Year: 2020

Corona Moments

So, at the moment it’s ok to go to church with 50 people, but not to go to your favourite fishing spot by yourself!

I understand Nkosazana-Zuma doesn’t fish, or smoke for that matter, but seriously that’s about all I understand.

Our business is built around recreational angling, Which obviously has not been an ideal scenario since the lockdown, besides the fact that there are no known instances of fish being infected by Covid 19. Perhaps that’s just because the test kits are faulty though.

But what is interesting, is how a tiny virus, which seems to me to have been badly overestimated, has shone a light on how much we all take fishing for granted – and how much we miss it when it’s not an option.

Even before the dreaded Corona raised its ugly spiky little head, I had pondered at length on whether it’s the actual catching of fish that we miss, or whether it’s simply the joy of being outdoors, often with mates, often with a well-stocked cold box, but always with the “potential” of catching a fish.

I mean we very seldom kill and eat the fish we catch anyway. So it’s not about the macho image of arriving home to the missus and proudly slapping a large Halibut onto the kitchen table saying “there you go darling, your trusty provider does it again, clean and cook this and call me when its ready”. In all likelihood this would earn you a cold shoulder rather than hot meal anyway.

If we were fishing commercially and selling our catch to keep paying the school fees, and possibly medical fees, if we tried the old Halibut slapping trick too often, that would be a different thing.

But that’s not what we do. We spend many happy hours, cold bevy in hand, discussing and planning with our mates the next big fishing trip. I estimate this aspect of a proposed trip actually occupies as much time, and possibly even provides as much enjoyment, as the actual excursion itself.

There’s something wonderful about all this planning and the anticipation building up to an official outing. When it’s time to check and pack your gear… pick up those last flies or lures you don’t really need, but do really want. Battle stoically not to whistle while you pack within earshot of the family, and finally actually head off to your destination.

Sure, the fishing trip itself is always fun, but expectations very often outweigh the results in this most fickle of pastimes, and the liver inevitably takes a pounding. There will be moments of great hilarity, anguish and camaraderie, stories to be saved and savoured around the pub for many years to come. But does it really matter who catches the fish, or even if the fishing is slow?

Ego invariably plays a part and we’d all like to be the one to catch the biggest fish, or the most fish, or the most species. But in this sport, much more than most, luck plays a substantial part. I have stood shoulder to shoulder with some of the best anglers around and whilst they will often catch more fish, it’s not a given that they will catch a bigger one. That alone is enough to keep us hopeful amateurs coming back.

I will happily wander alone, or with my dog, along one of our local river banks of an evening, searching for an elusive rise, and even treasure those moments of solitude. But I’ve finally come to the conclusion that for me, a really good fishing trip definitely involves the aforementioned mates (with egos), cold boxes and the potential of catching fish. Not much more than that.

So you go Mrs. Zuma, do your worst. Neither you nor a spiky little virus will keep us off the water much longer.

Hunting for Kob

My family has been visiting Wavecrest hotel for more than forty years. It is where I went on my summer holidays when I was a kid, and I have many happy memories from the place. I did a trip there a couple of weeks ago, along with my Dad, Geoff, who will be turning eighty in May, and his brother Ron, who is turning eighty four, also in May. It was great to do a boys trip, as we have done in the past, and while it was only for four days, it was definitely special to get back there together.

The staff welcomed us like returning family, after a drive of almost eight hours through the Transkei, with the last 35km having been dirt.

While my Dad and my uncle were planning on fishing with natural baits for edible species, I had been preparing some paddle tails and a variety of other artificial lures to target kob over the next four days. The weather forecast was looking good and the surf size looked reasonable.

We had booked over spring tides, which allowed my Dad and uncle to get fresh bait from the rocks at low tide. The rocks in this area are full of life and it is easy to collect red bait, octopus and crabs from the rocks and pools.

I had brought my little river boat along as well. I was keen to try the river for kob and garrick as well as the surf, particularly if there was some north easterly wind and the sea water got very cold.

On the first day I concentrated mainly on the river, exploring and checking out the channels and the structure. I caught some small Garrick and kob on a 72mm suspending Sebile Stick Shadd, a lure that is proving to be deadly for our estuary species.

I also got some small kob and Garrick on a 3” soft plastic Berkley Powerbait jerk minnow, rigged on a 1/8 oz jighead. The fish were right on the bottom at that stage and the only way to get a bite was to bounce a lure off the mud slowly.

The following day I decided to try for some kob in the surf. We walked the rocks to the south of the hotel, looking for areas that looked good for kob. I found a spot with lovely milky water, with lots of sand and bubbles in it, with some deep channels near rocks.

I made some casts with a paddletail rigged weedless. The first hit came on about the third cast, but no hookup. It was good to have confirmed that the fish were there though and I kept trying. A short while later I had another bite and this time I set the hook and felt the fish on the other end. After a short fight I landed the kob, taking care not to scrape it on the rocks as I brought it ashore. It wasn’t a big fish, but it was the target species and I was pleased.

I fished a number of other spots before getting a second fish on the paddletail. It was around the same size as the first fish, but caught about a kilometer away, from some different rocks.

I found that the Berkley Salt water Grass Pig was working well. The narrow shape allowed me to cast it far, while the soft plastic gave it lots of movement, even at low speeds. The narrow profile also ensured a better hookup rate, as the hook point was exposed much easier than on a normal bodied paddle tail. I rigged these on the 5/0 Owner Twistlock Swimbait hooks. These were perfect for kob, and worked very well.

That night it rained quite heavily at the hotel and the following day the river was quite muddy.

I parked the boat near a drop off at a deepish hole in the river and started working the area with a ½ oz Berkley Fusion Bucktail jig in blue and white. I had been fishing the area for a couple of hours when my jig suddenly stopped and line started peeling from my spool. After a hard fight, with some solid head nodding, I landed a lovely river kob. The fish lay on the surface next to the boat, gills pumping and I was able to appreciate a solid fish in the 5kg range.

My Dad and my uncle had a great trip. They landed a number of bronze bream, kob, blacktail, musselcracker, etc from the rocks. It was good to see them having a successful rock and surf trip at their age, one never knows when the limbs are going to become too frail for rock hopping. I enjoyed the time on the river as well as on the rocks. Hunting kob is a great challenge and it is always very satisfying when a hunch pays off and fish are caught as a result.

Shayamoya

When we think about a tiger fishing trip with wildlife, birds and a lodge experience thrown in, we usually think of the Zambezi river or a lake Kariba expedition.

Shayamoya – Where Eagles Gather

Last week I visited Shayamoya Lodge in northern Zululand and had a superb taste of all of the above.

Shayamoya is a game farm and lodge on a ridge overlooking the Jozini dam and catching the cool breeze that drifts up the slope.  Eagles often hover in that breeze, scanning the slopes below for potential prey.

Rooms are appointed in secluded spots along the ridge and consist of wood and thatch. There is a resident spotted eagle owl called Nandi, who was brought up on the property and chooses to stay, she has been there for the last twelve years and is renowned for bringing gifts of geckos and mice and proudly presenting them to guests who are sleeping with their room doors open to catch the cool breeze.

The drive in the early morning down to the launch site in the back of the lodge’s game viewer vehicle was a treat, with plenty of Nyala, Kudu, Impala and giraffe on hand to keep us entertained.

On the water at Jozini dam

Once we got onto the water our focus was firmly on hunting those elusive, toothy tigers. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of action that we had. The tigers were very active in the early mornings and we had a lot of fun drifting along weed lines and casting lures along them.

The lure that was most productive for us on this trip was a white 5 inch Berkley Powerbait Jerk Shad, rigged weedless on a weighted 4/0 Owner Twistlock swimbait hook.  These could be cast into the weeds, grass or any other structure and be twitched out into the open water.  They were also perfect for working along the weed lines, and the tigers couldn’t leave them alone.

The soft plastics got worked over properly by the tigers and we went through a pack a day (there are ten in a packet). It was well worth it though, as it was thoroughly entertaining fishing. Sadly we didn’t land any big tigers, but we caught plenty of smaller ones, and my highlight was a fish of around 2kgs caught on the soft plastic.

Once the sun brightened and the day warmed up somewhat the bite would typically slow down on the lures. Our skipper and fishing guide, Maxwell, would then take us to a spot to drop anchor and we would spend a couple of hours fishing with live bait or sardine fillets. This proved to be a lively and productive method of fishing and we caught a number of tigers and catfish during the hotter hours of the mornings.

While we didn’t catch any trophy tigers, they swim in those waters. A friend of mine got a ten-pounder on fly during December on Jozini and his wife caught a twelve-pounder on fly some time ago. Judging by the numbers of small fish, there must be quite a few of the big ones around.

We were entertained by fish eagles and ospreys hunting fish in the dam, and some amazing views of herds of elephant coming down to the water’s edge to drink and bathe. We saw Rhinos every day as well, not something that I normally associate with tiger fishing.

I was very happy to spot a pallid harrier hunting over some swampy grass nearby, a great sighting and a lifer for me. It was brought to my attention by the alarm calls of a pair of wattled plovers, which must have had a nest nearby.

Coming back to the lodge for a delicious lunch and a relaxing beverage on the main deck, with the eagle’s view over the dam, was always a pleasure, as it got very hot during the midday hours.

A swim in the lodge pool, or a quick nap and then we would be back to the dam to enjoy an afternoon session of fishing and game viewing.

I couldn’t help but think how lucky we are to have the opportunity to have this experience right here in South Africa. With the costs of flights and international travel these days it is great to be able to drive yourself to a lodge that offers the experience in our backyard. It is the ideal destination for a father and son trip or a family trip with some bush and fishing on the cards.

A herd of elephants on the water’s edge

The lodge and game farm was developed by Brian Blevin and his family and like many owner-run operations, it is plain to see the effort and love that has been put into the lodge and the grounds and gardens surrounding it. The farm was successfully claimed by the Ntshangase community, and the Blevins were paid out by the South African government. They now have an agreement with the community whereby the Blevins continues to run the Lodge, leasing it from the community. It is a win-win situation and it is really good to see a project of this nature working successfully.

In Situ

The English Dictionary defines the phrase “in situ”, as: ‘In the natural, original or appropriate position’. When one is in northern Mozambique, however, it would simply mean being in one of the most pleasant, scenic and understated lodges, also a highly appropriate position to find one’s self occupying.

A small, intimate lodge, tucked away in a quiet bay on a remote island, Situ Island Resort ticks all the boxes expected of a tropical ocean getaway. Sandy floors in the communal areas, an honesty system in the self-service bar, unobtrusive staff and comfortable island style chalets separate this lodge from the rest.

 The direct flight on SA Airlink from Johannesburg to Pemba has made trips to the north of Mozambique more convenient. Gone are the days where one needed to fly via Maputo, and then the long flight up the coast, adding many hours and kilometers to the journey. The direct flight has been implemented due to demand created by large gas and oil companies moving staff and contractors into and out of Cabo Delgado province, where huge gas fields have been discovered. Lodges in the area are benefitting from these direct flights, with Pemba now being less than three hours flight from Johannesburg.

We were able to take advantage of this convenience last week, when we flew to Pemba, on our way to Situ. The flight landed in Pemba just before 12.30 pm and we were at the lodge enjoying cold refreshments, after a comfortable boat transfer, by 3 pm.

It was great to be back at Situ, where we had had such a wonderful trip two years ago.  It can be a concern to return to a place, with the fear of it not living up to its previous standards, but on this trip, we simply picked up exactly where we left off. Everything was as good as it had been before.

We were aware that a tropical weather system was building up. The seasonal Kasakazi winds were blowing down from Kenya and Tanzania, and there was a low-pressure system moving up the African coast from the Cape. The result of this was that we were going to experience some big winds, rough seas and some periods of rain during our stay. Forewarned however, is forearmed, and we knew that we would need to take advantage of the weather gaps as they presented themselves.

We fished from the lodge’s thirty eight foot Supercat, an excellent fishing platform, and a comfortable and spacious ride. Skippered by Craig Macdonald, manager of the lodge and a very experienced skipper, we were able to get around in some pretty rough conditions at times. The Situ area has a wide variety of habitat and consequently a huge diversity of fish species. This meant that we could employ all the techniques that we wanted to, from jigging and popping to spinning and trolling.

Despite adverse weather and sea conditions, we managed to land a good variety of species, from grouper to barracuda, including four species of kingfish and some tuna. My highlight of the trip was landing a dogtooth tuna of around 18kg’s on a soft plastic lure jigged beneath the boat.

These fish are on every fisherman’s bucket list and are becoming harder and harder to find these days. I had landed a smaller one on our previous trip, so I knew they were in the area and had been hoping to get into another on this trip.

Our wives did some scuba diving when conditions allowed and then relaxed at the lodge, taking advantage of massages and a tour to the local fishing village while we were out hunting the big one.

Meals were amazing, whipped up by Craig and made from fresh, locally sourced seafood. It amazed us every day that Craig would jump off the boat after a fishing session, remove his fishing cap and don an apron, then within an hour call us to the table to partake of some exotic and delicious treat.

Too soon our time was up and we found ourselves back on the boat, getting transferred to Pemba for our flight home. While the weather may not have been perfect, every other aspect of the trip was great and we all looked back at the island as it disappeared into the haze and hoped that we would be back again soon.

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