Neil Rowe and I were discussing grunter at dinner on Alphonse Island when he mentioned that he’d (for many years) had quite good success fishing tandem prawn fly rigs in the Breede River. He described the ‘top’ fly as a standard floating prawn-type fly, such as the foam-backed prawn flipper or the deerhair prawns, with an articulated EP fibre prawn trailing New Zealand style behind it; he caught most of his grunter on the neutrally buoyant EP prawn.
So when I recently got invited to fish the Karoolskraal Saltwater Fly Fishing camp – Henkie Altena’s fly fishing camp on the Witsand side of the Breede with Tudor Caradoc-Davies and Brendan Body, I excitedly tied up a few ‘Tarantula’ prawns to try out Neil’s method. The prawn fly was a surprisingly simple tie consisting of two Mustad S34007 hooks, each wrapped with Enrico Puglisi’s EP Tarantula Hairy Legs brush (wide tan trimmed to match a mud prawn’s silhouette).
As always, the fly looked like a ‘tasty’ thing in my hand, but as I’ve learnt over the years of trial and error fly tying (see ‘The Crossover‘ in issue 10 of The Mission) I knew it was ultimately up to the fish to decide whether it looked scrumptious. A tad nervous, but also keen to try this concept that was new to me, I tied the fly to 10 lb tippet and joined Tudor in the shallow, mud bays upriver of the camp.
Tudor was actively fishing Henkie’s classic AGHA fly, an unsinkable version of Ian Kitching’s articulated deerhair prawn, on the mud flats while I dead-drifted the tandem rig along the edge of the river channel. About half-an-hour into the session I watched the floating prawn dip and struck into the first grunter that ate the sinking Tarantula prawn. It was a small fish, but still a grunter and it put up a decent fight – the energy and strength of saltwater fish, even juveniles, never cease to amaze me.
Then it was Tudor’s turn, hooking a hungry, tailing juvenile grunter in the shallows on the floating AGHA. As we moved around looking for suitable water with the changing tides, we found a large mud cloud which looked like a school of grunter actively sucking and blowing out mud prawns in waste deep water. This time, Tudor was the first to go ‘tight’ and he literally beached the pig of a grunter on the muddy shore where we took a few photographs before releasing the fish.
I covered the murky patch which had by then turned into a giant pancake (large swirling area on the surface) from the grunter frenzy underneath it. The flies had barely settled and a fish shot off with the Tarantula prawn towards deeper water, hooking itself in the process. A few seconds later I had another grunter at my feet which then shook the hook and shot off the flat like a rock from a sling. I lobbed the flies back out and quickly hooked another fish, this time a pretty white steenbras, before the schooling fish disappeared never to be seen again.
In a brief moment of fishing chaos, Neil Rowe’s setup proved itself and the fish agreed that the Tarantula prawn was in fact lip-smacking. We left the estuary elated with our catch and headed back to camp to celebrate with a braai and a beer.
(Keep an eye out on this blog for a step-by-step tying demo of the EP Tarantula prawn)