Dedication is a dish best-served ice cold. With a generous side of ‘hardegatness’ (stubbornness)…
This art-lure angler underwent the conversion to fly-fishing in the toughest way possible, by chasing SPOTTED GRUNTER on fly.
Johann Rademeyer could’ve taken the ‘easier’ way out… He could’ve headed to the Breede and drifted a classic deer hair turd or one of LeRoy Botha’s Ironmans. His social media feed is a ream of fish porn featuring a plethora of species. The type of fishy oke who you just know that if the conditions were right he’d have gotten in his first grunter on fly in not too many sessions.
Instead, what started as side-hobby for him during lockdown turned into an obsession.
“I tied up some very ugly ‘things’ and started off with some bass at one of the local spots,” he says of his first foray into fly fishing. “That first session I managed to land a bluegill and a bass and I remember thinking ‘mmm, this isn’t that hard, I’m going to kill it.'”
“Obviously, the opposite happened,” he says, explaining how for a couple of weeks he went down to a local bass dam but that got very boring, very fast and he needed more. “So I decided to give the salt a go. I tied up a small popper and after two sessions managed to bag my first saltwater species – a juvenile garrick. It felt like I was getting somewhere and everything about fly-fishing interested me, from the tying to the leader construction, casting and wading,” he says.
Shit went sideways very fast for Johann after that… I bumped into him on a flat in Kleinbrak. I was wading for grunts and he was on his dingy throwing artificials (and catching kob, leeries and grunts). I knew exactly who he was and what he was capable of with lures but had no idea that he’d slowly started getting into fly fishing.
He was instantly drawn to the grunter stalk and sent me a flood of messages after that day. What followed was an absolute obsession of getting it done authentically. He wanted a sighted grunt, and he wanted it on his own fly. On his terms. “I wanted to get a grunt the very next session on fly…what a reality check that was,” he jokes.
Not long after the bass, he decided to get into some carp on fly and through his grunter quest these kept him sane: “Seeing carp come up and slurp down a bread-crust fly (it’s a cheap thrill, I know) was a small consolation while I was trying to figure out the grunters. Every time I was on my way home from a massive blank I would stop at the local dam, fish the last bit of sunlight and at least turn my day into something of an unblank,” he says.
Johann spent the entire December on a small and sensitive system with big and smart grunters trying to pin one on fly, without joy. Things took a turn in February 2022 when he met Michael Gouws in the parking lot of one of the local estuaries.
“He mentioned that he had gotten some grunts the day before and showed me his flies. I was shocked, to say the least. The pattern he handed me was much, much smaller than the ones I had been tying and trying. Obviously, I’d seen all of LeRoy’s flies online and numerous other patterns but only once I’d held one in hand I realised what I was doing wrong.”
After some extended and intensive chats with LeRoy he went back to the vise with fresh ideas and more confidence. “The first pattern I tied up was a crude version of his ‘Shawn’. On the first session with that fly I had two grunts turn on the fly and follow it, before bolting off and spooking all the other fish off the bank with them.”
As it is with fly fishing for grunter a whole lot of blank sessions followed. “Each time I would tie up a pattern, get Leroy’s approval and insights and then head to the flats. I started getting constant follows and eats but just couldn’t make one stick,” he says.
According to Johann who is used to spinning from his little boat, being on foot it was difficult for him to read the body language of the grunts. “So I decided to take my dingy and try get them at a few spots I could access only with the boat. The results were the same – I would get follows and eats but they’d either not stick or I’d pop the tippet. I would head home disappointed and defeated, day after day. What I saw and learned from each session was enough to keep me going back at every weather gap I got.”
“He spotted a three-day weather window and gave LeRoy a shout. On day one he hopped on my boat and we tried to get some footage of them. We spent the whole day scouting and scanning the flats. We came across numerous grunts but we just couldn’t line the right one up and get a proper shot in.Having taken a grunter master like LeRoy on the water and watched how approached things, I realised that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. It was just a matter of time. I guess that’s all I needed. Just that little bit of confidence in what I was doing.”
The following day he pinned his first grunt. Read on to get an insight into his thoughts ON:
(*these are his words)
THAT FIRST GRUNT
It was the perfect morning. There was not a breath of wind or a cloud in the sky. I had probably 4 different shots at big schools that just spooked as soon as my fly touched the water. I thought maybe the conditions were too perfect.
As I was standing there contemplating my next move I saw a shadow coming across the shallows – One solo cruiser, calm as can be… Slowly I picked up my rod, made the cast and before the line touched the water the fish was already slightly spooked and aware of me, so it started swimming off. I thought that was it, another one gone… I looked up and couldn’t see any other close by so I decided to put in a long shot as he was cruising to deeper water. My fly landed and I gave it a couple of seconds. I gave it a strip and I just saw the fish turn and come straight towards me. He followed the fly in for about 10 metres before I saw his body give that slight twitch. Boom…
WHY ‘START’ WITH GRUNTER?
It is the coolest fucking fish in the river. It’s weird though: I feel like it’s a fish that – to conventional bait anglers and people visiting the coast on summer holidays – is seen as just ‘chow’ or kind of disregarded and underrated because they get the smaller ones so readily on live prawns.
To me, they are just one of the most cunning fish and there are so many different ways (when it comes to art lure styles and tactics) to catch them, but it’s really not like you’re just going to put something in front of him and he’s going to eat it. And then you have fly-fishing for them.
WHY HE WOULD GO TO THE FLY WHEN HE HAS THEM SO WELL DIALED ON ARTIFICIAL
Ever since I started going to estuaries as a little boy I remember seeing ‘fish’ — and since then I’ve always wanted to try and catch those ones I could see. I very soon realised I was wasting my time trying to lob baits onto the super shallow sandbanks and throwing every lure that had some resemblance to a prawn, only to see them bolt off at a horrific speed. Eventually, I just started ignoring the cruisers and tailers and just fished my usual deeper water spots on lure. But even when I caught them I wasn’t satisfied…
I love figuring a fish out. Of course, I love catching fish, but to me, the allure of it all lies in working them out. Even though I had caught plenty on topwater, bucktails, slow-pitch jigs, and even small plastics, I still felt there was something more to it. There were so many days when was on the bank and I would see loads of grunts and I’d look in my box and there would be nothing to throw for them. I knew if I threw a bucktail or a topwater they would just spook off the flat. I knew there was another way to target them — a softer more stealthy way — a way to fish to those sighted fish and that intrigued me.
HOW LONG HE’S BEEN FLY FISHING
During the initial hard lockdown, I kept busy by making wooden and resin lures but got a bit bored of that after a while and somehow that morphed into fly-tying. I think it was just a natural process because it’s such a creative thing to do — the different aspects and dynamics appealed to me as did the variety of things you could create. I had very little materials so just scrounged around at home and made use of what I could. When we could eventually order again I couldn’t just go online to order because I didn’t know what I needed. Things like one-minute voice notes from the likes of you and LeRoy gave me depth and understanding that I would’ve taken years to figure out.
As I was getting into the fly-tying I realised I wouldn’t know if my flies would work, unless I fished them. So at that point, I realised I needed to learn to fly fish so that I could test my flies. (And then tie better flies). It was quite a process sourcing a setup (I started with an old 5wt Okuma reel and a very thick trout rod) and learning everything from Youtube and practicing in the garden. But then as soon as I got into it and things started opening up after lockdown I met a lot of guys and everyone was just super helpful. I went deep down the rabbit hole very quickly. Now I don’t want to fish any other way.
HIS JOURNEY WITH GRUNTER ON FLY?
During mid-2021 I went after them on fly at some of the local spots where I get them on topwater artificials in winter, but it still wasn’t what I had in mind when I envisioned grunter on the fly. I wanted that sighted fish. Not a surface retrieve. Then around the end of October I really started putting in the time and trying to learn them. The entire December every gap I got I was on the bank.
I just wanted a reaction — a fish to turn on my fly – but there were so many countless blank days. It was quite a struggle… It wasn’t until the end of January that I got in some way more proficient and in the game, you know, in with a chance. Until then I felt like I was just fucking around, even though I put in the time and was learning, you’re still messing around a lot. Only after I’d had lots of feedback and conversations with various people did I understand more about the stalking game and what I needed to do and that gave me a lot more confidence in them.
The more confident I got, the more I wanted to fish for them – every single gap I got I wanted to go after them on the fly.
ON HOW ART LURE SKILLS TRANSLATE TO FLY-FISHING
It’s so completely different! Even though you’re fishing for the same fish it almost feels like you’re targeting two different species. Having said that to understand the fish has helped a lot. Everything I know from targeting them on artificials over the years has helped me, no doubt. You know – where they will be on what part of the tide, when they will move off the bank, and why. How cloud cover, wind and air pressure influence their feeding… That type of thing. Without all of that, I would not have progressed to where I am with them now.
ON WHAT IS NEXT ON FLY?
A skippy! Everyone wants a skippy. That and a big leerie, because while you standing on the bank you see these fish smash mullet and bait fish and just annihilate everything in their path. In the estuary where I fish for grunts the most, I’ve seen a big one chase down a school of grunter right into the shallows and just cause chaos, I’d dig to connect with a proper one on fly.
*J0hann was a very big part in me finally getting a Bonnie From Shore after many years of trying. That fish is as much his as it was mine. Read that story in ISSUE 33 of The Mission.