While he sounds (and looks) like a WWE superstar, Jimmy “the Shark Man” Eagleton is one of South Africa’s pioneering saltwater fly fishing anglers, favouring the windswept West Coast. In the highly unlikely probability that you’ll bump into him at night on a tidal island, he’ll make you a coffee amidst the guano. We caught up with him in The Mission Issue 23. 

The first fish I ever caught was a carp with my dad. He use to make radio controlled boats to drop the bait off in the middle of the dam. I think if that fish escaped  it would have crushed fatherhood for him. He still talks about it as if it had happened yesterday.

I have only called two places home. The bush veld up north where I spend my youth catching all manner of wild life and the Western Cape where I got domesticated by my lovely wife.

Jimmy Eagleton with a solid snoek
Jimmy Eagleton with a solid snoek (snake mackerel)

I’m probably most proud of having survived my childhood. I had an unquenchable curiosity about the bush and the animals in it. Catching live animals bare-handed became an obsession and the more dangerous and bigger they were, the better. I can still remember my father trying to shoot a puff-adder with me,  his nine-year-old son,  holding the snake by the tail and moving in front of his rifle to prevent him from getting a clear shot. All that, while the blood was running down my face from where it had bitten me on the eyebrow. Things really escalated as a teenager and I was crazier than a badger with rabies. My poor  parents …I’m so proud of them.

“When I started saltwater fly fishing, it was just about catching a bloody saltwater fish on fly gear. But now it’s a way to reconnect with nature.”

I’ve had a few jobs that have given me some fun detours and kept life colourful and humble but, as far as careers go, I have only had two. One was in the horticultural industry where I can honestly say that I did just about every job and gained a lot of insight into everything from plant production to retail, land rehabilitation and landscaping. I really had a passion for cycad pollination, the horticultural equivalent off artificial insemination. In my current career, I would, in layman’s terms, be called a “climber”. My professional title is RAT/Rope Access Technician, aka dope on a rope. I work on oil rigs.

saltwater fly fishing
Jimmy’s Silicone Mullet

I’m not that great in a corporate environment where abbreviations are used to the extent that it sounds like a code. I also find electronic gadgets or systems not too user-friendly. Outdoor activities, especially those that involve fishing, come naturally to me.

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Days on the rig start as easy as it gets. My bedroom door is right in front of a lift. Two storeys down and, voila, the door opens up in the galley for breakfast. After breakfast I put on the work outfit and I go straight into the smokers to try and wake up. After that there’s usually a lot going on with not a lot actually happening. Once that’s sorted and prioritised , we get going with a plan but always end up being reactive. Lunch follows with a 30 minute power nap and off we go again. The day ends with a good dose of tongue-in-cheek banter with the boys where you laugh more at yourself then at the other guys. At home, I’m a loved-up stay-at-home dad, or my best version of one.

The best advice I have ever been given came from a senior colleague who has an air of the military about him. It started with, “Listen here smarty pants, let me take you to smarty land. There are thousands like you out there, so you better up your game, son.” Both the delivery and the message were very clear.

saltwater fly fishing
Jimmy with a yellowtail

Like everybody else, when I started saltwater fly fishing, it was just about catching a bloody saltwater fish on fly gear. But now it’s a way to reconnect with nature. You can’t force things and you can only catch what is there and willing. So I just connect to the rhythm and feel content with what is on offer. Add my wife and two kids into the equation on the same day and that is what a perfect day looks like to me.

“You won’t bump into a saltwater fly angler west of Cape Point, but it is a pot of gold for those willing to do some real hard time.”

False Bay in Cape Town is where my home waters start. The further west along the coast, the better. Fishing east of Cape Town is more about friendships than the fishing. You won’t bump into a saltwater fly angler west of Cape Point, but it is a pot of gold for those willing to do some real hard time. You just need to fish hard and constantly and retain a good sense of humour. There’s no real formula as some years things are off the scale and in others, certain species are a complete no show. It’s vast like most arid places around the world with sleepy towns, a cold ocean and a wind that never stops blowing.

saltwater fly fishing
Jimmy with a sandshark from Langebaan

The most satisfying fish I ever caught was a sand shark on the sand flats in Langebaan lagoon. After years of only foul-hooking the buggers,  I came up with a very odd setup to avoid foul hook-ups. That sand shark was the first one caught on it. After releasing it, I sat down and had the best cup of coffee and cigarette ever. Sand shark decoded for life with one cast. Hell, I was full of myself on the walk back.

For the rest of Jimmy’s Lifer profile, get stuck in to of The Mission Issue 23 below. As always, it’s free.

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