Neglecting work to take advantage of a glorious gap, Jazz Kuschke finds success targeting bonito on fly off the rocks in the Southern Cape.

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain” – Jack Kerouac

The window creaked open at the worst imaginable time, dusting my keyboard with a load of guilt and blowing my notebook, with its two full pages of to-do’s, clean off the table. For the first time in my ten-year career as a freelance writer, I had recently had to turn down work. I had not breathed much fresh air.

The dictionary will tell you that a weather window is, ‘a limited interval when weather conditions can be expected to be suitable for a particular project, such as laying offshore pipelines or reaching a high mountain summit.’ Or, in my case, chasing bonito on fly from the shore. For that to happen, the window meant a spring low tide, an open ocean swell of below 1.0m and a light breeze in the right direction. And the most important factor. The fish had to be around.

Consider the humble bonito (Sarda sarda). Prolific-breeding, fast-growing, beautiful.  It is so iridescently easy-on-the-eyes in fact, that the Spanish and Portuguese ‘bonito’ translates to ‘pretty’ (although there is some disagreement that this is the true origin of its name). For those that pass through Southern Cape waters, bonnies’ great downfall is that they are regarded as baitfish.

Fly fishing for bonito off the rocks

Bonito off the rocks. On fly. With a side of mussels. Jazz Kuschke style

The hardcore rock-‘n- surf manne see them as shark fodder. To target them is regarded on the same level as cast-netting for mullet. When the summer south-easterly pattern is at play and the water is above a certain temperature and the bonito are aggregating in reef-sized shoals, it is a four-rods-off-the-back-of-the-boat-and-trawl-to-fill-the-quota-as-fast-as-possible kind of situation. One might be bled for sashimi or bound for the smoker, while the rest are destined to be bait for big bronzies and raggies off the deep water ledges. So, in many people’s eyes, a bonito is a trash fish. But then there is, of course, the cliched adage about ‘one man’s trash’ …

In fact, so much of a treasure is the Sarda sarda that Peter Coetzee of Feathers & Fluoro once referred to fly fishing for them – when they’re on the full boil – as ‘the most fun you can have without rum.’ That fun, for the likes of Peter, a salt-encrusted veteran, Henkie Altena, my fellow Southern Cape local LeRoy Botha, myself and others, has traditionally been boat-based. Each year, come October/November LeRoy and I start obsessing over bonnies and, as he so aptly says, ‘In faith we tie,’ because it’s not every season we get to go.

I have been fishing for bonnies since I moved to the Southern Cape around eight years ago. While these sessions are mostly offshore, for the past five years I’ve been paying serious school fees off the rocks, blanking and getting beaten up, but learning. As with most of these things, education comes in bursts, followed by long periods of silence. There was nothing to ‘figure out’ about the species. It was all about accessibility, tactics and the right tools. Mostly though, it was about timing.

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‘It’s not THICK thick, but we’ve each gotten a couple,’ read the text from Johann Rademeyer. I was sampling some rare fresh air on a sneaky cappuccino break from my desk, when the message came through. He and a mate were fishing a spot that can only be accessed for a couple of hours on either side of a spring low tide, that is if you know how to navigate your way through the labyrinth of gullies and dodge the mussel beds and sea urchins. It’s a place that eats lures and leaders, but when it’s on, it’s always a story. Johann is one fishy fucker so I never take any intel from the big brah lightly.

I’d never really considered this particular spot for fly because of the height above the water and the wash around the rocks.  Even on a small swell, your running line would surely be sucked down into the mussel-covered ledges…if you manage to get a cast in at all.