Tuna time!

Tuna time!

I had been itching to fish the deep water off Cape Point to target our pelagic saltwater species on fly for a number of years until recently. The fisherman that venture twenty five miles off the Cape Peninsula target mainly yellowfin tuna and albacore (also known as longfin tuna). These are two of South Africa’s most sought-after and also hardest fighting saltwater sport fishes. They are big, strong and ideal targets for conventional tackle junkies that enjoy a good pull; but they are also hard to come by if you’re an ordinary bank angler that relies on fit leg muscles to reach fish, since you can only catch tuna from a boat with a reliable skipper.

Ideally you need a sturdy, seaworthy skiff equipped with two powerful outboards and all the electronic gadgets, like GPS, fish-finders, radio communication etc. A boat like this needs a chap with a skipper licence and years of fishing experience with these monsters of the open ocean. Then you may come right with a boat hull full of fish after a long day’s ‘scratching’ for needles in a blue ‘haystack’.

Mi Thyme from Reel Thyme Charters is an ideal skiff for the open ocean
Mi Thyme from Reel Thyme Charters is an ideal skiff for the open ocean

Sean Todd, owner of Reel Thyme Charters, is one of the lucky few with proper equipment and boats, and a ‘PhD’ in tuna fishing. In other words, he’s got it all and a tad more to give you that ‘edge’ that’s required to experience a successful day catching fish out at sea.

My trip to this ‘far out’ fishing destination started with an open spot amongst three mates on Sean’s smaller boat, Mi Thyme. The rest of the crew included Kyle Keefer, his business partner Mike, and Peter Coetzee. We met in Hout Bay harbour and the crew confessed unanimously that they suffered from a severe lack of sleep, which was blamed on the unexpected call the previous afternoon that the weather conditions looked promising and the fishing was ‘on’.

Once out in the ‘blue water’, it didn’t take Sean long (15 minutes?) to ‘run’ into the first shoal of albacore. The reels of four rods sang as the lures were hit by these feisty fish and each of us got to land a fish early in the day. We caught several more albacore to lift the pressure off our concerns of drawing a blank and going home fishless and then Sean started to focus on the yellowfin.

We spotted the first shoal of yellowfin tuna exploding on baitfish swimming close to the surface. It was a dramatic and intimidating site to see these big predators jump out of the water and roll on the surface as they engulfed their prey in a manner that seemed like a playful act.

The anticipation was high as the boat crossed their feeding lane and so intercepted the direction of the feeding frenzy. The ratchet on the first reel had barely started screaming and two more reels were singing as the fish hit the plugs and sped off.

Kyle Keefer with one of the first yellowfin tuna landed in the morning hours
Kyle Keefer with one of the first yellowfin tuna landed in the morning hours

The crew boated the lot that was hooked and then Sean decided to drift and fish for bigger fish, their location given away by the fish finder at approximately twenty metres deep. This is a different kind of fishing, which involves chumming, i.e., throwing bits of cut sardine in the water in the hopes of bringing the fish closer to the surface, but also to keep them in the vicinity of the boat while dropping down baited hooks.

My chum flies resembling the heads of sardines
My chum flies resembling the heads of sardines

The chumming exercise attracted blue sharks, which foolishly accepted ‘chum’ flies presented by the fly anglers. I tied these chum flies after speaking to numerous people – Richard Wale, Darryl Lampert, and MC Coetzer – whom all swore that chum-attracted fish were tricky on anything but a chum fly resembling bits of sardine. The chum flies worked well for catching sharks and although both Pete and I got hits on flies fished deeper (in the vicinity of the tuna) we never hooked tuna.

Blue shark 1

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A blue shark trying to bite the author while handling it for a photograph - photo by Peter Coetzee
A blue shark trying to bite the author while handling it for a photograph – photo by Peter Coetzee


While Pete and I enjoyed the sight fishing for sharks (which Sean classified as a sport for individuals with a lesser intellect), Kyle and Mike took turns landing the yellowfin tuna hooked on bait. Both of them landed remarkable fish of between 50-65 kg, which according to Kyle fought like “dragons with hernias”.

Another blue shark caught on a chum fly
Another blue shark caught on a chum fly

Then Sean suggested that I take on the next fish that took a baited hook. I eagerly grabbed the buckling rod with screeching ratchet, oblivious of the torture that lay ahead. The fish hardly moved when the ratchet was clicked off and there was a brief moment when both Sean and I thought that we had hooked another pesky shark. After the fish made a few headshakes it started tearing line off a reel that was set on 12-13 kg drag. That first run left no doubt in our minds that we had indeed hooked a yellowfin tuna.

In fact, when the spool filled with seven hundred and fifty metres of line started to look ‘lean’ to me, I knew it was a big fish. It felt unstoppable.

Two and a half hours later, we caught the first glimpse of the door-sized fish circling under the boat. I played it with the swells of the ocean, winning a bit of line on every ‘drop’ and losing it again on the ‘rise’. Every now and then the fish turned its head down and ran several metres deeper, which left us staring into the deep blue water.

The author doing battle with the big tuna
The author doing battle with the big tuna

After three hours of an epic battle in which I was fed by Kyle and given careful instructions by the professional skipper himself (Sean was not prepared to lose that fish to a fatigued, novice tuna angler pulling recklessly on the line at any stage during the fight), my boat partners finally gaffed it. There were a few grunts as they lifted it into the boat where it died a peaceful death after the spinal cord had been pierced with a wire. Before me lay the biggest fish that I had ever seen with my own eyes.

The 85 kg tuna
The 85 kg tuna – the weight was confirmed on the scale in the harbour

We celebrated the day’s catch with beers on the trip back to the docks. Exhausted, I briefly fell asleep, undisturbed by the beating shockwaves travelling through the fibreglass hull as the boat bounced over the windswept swells.

For more information on Reel Thyme Charters, please visit: http://www.reelthymecharters.co.za/

Or phone Sean Todd: Cell – 083 642 1548; Office – +27 21 789 2388

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