Cold, windy and inconsistent, Western Cape saltwater fly fishing is neither for the flakey nor the faint of heart. Within it, there are sub-divisions of difficulty. A step-up from the calm of the estuaries is the chaos of rock and surf fly fishing. It takes experience, persistence and determination to get it right. But the myriad species rock and surf offers up to the hardy fly rodder, will make you forget every blank day. As told by Conrad Botes in The Mission Issue 07.
You get two types of saltwater fly fishermen in my neck of the woods; those who fish exclusively in rivers and estuaries, and those who fish in the ocean as well.
“It’s like hanging with a bunch of anarchist punks – The Salty Dogs, The Brine Maggots, The Rock & Surf Squad – content at operating outside the flow, redrawing the rules of what should and should not be possible with a fly rod.”
I belong to the latter. It’s like hanging with a bunch of anarchist punks – The Salty Dogs, The Brine Maggots, The Rock & Surf Squad – content at operating outside the flow, redrawing the rules of what should and should not be possible with a fly rod. Come summer or winter, rain or shine, you’ll find these crazies trekking miles and miles on foot to find un-spoilt water, spending the better part of a day or night being slapped around in the surf only to return home having caught nada. Wading a sand bar at low tide knowing full well you’ll be washed off and left swimming with all your gear when the tide turns? Par for the course. Sharky, offshore reef at night in a float tube? Bring it.
Negotiating a boulder field in the surf after dark? Sure, it’s slippery as all hell. But if it offers up a shot at a decent fish, we’ll head-bang our way through it.
This is not light music, my friend, nor a recording studio with second takes and soundproof rooms. It’s the live gig; a rough, raw distortion of the senses.
Compared to the trippy jazz of estuary fishing, immersing yourself in the surf zone is like jumping into the mosh pit of the fly fishing world.
“Compared to the trippy jazz of estuary fishing, immersing yourself in the surf zone is like jumping into the mosh pit of the fly fishing world.”
Why choose difficult water with less chance of catching fish, you might wonder? Why not stick to estuaries where locating fish and reading conditions are much easier?
Maybe it’s because I grew up with my ass in a tidal pool. Because the first fish I ever caught at the age of three was with a hand line in a gully. Maybe it’s because my dad and fishing mentor spent season after season teaching me the secrets and intricacies of rock and surf fishing. From him and his kind I learned the subtle science of reading water, taking note of which wind was blowing and pushing the warmer water into the inshore zone. Maybe it’s because I understood from early on that murky ginger-beer water from an onshore wind was much preferred over the lifeless clear water that a brisk offshore wind brings.
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Perhaps it’s because I tried spearfishing as a laaitjie* and became very familiar with how fish behave underwater in gullies and around reefs. Where they hold, how they feed and which species like to hang out with each other. Like the big white musselcracker that often follow a group of galjoen around.
It could be that because I developed a keen understanding for the finer mechanics of inshore currents and how the tides work after being a life saver during the second last summer of high school. And the fact that tides, the wind, trying to pick up girls and summers were always rolled into one eternal unfathomable puzzle. Perhaps it’s because I hated playing rugby at school. I chose surfing instead, spending every free minute on the beach, year after year. It could be because I went to a specific university because of its proximity to a certain surf spot, rather than its academic merits and it was there, as I discovered Rock & Roll that I gave each of my favourite breaks a theme song. Maybe it’s because when years later I eventually graduated with that MA in Fly Fishing, it was to a Rock & Surf song.
Or, it could be that deep down, when life gives me a choice, I prefer chaos to calm.
The headline act and probably the most sought after inshore species along our coastline is kob (aka, kabeljou, mulloway or jewfish). It is by far the largest of the bony fish to be found along our coast. It grows to lengths in excess of 180cm and 75kg.
For Western Cape saltwater fly fishing we target two species of kob. The silver kob, Argyrosomus Inodorus, is the dominant species west of Cape Agulhas. To the east dusky kob, Argyrosomus Japonicus, rule the roost. Fly anglers familiar with the reefs in False Bay have in recent years learned a lot about silver kob and where to catch them. Targeting inshore reefs and gullies, it’s possible to catch tallies of close to ten fish in a session, which is pretty impressive for kob. But what they have in numbers, they unfortunately lack in size; the biggest that we’ve ever caught were around 65cm.
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The largest of all kob species, dusky kob are that mega band with huge specimens caught in very shallow inshore surf on beaches and over the bricks by conventional anglers. We normally focus our efforts in shallow water behind the shorebreak on beaches and on the bricks, specifically at dusk and dawn. But they often hold in holes and gutters close to shore on sandy beaches.
Santer is the kind of fish that you’ve heard of before, but if someone asked you to describe it or where to fish for it, you wouldn’t know where to start. Like Johnny Cash for me. I knew of him, but didn’t really know his music until I listened to an album. I liked it and then some. In no time, I was hooked.
Before Aidan de Jager started catching santer consistently a few years ago, I didn’t know it was possible to target this species regularly. Six months ago we spent a weekend pursuing them along with blacktail and other inshore stuff. We only got one santer that weekend. But Jannie Visser set out to pin one and succeeded. That proved that it’s a species that can be targeted. They like deep gullies and rocky ledges. Don’t be shy with fly size. They have an appetite for big streamers so DMAs, clousers and silicone mullets will get the job done. Did I mention they pull like hell?
Leervis, elf, geelbek, blacktail, wildeperd, bronze bream, white musselcracker: Read about the other Western Cape saltwater fly fishing species for free below in The Mission Issue 07, or buy the print edition online (we ship worldwide).