate, Prince’s Grant or Sandy’s off Zinkwazi depending on the colour and temperature of the water. Don’t be concerned if the water inshore is a bit green – big ’cuda don’t mind it.
These areas we fish are inshore areas and are renowned for big ’cuda and tuna. There are some big sharks there too, though, so you must look sharp. It’s usually a good idea to persevere in the shallows (15- to 35m) before making the next move.
The water colour and temperature can vary drastically between all these areas, and the Mvoti River is a big factor for this so keep in comms with other boats.
Keep your VHF on channel 69 and listen to what the other boats are saying. Anglers on all areas along the coast should actually agree to use the same channel, but for some reason each area seems to use a different channel and Channel 69 is what we use on the North Coast.

We normally prefer to slow troll livebaits at various depths for ’cuda, tuna and dorado, and either throw a spoon or a popper while we’re slow trolling. We never really drift for ’cuda in this area as we find slow trolling to be more effective because you cover more ground and your live baits behave better.
Advancements in technology like the autopilot is a huge advantage when slow trolling; it’s like having an extra crew member, so make sure you use your technology to the full.
I find that even if we don’t get a hit on the spoon or the popper, having this action drastically improves the strike rate on the livebaits; it calls the fish like a dinner bell. Have a small spoon ready at all times, as the areas shown on the map alongside are good snoek areas and these fish often start surfacing within casting distance of the boat.
We used to catch a lot of tuna around the dolphins, which led us to start charging all over the ocean looking for dolphins, but this method has not been as productive for the past couple of years. We now find it’s more productive to set your livebaits in good areas which also gives you a chance of catching other species like ’cuda.
River mouths can be very interesting places to fish as you may also discover a definite colour line which is always a good option for dorado and snoek. Mvoti River mouth and Umhlali River mouth often produce distinct colour lines, so be on the lookout when fishing these areas.
If the inshore areas prove to be unproductive or conditions aren’t great, we may out to the deeper reefs like yellowtail or Zinkwazi high points.
Again, communication is key and it is always an advantage if you can speak to skippers from some of the other boats before you rush out there. Fuel is expensive and fishing time is valuable, so you never want to waste too much time charging all over the ocean for no good reason.
Sometimes the conditions are worse in the deep and you are better off staying in place. You can’t be in two places at once, so don’t be in too much of a hurry to rush off. The guys on the fishing ski’s tend to do very well for a number of reasons, but one of them is they stay put and they spend 99% of their time with a bait in the water. Sometimes you just need to sit tight.
The deeper reefs are generally good for gamefish such as ’cuda, tuna, dorado, bonito, Cape yellowtail and the occasional billfish, wahoo and GT. These reefs also give you the option of good bottomfish such as kob, musselcracker, rockcod and reds.
For the guys that enjoy jigging or working a bucktail, Silvermine and all the deeper reefs mentioned will produce good fish like amberjack, tropical yellowtail, bonito and kingfish.

Launching from any launch site on the KZN North Coast is not for the fainthearted and it is always advisable to speak to one of the local skippers before attempting to launch.
There many do’s and don’ts specific to each launch site, hence each launch site would have adopted their own unique protocol in the interests of safety. You will also need to produce your skipper’s ticket, seaworthy certificate, VHF radio licence etc. to the safety officer prior to launching.
Tides are a major factor at all launch sites, and the conditions can be completely different between high and low tides and from one day to the next, so it is imperative that you speak to a representative from the local club to advise you on the current conditions for that day.
Here is a list of the launch sites with contact numbers and a bit of info on each:
• Umhlanga (Granny’s Pool)
Rob Shepard 079 1777 380
No visitors’ launch fee; R200 tractor fee for visitors. First time visitors will need to do three “in & outs” with the safety officer before being authorised to launch on their own. There is a relatively safe protected area in the bay of Granny’s Pool, and rocks are probably the biggest hazard here.
• Umdloti
Anthony Malgora 072 434 0360
No visitor’s launch fee; no tractor service available. Only small boats and jetskis that can be pushed in by hand can launch here. It’s quite a steep beach usually with a big shorebreak at high tide.
• Westbrook
Denver Maistry 073 186 0000
R200 visitor’s launch fee; no tractor service available.Only small boats and jetski’s that can be pushed in by hand can launch here. It’s quite a steep beach usually with a big shorebreak at high tide, and submerged rocks so beware.
• Ballito (Salmon Bay)
Kallie Schultz 083 236 8368
Tractor/visitor launch fee is currently under review. This is also quite a steep beach usually with a big shorebreak at high tide, and rocks north and south of the bay.
• Tinley Manor
James Westoby 082 558 6805
R300 launch fee; no tractor service available. Again, only small boats and jetskis that can be pushed in by hand can launch here. It’s quite a steep beach usually with a big shorebreak at high tide
• Blythedale
Neels Berkhuizen 082 554 0052
R250 launch fee; limited use of tractor
• Zinkwazi
Roy Salvesen 082 449 3943
R200 launch fee plus R50/crew member; tractor service available for pushing in and retrieving at R200/launch
Shorebreak is also a factor on high tides and there are rocks to the south. The launch can be tricky when the river mouth is open. There are restrictions on certain public holidays.
• Tugela
Jan du Plessis 084 549 8210
R200 launch fee; no tractor service available. Conditions vary drastically here – sometimes you launch through the Tugela River and sometimes from the beach.
Tight lines out there.

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