Return to The Kei

Return to The Kei

Photos: JD Filmalter, Johannes Meyer and Yours Truly

It was always going to be a fishing holiday. We would be diving and surfing too, but the focus was always going to aimed down the butt of a rod. I had just spent two weeks on Praslin fruitlessly chasing its enigmatic bones and goldens, however I did get a few Permit. It’s not every week that one can so nonchalantly drop a line like that, so I left more happy than unhappy.

It was now back to the land of milk and honey. I arrived in George to be greeted by the folks and we quickly headed home to Knysna. However, the Southern Cape was not going to my focus trip. JD and Nancy Filmalter were on route, via the Breede of course, to join us for a trip to the hallowed family waters of the Mtakatyi River in the Transkei.

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Steeped in family lore, this river has played host to three generations of my family and for me the stories, though repeated often over beers and around the fire place, take on a larger than life form the closer I get to the River.

The drive in is, as always, a unique mixture of bad roads, cattle and goats, the rolling hills of the Kei coastal belt and the endless cry of “SWWWWWEEEEEEETTTTTIIIIIIEEEEEESSSSS” from the young generation of locals. It feels and sounds familiar every time. The view from the top of the notorious Mtakatyi hill is always the first gauging of river conditions.

To be honest I was dismayed by the amount of sand in the estuary; from the boathouses to the mouth, the River seemed choked by sand. A telling sign of the ongoing drought that has been plaguing the area. This river, like many Kei rivers, is short. While this in many ways is its saving grace in terms of the river’s healthy; the river still cleans quickly after rainfall and is in a very healthy state by any standard. However, it also needs really good localised rain in the small catchment area to purge the river of the largely natural silting process.

After the drive soon had our tents pitched and quick walk to the mouth revealed that mouth, while open – it hasn’t closed in living memory – could be crossed at low tide without getting the nether regions wet. I was worried about what this meant in terms of fish movement in and out of the River and the effect on the river fishing.

My plan was to get stuck in with the fly rod after a couple of days of prospecting. I like to do a bit of recon with lures on arrival. It tends to give a sense of what is happening with the River and where the fish were. There had been enough rain in the catchment to muddy the waters a little but we were soon into fish on our first morning of proper fishing. JD and I each landed a pickhandle barracuda on topwaters on the edge of the mudbanks.

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I love the Kei rivers; winter time warm water species! A bit later JD was rewarded with a stunning Leerie on walked topwater. A very soon after a brace of small Black Tip Trevally were landed. All this before bacon and eggs were served.

The following mornings became a blur of action. On hard lures and bucktails, JD, Johannes and I started to rack up the species and numbers. In the mix of the normal small fish – blacktip and bigeye kingfish (trevally) had made up the bulk the of the fish – I landed a beautiful Transkei GT.

And how I love a GT, no matter the size!

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It was a great start to two weeks.

I spend the next few days swinging the long rod. And was rewarded extremely poorly. While fish were caught around me, I managed only two knocks in three days. Slightly despondent, I gave in and took u my baitcaster. I was soon rewarded with a small kob!

The fishing, during the next few weeks, got better and better. Sessions on the river were punctuated by offshore trips, surfing, paddle tails in the surf and dive missions.

The offshore trips produced good numbers of fish on bucktails. Amongst the usual rockcod suspects (yellow belly, cat face and half-moon) there were a good number of Black Steenbras landed. What is really encouraging is the increased numbers of these fish. During our dives we found some really healthy reefs with high numbers of Black Steenbras and other typical reef species.

Off Presley’s I had a good-sized ragged tooth shark come and have a lazy sniff at my fins; sneaky bugger got quite close behind me before I noticed him. It’s always a treat seeing an apex predator up close and personal.

But the bucktails… I ended fishing with them quite a bit this trip and while I’ve played with them in the past, this was first time I really gave the method any sort of focus. Short version of the story –  they work! And while I hate to admit to it, I really enjoyed fishing them! Sorry purists!

The Transkei is a special place. Stuck in a rural vortex of tribal traditions and community living; I love the place and the people. There are issues – social and economic – but the when you spend time there you can feel the hope. It’s easy to get caught in some of the desperation and despair (it is there, largely as a result of poor government practice) but when you peel back the layers and really open yourself to the experience, you can’t help falling for the place.

And while change is coming to Transkei – the DA lost the Mtakatyi ward by only 50 odd votes – I truly hope it never loses its special character that makes returning there more than just a fishing trip.

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